Our 2023 NFL Preview prepares for a jaunt through the AFC West, where we’ll begin with the reigning Super Bowl Champion, Chiefs, who look to extend their dominance over the division with an EIGHTH consecutive title. However, Kansas City has much larger ambitions than that, with designs on capturing a third Lombardi Trophy in five years. With that being said, that is not to say that there aren’t challenges ahead of them, as (Head Coach) Andy Reid and (reigning MVP winner) Patrick Mahomes will once again have a target on their backs as they prepare to defend their latest championship. Will they manage to successfully once again replace multiple receiving targets? How will the offense change after the departure of (Offensive Coordinator) Eric Bienemy? Has the rest of the AFC finally caught up to them? Let’s stroll through Arrowhead for a look into all things Chiefs….
The Emperor Returns
In today’s National Football League, it’s very hard to compete for a championship without an All-Pro caliber Quarterback. Those with Pro-Bowlers at the position are usually in the discussion, while those with anything less than that are generally !@#$ outta luck. Thankfully for the Chiefs, they have the joker of the proverbial deck, (two-time MVP) Patrick Mahomes, who believe it or not is coming off what in many respects was his greatest campaign. What this guy has managed to accomplish before the age of twenty-eight is nothing short of remarkable; in just five seasons as the starter, Mahomes (pictured above) has posted a 63-16 record, while completing 66.4% of his passes for an average of 303.3 yards per game on 7.53 net yards per attempt, with 192 touchdowns in comparison to forty-eight interceptions, while earning five Pro-Bowl nods, a pair of All-Pro selections, an Offensive Player of the Year award (2018) and those aforementioned MVP trophies in 2018 and 2022. Furthermore, he owns an 11-3 record in the playoffs, where he has connected on 67.3% of his throws for averages of 291.7 yards per game and 7.01 net yards per attempt, with thirty-five touchdowns opposed to seven interceptions, advancing to the at the very least, the AFC Championship Game in each of the last five years. However, as we stated earlier, 2022 appears to be the cream of the crop for the 27-year-old, who logged career-highs in a slew of categories, including completion percentage (67.1%), passing yards (5,250), fourth quarter comebacks (4) and game-winning drives (4). Many wondered how he would be affected by the departure of (All-Pro Receiver) Tyreek Hill, who in four years together accounted for 4,854 yards and forty-three touchdowns, but all Mahomes did was adjust his approach, taking what the defense gave him and getting the ball to the open man. Last season saw the signal-caller average the lowest intended air yards per attempt of his career (7.2), while also posting the lowest percentage of “bad throws” (15.4%). He also received the lowest pressure percentage of his career to boot (19.4%), with all those figures representing a more mature, proactive approach, spreading the wealth to Tight Ends and Tailbacks, who comprised over half of his completed passes (54.7%). Needless to say, this will have to continue for the foreseeable future, for Mahomes will be eating up a much larger portion of Kansas City’s salary cap (which is the primary reason that the franchise decided to trade Hill), with his annual figure set to venture over $46 million next season and remain there for the final eight years of his mammoth ten-year extension. Is he worth the money? Absolutely. They’ll just need him to continue his perfection of the craft as it becomes more and more difficult to surround him with premium talent.
Big Red’s Reign
Apart from Mahomes’ meteoric rise to the ranks of the all-time greats of his position, arguably the best story in Kansas City is that of (Head Coach) Andy Reid, who ironically finds himself currently sitting atop the proverbial mountain after years of being a perennial bridesmaid. Indeed, it has been quite the career for the 65-year-old, who over the course of the last twenty-four years has amassed a record of 247-138-1 (.641) between his respective tenures with the Eagles and Chiefs, leading them to EIGHTEEN playoff appearances, THIRTEEN division titles, FOUR conference championships, and a pair of Super Bowl titles along the way. His time in Philadelphia was ultimately successful if not taxing, as Reid (pictured above) earned a 1-4 record in NFC Championship Games and a disappointing defeat in Super Bowl XXXIX, while finding himself embroiled in a high-profile feud between his Quarterback, Donovan McNabb, and (All-Pro Wideout) Terrell Owens. Oh, and the fans in Philly weren’t exactly forgiving, particularly towards the end of his run with the franchise. However, Kansas City has been a MUCH different story for the big fella, who has finally gotten over the hump (on multiple occasions at that), and finds himself coaching this generation’s elite Quarterback, albeit with far less pressure than his previous job. Oh, and he has continued to churn out the talent from his coaching staff; all honors aside, this may be the most interesting thing about Reid, who has seen TWELVE of his former assistant coaches become Head Coaches, including four who are currently employed in that position across the NFL. Speaking of that, his former Offensive Coordinator, Matt Nagy, will be resuming that role this season after his predecessor, Eric Bienemy, opted to leave Arrowhead to become the OC in Washington. By now we all know the deal in Kansas City, where Reid continues to call plays despite being the Head Coach, though his offensive assistants play a large role in the game planning from week to week. Given how prolific and creative that the Chiefs have been offensively, coupled with the rapid development of Mahomes, Bienemy has become a prime candidate to become a Head Coach for a few years now, though has been rebuffed during each cycle, with insiders suggesting his lack of play-calling duties being a hinderance. As he transitions to the nation’s capital, we highly doubt that the offense will change much, for if we have learned nothing over the past two decades, this is Reid’s show…
Next Man Up
As we stated earlier, there were plenty of question marks in the passing game last season after the departure of the aforementioned Hill in a trade with the Dolphins that saw a wealth of draft picks arrive in return. Needless to say, the All-Pro Wideout was a HUGE part of Kansas City’s passing attack as he developed into the league’s most feared vertical threat. However, Reid, alongside (General Manager) Brett Veach did a tremendous job in filling the holes, replacing his production with veterans such as JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, while drafting the likes of Skyy Moore in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Furthermore, they bolstered the supporting cast during the campaign as well, adding (former first-round pick) Kadarius Toney in a deal with the Giants before the Trade Deadline. Of course, it helps IMMENSELY to have a Tight End the caliber of Travis Kelce, who posted an unreal season with 110 receptions for 1,338 yards and twelve touchdowns, but as a whole, the offense shifted its approach to a more even keeled, dare we say conservative one that lead the NFL in both scoring (29.2) and total yards (424.7). Well, it appears that they will have to brace themselves to do so again, for this past offseason saw them part ways with some of the pass-catching weapons once again. This time, Smith-Schuster, who reeled in seventy-eight catches for 933 yards and three scores, along with Mecole Hardman, who despite totaling just twenty-five catches for 297 yards and four touchdowns, is a real threat in the return game, left for greener pastures in New England and New York respectively. Their departures mean that more will be expected out Toney (pictured above), who after arriving in Arrowhead midseason hauled in fourteen passes for 171 yards and a pair of scores while rushing for another, though did pull in a touchdown in the Chiefs’ epic 38-35 comeback over the Eagles in Super Bowl LVII. Still only 24-years old, the Florida product is a versatile weapon that Reid can use in multiple positions, which should see him embrace a much larger role in 2023, though he will unfortunately have to get over a knee injury that he suffered at the beginning of Training Camp, with the early prognosis expecting him to miss potentially lengthy time. The aforementioned Moore should also see an expanded role in the attack, while (2023 second round pick) Rashee Rice should see action as the campaign progresses, with his size (6′-2″, 203 pounds) bringing a different dynamic to the Receiving Corps.
Projected Finish: 12-5
As far as dynasties go, we think it is time to officially brand these Chiefs as that, appearing in their third Super Bowl in the last four years and winning their second Lombardi Trophy during that period. Neither Reid, Mahomes, or Kelce appears to be slowing down anytime soon, while the franchise continues to do an excellent job of pivoting with the pieces around them. After not losing a step following the trade of Hill, Kansas City has more than earned the trust that they will be just fine without the likes of Smith-Schuster and Hardman, with Toney and Moore serious contenders to develop into legitimate playmakers. Sure, the AFC is loaded, with the West in particular being a difficult landscape to navigate, but as long as this team doesn’t sustain any major injuries, then they are sure to be in running to represent the conference in Super Bowl LVIII, just as they have in each of the last five years…