The Chiefs’ dominance over the past seven seasons hasn’t been limited to their opponents in the AFC West. There have been few teams in the entire league that have been able to slow down the Chiefs. But the defending Super Bowl champions’ past success won’t mean much when Kansas City kicks off the season on Sept. 7 at home against the Detroit Lions.
The Chiefs have won the AFC West title seven seasons in a row. But several teams are threatening to prevent Kansas City from making that streak eight games. The question for the challengers will be if they can find a way to be consistent enough to stop the Chiefs’ machine from rolling forward.
Kansas City’s Chemistry is Hard To Top
The Chiefs have been fortunate to have quarterback Patrick Mahomes and coach Andy Reid paired together for such a long time. The duo have a chemistry that has served them both well over the years. One question that will linger is if there will be any changes now that the third piece of the triumvirate has moved on to another job.
Former offensive coordinator Eric Bienamy left Kansas City after the season to take a similar position with the Washington Commanders. Bienamy’s departure was the most notable among the personnel changes the Chiefs had on offense. Veteran wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster also left the team and went to New England.
To replace Smith-Schuster, the Chiefs took speedy wide receiver Rashee Rice out of SMU. Kansas City did lose several key pieces on the offensive line and is looking to bring to make sure it still has the right protection to keep Mahomes upright. The Chiefs will also likely need to provide plenty of support for 34-year-old tight end Travis Kelce in the passing game. Only one tight end in NFL history had 1,000 or more receiving yards in a season after age 34.
But Kansas City was never reliant on one player to move the ball in the passing game. With Mahomes’ mobility, the Chiefs are able to open up the entire field for defense to try and think about.
Sean Payton Tries to Right Denver’s Wrongs
The Broncos thought they were getting a franchise-changing quarterback when they dealt for veteran signal-caller Russell Wilson. But things actually got worse for Denver. Wilson seemed out of place, and the Broncos plunged to a 5-12 record and were the worst team in the division for the third straight year.
The Broncos have missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons. This is the worst stretch Denver has had since it missed the playoffs from when it debuted in 1960 to when the Broncos made the playoffs in 1977. To try and stop the bleeding, Denver coaxed coach Sean Payton out of the broadcast booth.
Payton was 152-89 as the Saints’ head coach. He guided New Orleans to the playoffs nine times and won a Super Bowl. Denver wasn’t able to add much talent at the top of the draft as a result of trading for Wilson. The Broncos will need Payton’s schematics to turn things around.
Denver also needs to hope that last season was an aberration for Wilson. With the top teams in the division already being set with top quarterback talent, the Broncos can’t afford to fall behind if they want to make a serious run at stopping their stretch of playoff futility.
Los Angeles Eager to Break Through
The Chargers finally got to the playoffs last season, thanks to the strong play of quarterback Justin Herbert. But once Los Angeles got to the playoffs, the ghosts of the Chargers’ previous playoff disappointments reared their heads again. Los Angeles blew a 27-point lead in the AFC Wild Card game with Jacksonville before losing 31-30.
But Herbert’s excellence earned him a 5-year, $262.5 million contract extension. Keeping Herbert healthy will be an important part of this season. Los Angeles saw its star quarterback slowed at times last season by a rib injury. Herbert’s ailments were compounded by Pro Bowler Rashawn Slater, Joey Bosa, J.C. Jackson, and Keenan Allen combined to miss 45 games.
Some observers were surprised that the Chargers kept coach Brandon Staley. Staley has been OK at the helm of the Chargers but has a high-risk style that sometimes comes back to bite him. Los Angeles will need everything to come together if it is going to be a serious contender in what should be an extremely competitive division. Staley has compiled a 19-15 record during his two seasons as coach.
Raiders Stake Future on Oft-injured Quarterback
Las Vegas Raiders is once again a mess. The franchise spent the offseason starting some strange feuds with its players. Running back Josh Jacobs was held out of camp because of a contract dispute. Las Vegas signed Jimmy Garoppolo in the offseason to take over for Derek Carr but then found out the veteran quarterback needed surgery on his foot.
Star wide receiver Davante Carr has gone on the record saying he was disappointed in the direction of the team. While he recanted those statements, the damage was already done. Coach Josh McDaniels was already under heavy scrutiny and hadn’t helped his image with the way he pushed Carr out of town last season.
The Raiders dealt talented tight end Darren Waller in the offseason. Las Vegas will try to replace that production with wide receiver Jakobi Meyers and tight end Austin Hooper. The Raiders brought them both in during free agency. Las Vegas hasn’t won a playoff game since the team was in Oakland in 2002. Since losing Super Bowl XXXVII following the 2002 season, the Raiders have only made the playoffs twice. Las Vegas seems like a team that appears to be once again stuck in a rebuilding phase.