The Chiefs have nothing to fear but their expectations in 2020

The Chiefs have done all that they can to meet their Super Bowl expectations in 2020, but their AFC West foes may have other plans.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

We’re not going to waste your time with any manufactured suspense: The Kansas City Chiefs are poised to surpass their expectations and repeat as Super Bowl champions in 2020. They overcame an offseason cap crunch to somehow take care of all their major business.

They signed Patrick Mahomes to a record-smashing (yet shockingly cap-friendly) $500-million deal, extended All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones and tight end Travis Kelce, and even managed to bring back important role players like wide receiver Sammy Watkins and Bashaud Breeland. For good measure, they upgraded their offense by drafting LSU all-purpose back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Andy Reid didn’t even lose any significant assistant coaches, with Eric Bieniemy back to help run the offense, Steve Spagnuolo to command the defense, and the great Dave Toub running special teams. 

The biggest question for the Chiefs is whether any of their AFC West rivals will mount enough of a challenge to slow their march to the AFC Championship Game. So this Chiefs’ preview will keep one eye on the defending champions and the other eye on their schedule and divisional foes.

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Are the expectations too high for the Chiefs in 2020?

Best-case scenario

The Raiders keep bumbling along as a Jon Gruden vanity project. The Chargers spend the season grooming Justin Herbert and moving boxes into the spare room in the Rams’ new stadium. Drew Lock turns out to be Rocky Mountain Sam Darnold and needs another year in the slow cooker. The AFC West foes do for the Chiefs what the AFC East used to do for the Patriots: roll over and play dead, paving the Chiefs’ way into the EZ Pass lane for Super Bowl LIV.

Worst-case scenario

Gruden’s program comes together in Las Vegas. The Chargers finally enjoy some good injury luck, making them pesky sleepers. Lock turns out to be Rocky Mountain Josh Allen, just dangerous enough to himself and others to help the Broncos defense win games. A tough early schedule (Texans, at Ravens, Patriots in the first month) forces the Chiefs to jockey from behind for playoff position for the remainder of the season. The Chiefs lose the first-round bye and home-field advantage, shrinking their playoff margin for error.

Deep Dives

Patrick Mahomes

Patrick Mahomes’ career figures against AFC West opponents: 13 starts, 3,356 yards, 27 touchdowns, six interceptions, a 64.8% completion rate, 8.15 yards per attempt, 210 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns, a 105.8 efficiency rating, and a 12-1 record as a starter (including the game Matt Moore had to finish against the Broncos last season).

Those are dominant numbers, though they are only about equally dominant with his numbers against everyone else in the league. The only defense in the division built to really slow down the Chiefs is the Chargers, who added Chris Harris in free agency and got All-Pro, all-purpose defender Derwin James back from injury late last season. No, Broncos fans: Your defense isn’t built to stop the Chiefs, because it’s not 2015 anymore. 

Andy Reid and the Chiefs WR group

Here’s a simple indicator of how well Andy Reid kept opposing defenses guessing: the Chiefs led the NFL with 1,014 rushing yards when there were six or fewer defenders in the box, averaging 5.2 yards per attempt. Of course, it’s hard to stack the box when both safeties are 17 yards away and backing up at the snap because of Tyreek Hill and company.

Chiefs receivers finished second in the NFL to the Rams with 2,344 yards after the catch. Kelce, Hill, Watkins, and Mecole Hardman all recorded more than 250 yards after the catch.

The Chiefs Defense

Chiefs defenders led the NFL with 12 dropped interceptions. Tyrann Mathieu dropped four interceptions, Breeland three. Dropped interceptions are actually a positive indicator moving forward, especially for a team that forces most opponents into shootouts and will likely face two inexperienced quarterbacks within the division. Those dropped interceptions are an indicator of how often Chiefs defenders are around the ball. And you better believe the Honey Badger spent some time with the JUGGS machine after those drops.

A plethora of fantasy football weapons in Kansas City

Per Expand the Boxscore, Edwards-Helaire recorded 47 offensive plays of 14-plus yards for the national champions last year. That means 12% of his touches resulted in big gains. Edwards-Helaire’s versatility (55 receptions last season) and big-play capability make him a perfect system fit and a fine replacement for Damien Williams (opt-out). Edwards-Helaire has a third-round ADP in standard leagues but is getting a lot of first-round love in PPR leagues. He should be a safe, steady contributor.

Related | NFL Betting: Analyzing the Kansas City Chiefs 2020 season win total

Tyreek Hill appears overvalued, with an ADP in the end-of-first-round range. Hill could repeat his 86-1,479-12 stat line from 2018 if healthy for 16 games, but Reid’s “hit ‘em where they ain’t” philosophy and the presence of Kelce, Watkins, Hardman, and Edwards-Helaire are likely to limit Hill’s touches. Give me DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, Julio Jones, or other receivers who get many passes forced to them every week over Hill.

Bottom Line

The AFC playoff picture is simple. There are the Chiefs and Ravens, then everyone else. Texans, Titans, Bills, and Patriots fans need to stack up lots of “what-if’s” and “hopefully’s” to make arguments that their teams belong in the same category as the two front runners. In the AFC West, the Broncos, Chargers, and Raiders are in various rebuilding phases and can’t expect to be anything besides spoilers.

Barring injuries or further global disasters, the most realistic scenario for the Chiefs to not reach the AFC Championship game involves a handful of regular-season losses that push them down to the third or fourth playoff seed, leading to a postseason knockout by a hot opponent. That makes every Chiefs game important. They can’t trip over divisional foes and must approach opponents like the Ravens and Bills as if home-field advantage is on the line because it is. 

The Chiefs’ greatest opponent in 2020 will be expectations. A record of 11-5 would feel like a disappointment for a team that’s expected to replace Tom Brady’s Patriots as the AFC’s reigning dynasty.

Kansas City Chiefs 2020 Prediction

12-4, first place in the AFC West.

NFL Recap from Mike Tanier
Every Sunday and Monday, Mike Tanier gives his NFL Recap of the biggest stories around the NFL. Click here for the rest of his takes on NFL Week 2 in the long-form format you’re used to seeing from Mike. For individual pieces, head on over to our NFL Recap page.