Where does your franchise stand heading into 2020? 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 Kansas City Chiefs organization, Chiefs fans around the world and those who feel like Chiefs superfan Paul Rudd must be a zombie because he never ages:
It happened. It finally happened. The Kansas City Chiefs -- your Kansas City Chiefs -- are the reigning champions of football. They won the Super Bowl for the first time since 1969, before all of us were born. Most of us, anyway. It was a long time coming. I know when people used to think of of long-suffering fans, the Chiefs never got their due. I mean, this is the team that lost the longest game in NFL history, a playoff defeat at the hands of the Miami Dolphins in 1971. They had Joe Montana in the 1990s and still couldn't get to the Super Bowl. And they benched the red-hot Rich Gannon for Elvis Grbac in one of Marty Schottenheimer's costliest moves down the stretch in 1997. Then there was 2018, when you had the team that could topple the New England Patriots. You even hosted the AFC Championship Game. But then our guy Patrick Mahomes didn't even get a chance to touch the ball in overtime.
But you know what? All of that stuff doesn't matter now. The only question now is not if but how many championships the Chiefs can win. Which I know will have tons of Chiefs fans screaming "please, don't jinx us." But I can't help it.
How the Chiefs got here
Let's take a quick look back at the highs and lows of the 2019 season.
- Beating the Ravens rather convincingly in a Week 3 matchup between two of the NFL's top quarterbacks. Mahomes threw for 374 yards and three touchdowns against one of the best defenses in the league.
- Going to New England in Week 14 and handling the Patriots, 23-16. New England was tied for the best record in the AFC at the time. And while you didn't get to beat the Patriots in the playoffs, this was the blow that really had them reeling. (Don't let the Titans steal your credit.)
- And then there was also ... ha, just kidding. You guys won the Super Bowl. We don't need to keep up this charade.
Your franchise quarterback suffered a dislocated kneecap and had to sit for a couple games. That was a scary moment against Denver in Week 7. The good thing is Matt Moore played great while filling in and Mahomes didn't miss much time.
Head coach: Andy Reid. Forever one of those yeah, but coaches. Like, you would talk about him in the conversation of greatest coaches of all time, but he would be saddled with a yeah, but he never won the Super Bowl. It was kind of like being the NFL's version of Joey Fatone. Yes, he was my favorite member of NSYNC. He was the one I would most like to hang out and have a beer with. And you'd be all yeah, but he never had the career arc of bandmate Justin Timberlake, who has gone on to be this generation's version of Frank Sinatra. I was more of a Dean Martin guy, anyway, so you do you, Joey.
Anyway, that conversation for Andy Reid is now over. He wasn't in danger of being left out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame (although Marty Schottenheimer and Don Coryell aren't in, so you never know). But now he's gained automatic entry. He's in the club. Now we can start to turn our attention to where he ranks among the greatest coaches of all time. He's probably not going to match Bill Belichick's six Super Bowl titles, although that is not a statement I'm 100 percent comfortable making. Even at 62 years old, it still feels like he has a lot left to offer this game. The Chiefs are poised for a huge run of success in the coming decade-plus with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. It's a fun exercise to ask yourself how many titles it would take to be considered the G.O.A.T. (especially if the Patriots never get back to the playoffs without Tom Brady).
It's so interesting what one Super Bowl title can do for a guy. It's not like he was a miserable coach for all of those years and suddenly just started to put it all together. But now he has a real opportunity to add to his legacy.
Quarterback: Patrick Mahomes. Look, we've exhausted all of the superlatives we can heap on one person. I know we've seen young quarterbacks win a Super Bowl before, but how many of them led their team there?
When you think of young quarterbacks who won a Super Bowl, you don't always consider them the main reason their team reached that level. Like, early Tom Brady was good when the Patriots first won. Early Ben Roethlisberger wasn't good, but he won. Russell Wilson? He had a legendary defense when he won. I know the defense stepped up, but Mahomes was the driving force behind the Chiefs' run to a title. He's the youngest player (24 years, 138 days) to win MVP and a Super Bowl. He edged out Emmitt Smith for that feat by almost 100 days. And if Mahomes wins the Super Bowl this season, he would be the first QB to go back to back since Brady (2003-2004). This could be the start of something really special.
Projected 2020 MVP: Mahomes. No need to keep repeating myself. I did want to point out, though, that Mahomes currently has a passer rating of 108.9. He needs 401 more attempts to qualify as the career leader, but he holds a 6.5-point advantage over the current career leader, Aaron Rodgers. He's also on pace to become the career leader in passing yards per game (303.6). So really, how can you even fathom some other Chiefs player being as valuable as him?
Projected 2020 MVP who isn't Mahomes: Travis Kelce, tight end. Kelce is much like Mahomes in that he has few peers. George Kittle and Zach Ertz are certainly in his class. That's one of the most incredible trios I can think of. And since Travis seems to be such a huge fan of the Beastie Boys, I would say he's Ad-Rock, George is MCA and Ertz is Mike D in this analogy. Hit me with your own theories, but I'll let you know I spent way too much time thinking about this.
Travis leads all tight ends in targets (525), receptions (368), receiving yards (4,728) and receiving touchdowns (27) since 2016. He's also the first tight end in NFL history to reach 1,000 receiving yards in four consecutive seasons. I'd say that's pretty valuable.
Projected 2020 breakout star: Mecole Hardman, wide receiver. We see NFL player comparisons all the time. But usually it's like, hey, Hunter Renfrow is the Julian Edelman of the Raiders. It has to be weird when people are like, hey, Hardman is the Tyreek Hill of the Chiefs. Because, you know, Hill and Hardman both play for the Chiefs. And I believe Hill is still just starting to scratch the surface of his potential even though he's already had a lot of success (scored 41 touchdowns since he entered the NFL in 2016; one of just seven players to score 40-plus TDs over that stretch). Hardman showed some of the same flashes last season as a rookie, though. He averaged a whopping 20.7 yards per reception on 26 grabs. He had five touchdown catches of 40-plus yards last year and the average distance of his TD grabs was 47.8 yards. You could say he's already broken out. But it's the Chiefs, so give me a break. All of these guys are good.
New face to know: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, running back. The running back position has been devalued in the NFL, to the point where few RBs are drafted in the first round. Some recent/notable exceptions are Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey. But currently, teams usually will wait until later in the draft if they want to address the position, which means we end up in situations like the one we witnessed in April, where the best team in the league has a chance to grab the best running back on the board. I mean, it seems totally fair that the reigning champs would like Edwards-Helaire, no? It's like how The Rock has to be so great at everything. Wrestling. Acting. Singing. How is this fair?
Anyway, Chiefs GM Brett Veach told Reid to watch some tape of CEH prior to the draft because Veach thought the prospect would remind Reid of the star back he coached during his time with the Eagles, Brian Westbrook. After watching the tape, Reid said he thought CEH was even better than Westbrook. Now, a lot of you kids reading this might not be old enough to remember Westbrook, but the dude could play. (I know some of you might ask yourself, who is not old enough to remember Westbrook? Well, I'm going to have to tell you Westbrook hasn't played in a decade. To put it in perspective, New Girl started after Westbrook played his final snap and ran for seven seasons. Congratulations, you are old.)
Here's why CEH's arrival in Kansas City is scary: The Chiefs have the NFL's top offense over the past two seasons, scoring close to 32 points per game since Mahomes became the QB1, but they rank 20th in rushing offense in that span. The NFL must fear a balanced attack from the Chiefs.
The 2020 roadmap
The competitive urgency index is: THE HIGHEST. You're not being foolish or too demanding if you want the Chiefs to go back-to-back. I mean, you have Mahomes and Reid. You should want to match the 2000s Patriots and 1990s Cowboys as one of those teams that wins three in four years. My dad's a huge Bears fan. Loves the 1985 team. But he's still upset the team didn't win more titles in that era. So, you don't want to look back and see only one title from this group, Chiefs fans.
Three key dates:
- Week 1 vs. Houston Texans. Hey, remember when the Texans had a 24-point lead on the Chiefs in the second quarter of their Divisional Round game last season and then the Chiefs had a lead by halftime? This will be the first chance for the Chiefs to feel like the hunted.
- Week 3 at Baltimore Ravens. It's the AFC Championship Game we all wanted to see. Thanks, Ryan Tannehill. The good news is he can't spoil this one! But really, this game starts an important stretch for Kansas City, as home games against the Patriots and Raiders are up next.
- Week 12 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Take away your own favorite team. Is there any other matchup you would rather see in the Super Bowl? I mean, as a Bears fan, Mahomes vs. Mitch would be awesome. But this would be pretty great, too.
Will the Chiefs be able to ...
Develop a defense that's just as devastating as their offense? That offense is pretty scary, no doubt about it. But what if the Chiefs became known for their defense? It would be like the murder hornets. I mean, standard hornets were pretty frightening on their own. Now there's a murder hornet? Who asked for that?
The thing is, the Chiefs' defense is already kind of on its way. From Weeks 11-17 in 2019, Kansas City ranked first in points allowed (11.5 per game), TD-to-INT ratio (5:10) and opposing passer rating (63.5).
Some of the keys to continuing that type of performance on defense? Well, keeping defensive tackle Chris Jones in the fold is a good place to start. The Chiefs placed the franchise tag on Jones -- whose 24.5 sacks since 2018 rank second among DTs to some dude named Aaron Donald -- but he has not signed it as of this writing and isn't participating in virtual OTAs. (UPDATE: Jones has since tweeted that he "won't play" without a major contract extension. NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reports that the star DT is seeking a deal that pays out $20 million-plus per year.) Tyrann Mathieu, coming off his second career first-team All-Pro selection, is another key performer for this group. Frank Clark is starting to really get recognition, too. He is one of seven players with eight or more sacks in each of the last four seasons. One player to keep an eye one: Second-year safety Juan Thornhill, who started every game before tearing his ACL in the regular season finale and missing the playoffs.
Survive without Kendall Fuller? If the Chiefs do have one trouble spot on defense, it's at the cornerback position. And the good news is Fuller is gone. Oh, wait. That's terrible news. It's not like Fuller was Deion Sanders in his prime, but he made big plays when he needed to, including his pick to help seal the Super Bowl win. It appears the Chiefs will roll with the trio of Charvarius Ward, Bashaud Breeland and Rashad Fenton as their top corners. Re-signing Breeland this offseason certainly helped, but he was arrested in April and could be facing discipline. And that could mean the Chiefs have to look at rookies L'Jarius Sneed and Bopete Keyes for help.
Become the NFL's next great dynasty? I know, we should slow our roll and let this team develop before we start throwing around words like dynasty. But I don't care. Let's start to talk about it. The Chiefs are coming off their first Super Bowl championship since the 1969 season. I'm sure you've all seen the clip of coach Hank Strahm telling his Chiefs team to "keep matriculating the ball down the field."
Yes, the clip is from the Chiefs' Super Bowl win that season. Kansas City would be the first back-to-back champion since the New England Patriots won in '03 and '04. The current streak of seasons without a back-to-back champion (15) is the longest in NFL history. But that's kind of a tribute to the parity the NFL wants.
And since we're looking at numbers, nearly 70 percent of teams that win the Super Bowl have made the playoffs the following season. And I don't want to point out that Andy Reid went 6-10 in the season after his last Super Bowl appearance. Because that doesn't matter. And that was a long time ago.
One storyline ...
... people are overlooking: The looming contract extension for Patrick Mahomes. Hey, we all love Patrick Mahomes. And he's still playing on his rookie deal, but that could change soon. It's kind of like when you join a gym at its grand opening and you realize you're still playing $5 per month after a few years, which is a tremendous deal. But now they are putting in a rock-climbing wall and want you to pay an extra $20 per month. The point is, Mahomes is going to get paid at some point. And when these things happen to organizations, the depth of the roster takes a hit. Take a look at what has happened to the Seattle Seahawks. The team reached back-to-back Super Bowls in the previous decade because it could afford to pay for a suffocating defense while Russell Wilson was still on a highly affordable contract. Now the quarterback is the league's highest-paid player (in average salary per year) and the parts around him aren't quite as strong. But the Seahawks are still good because Wilson is so good, so it makes sense on some level to keep paying quarterbacks that type of money. When you look at the money some other quarterbacks are marking (or could soon make, in the case of Dak Prescott), it's wild to think of what Mahomes is going to be able to ask for. I mean, Kirk Cousins is a very wealthy man, which means Mahomes is getting paid. NBC's Cris Collinsworth recently said he'd be surprised if Mahomes isn't the first $50 million quarterback.
The problem is you still have players like Chris Jones who will want long-term commitments that won't come cheap. He's a budding superstar. These are the kind of guys you end up losing, eventually, when you pay your quarterback top dollar.
... people need to start thinking about: At what point do we turn on the Chiefs? You might not believe this right now, but people celebrated the Patriots when they won their first Super Bowl. Honestly, everyone was all about it. I was living in Los Angeles at the time and all of the former Rams fans thought it was great. Everyone loved Tom Brady. Bill Belichick was deemed charming for his demeanor. OK, the last part is taking it too far. But everyone eventually turns on the champions. Brady. Steph Curry. John Cena. You love them at first and can't wait to see them win. But at some point you're like enough already, to the point that once their music hits, you roll your eyes and start booing, even though they are really, really good. Maybe not Cena. But the other guys for sure. (Just kidding, John. You're awesome.)
For 2020 to be a successful season, the Chiefs MUST ...
Win the Super Bowl. Once you've become accustomed to a certain level of sophistication, it's really hard to step back. And every year for Mahomes is going to be judged in this way.
I would like to once again offer my congratulations to Chiefs fans for finally breaking through and winning the Super Bowl. It was a long time coming. And I would implore you to enjoy this window of goodwill where people are still celebrating you. A lot of us were in that mode of well, if it's not my team, then I'm glad Andy Reid was able to win. The thing is, you're set up for another run this season. And the scary thing to think about is that with the weight of Super Bowl expectations lifted from Andy and Patrick (we're close like that), could the Chiefs be even better this season? It's going to be fun to find out.
Follow Adam Rank on Twitter @AdamRank.