Where does your franchise stand heading into 2022? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.
Members of the Chiefs organization, Chiefs fans around the world and those who were fully confident the Chiefs would find a way to rally in those final 13 seconds:
Kansas City played in the most exciting game in NFL history, at least by my estimation. And the follow-up show on Championship Sunday wasn't bad, either. Well, unless you are a Chiefs fan, I guess. But we've seen some big changes with the team since the Super Bowl LIV win in February of 2020. Is K.C. still considered one of the best teams in the AFC? Let's take a look.
One high note from last season: Beating the Bills in a Divisional Round thrillfest. In overtime, to boot! When Josh Allen called "tails" but the coin came up "heads," you knew it was only a matter of time before the Chiefs would cement that unforgettable victory.
One low note from last season: Losing to the Bengals in the AFC Championship Game. I mean, it should have been you guys in the Super Bowl. You won the OT coin toss again and everything. But ... well ... that's enough with the old stuff.
Head coach: Andy Reid. I keep asking every year if Andy Reid is the best coach in NFL history. And every time, I still have to give love to Bill Belichick. But my guy Andy Reid is right there. RIGHT THERE. He is fifth all time in NFL coaching wins with 233 -- second among active coaches, behind only you know who. And if you're asking me, I mostly prefer Hawaiian shirts to hoodies. So you know that I love Andy Reid. I'm most impressed by six consecutive divisional titles, which is the longest active streak in the league. And it's tied for the third-longest streak in NFL history. Yes, Belichick's Patriots hold the record with 11 straight from 2009 through 2019. No surprise there. While Bill exudes mastery of defensive football, Andy provides the offensive equivalent. And it's an offensive game these days! So, to me, Reid and Belichick are two of the greatest to ever do it. But Andy is fun dad. Like, if these two guys were the coaches of your youth team growing up, you would be fighting to ride with Andy because you'd know he was going to play some rockin' jams -- definitely not afraid to crank some Blink-182 -- and would be far more likely to stop for donuts. Belichick seems like the kind of guy who would make you sit there in silence and concentrate on the game that just happened. And wouldn't tolerate any tomfoolery.
Quarterback: Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes is still an extraordinary player, regardless of who's catching his passes. (We'll dive into that latter part in just a moment.) Since Mahomes became Kansas City's primary starter in 2018, the Chiefs boast the NFL's No. 1 scoring and total offense. It's pretty simple: The guy's elite. I'm not going to sit here and entertain any thoughts to the contrary. Personally, I root for a team that's never been able to solve the quarterback position long term. The Chicago Bears, if you didn't know. And yes, the Bears really did draft Mitch Trubisky over Mahomes. But I digress. The point is: As long as you have Mahomes at quarterback, your offense will be prolific.
Projected 2022 MVP: Mahomes. He's logged double-digit wins in four straight seasons, tied for the sixth-longest streak of all time. Seeing how those are the first four seasons of his starting career in the NFL, I don't see him stopping any time soon. But as an organization, when you trade people like Tyreek Hill, you're telling the world that it all comes down to your quarterback. I'm good with that. Especially when your quarterback is Patrick Mahomes.
New face to know: Marquez Valdes-Scantling, wide receiver. I'll talk about the receiver group more in a bit, but I wanted to bring up MVS because he's the speed guy. And clearly, over the past four seasons, Mahomes made sweet music with one of the speediest speed guys the game has ever seen in Tyreek Hill. I know people expect the Chiefs to be more controlled without "Cheetah" out wide, with Mahomes throwing less hero balls. But still, Kansas City needs the speed guy to open things up. Obviously, MVS isn't Tyreek. I mean, OBVIOUSLY. But the free-agent signee brings the kind of speed opponents must respect. He led the NFL with 20.9 yards per reception in 2020. And this past year, per Next Gen Stats, he paced the league with 17.1 air yards per target.
2022 breakout star: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, running back. I still believe, dammit! Which is probably foolish on my part. I also thought the Angels had their bullpen fixed this year, so yeah ... Anyway, everyone is now off the CEH hype train because the Chiefs brought in Ronald Jones, and I can't tell if people are kidding or not. Like, if there's been a running back more disappointing than Clyde, it's Ronald Jones. But remember this: Andy Reid compared CEH to Brian Westbrook. (In fact, Reid apparently said Edwards-Helaire is "better than Brian.") Well, the former Eagles great averaged 40.8 scrimmage yards per game during his first two seasons. His breakout came in Year 3, when he averaged 116.5 scrimmage yards, scored nine touchdowns and made his first Pro Bowl. Clyde is entering [checks notes] Year 3. Breakout guaranteed.
Three key dates:
- Week 2 vs. Los Angeles Chargers (Thursday night). I'm not sure which AFC West foe represents the biggest challenger to Kansas City's reign in 2022, but the Chargers are absolutely loaded. On both sides of the ball. This is a heavyweight matchup to kick off Week 2.
- Week 6 vs. Buffalo Bills. A rematch of the greatest game ever played in NFL history. (Yes, I'm going to keep saying that until you all agree with me.)
- Week 17 vs. Denver Broncos. Kansas City has the fifth-hardest strength of schedule based on last year's records. The last two regular-season games for the Chiefs: home vs. Denver and at Las Vegas in Week 18.
Will the Chiefs be able to ...
... overcome the loss of Tyreek Hill? There is no doubt that Patrick Mahomes will put up great fantasy numbers this season. He's too good a quarterback not to. But Mahomes has previously seen a drop-off in completion percentage, passing yards per attempt and passer rating without Hill on the field. I mean, Mahomes still owns a 100-plus passer rating sans Tyreek, but it's just different when No. 10's not out there. It's kind of like Guns N' Roses without Slash and Duff. Still a great band, but not the original. And rewatch the final stretches of that playoff triumph over the Bills: Hill basically won that game. I know you think of Tyreek as just a big-play threat, but the guy was a chain mover, too. I don't think he got enough love for that. Hill was second last season -- behind only Justin Jefferson -- in first-down catches on third down. I'm not saying his production is completely and utterly irreplaceable, but some of you are too casual.
... find strength and continuity on the offensive line? Well, I'm pushing for that Clyde Edwards-Helaire breakout. I should mention that the offensive line needs to do its part. Kansas City has replaced four of the five starters from both Week 1 of 2020 and its Super Bowl LV loss to Tampa Bay. The Chiefs are in line to return all five starting offensive linemen from last season's playoffs, but they still have some contract wrangling to do with LT Orlando Brown Jr. Kind of concerning in July, but here's assuming Brett Veach and Co. figure it out by September.
One storyline ...
... people are overlooking: The infusion of youth on defense. I hesitate to say the unit got better because Tyrann Mathieu left for New Orleans. So let's not get crazy. But Veach spent four of Kansas City's first five draft picks on defense, nabbing CB Trent McDuffie and DE George Karlaftis in Round 1. Steve Spagnuolo's group has been good over the past three seasons, ranking top 10 in scoring D each year. But Kansas City finished bottom five in sacks last year. That's where Karlaftis could be a factor. Drafted 30th overall, the powerful edge rusher was a force of nature at Purdue. In fact, he recorded 36 quarterback hits from 2019 through 2021, the highest total in the Power 5, per Pro Football Focus. And McDuffie, who came off the board at No. 21 overall, provides a versatile coverage skill set that is sure to boost K.C.'s 27th-ranked pass defense.
... people are overthinking: The state of the receiving corps. Even without Tyreek Hill, there are still some guys who can catch the football in Kansas City. Let's start with Travis Kelce. Oh, that's right, YOU STILL HAVE TRAVIS KELCE. You know, the only pass catcher not named Davante Adams to have at least 5,000 receiving yards since 2018. I already talked about MVS above. Meanwhile, JuJu Smith-Schuster was much better during the early part of his career, but I have confidence he'll play a big role as an over-the-middle tough guy in Kansas City. Second-round pick Skyy Moore is a highly regarded slot machine. Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson are underrated losses, but this receiving corps still has plenty of juice -- especially if the speedy Mecole Hardman can break through in Year 4. Less "hero ball" might serve Mahomes better in 2022. The point is that the Chiefs still have viable pass catchers.
For 2022 to be a success, the Chiefs MUST:
- Win the Super Bowl. I mean, I don't say this for just any team. I'm not going to put this kind of expectation on, say, the Chargers. But when you have a former Super Bowl MVP as your starting quarterback -- a former Super Bowl MVP who's still just 26 years old -- you have different expectations. Tom Cruise is expected to make approximately $4 billion every time he opens a movie. That's kind of what you expect from the Mahomes-led Chiefs. Anything less has to be seen as a disappointment.