Where does every NFL franchise stand heading into 2019? Adam Rank will set 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.
We live in an extraordinary time for Chiefs fans. The eyes of the NFL are focused squarely in the heartland of America, where the team is coming off one of its most exciting seasons since winning Super Bowl IV. And anything less than a Super Bowl victory this year will be a huge disappointment. And I think we all know the reason why.
How the Chiefs got here
Let's take a quick look at the ups and downs of 2018:
-- Patrick Mahomes wins MVP. A Mahomes performance is the most must-see event on television, at least now that "Game of Thrones" has finally concluded. But everything he did in 2018 was absolutely amazing. Side-arm passes. No-look stuff. Fifty touchdown passes and 5,097 yards! It was all incredible. Let's just hope this season of Mahomes is better than the recently concluded "Game of Thrones" season. (And sorry, I'll not try so hard to be relatable.)
-- Capturing the AFC West title. I mean, this is still a team game. The Chiefs won the division and locked down home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
-- Suffering another devastating playoff loss. This time it was an overtime thriller, with the Chiefs losing to the Patriots, 37-31. It was disappointing in that, a) They lost; b) They never touched the ball in overtime; and c) The entire world wanted to see a Rams vs. Chiefs rematch in the Super Bowl.
-- Kareem Hunt's release from the team. Hunt was placed on the Reserve/Commissioner Exempt List by the NFL after a video published by TMZ showed Hunt shoving and kicking a woman during an altercation at a Cleveland hotel in February 2018. Hunt was released by the Chiefs less than an hour later after that video was made public.
Head coach: Andy Reid. He's an amazing football coach. I'm convinced you could hand him any roster in the NFL, and they would finish no worse than .500. He's failed to win eight games just three times during his 20 seasons as a head coach, with the last time dating back to 2012, his final year in Philadelphia. Holy smokes, has he been in Kansas City that long? Like do we even think of him as an Eagles coach now? It's kind of like the way you look at Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I only see her as Selina Meyer and not Elaine (I can't even think of her last name on that show).
Quarterback: Patrick Mahomes. I know it's so easy to let recency bias cloud your judgment, but how awesome was Mahomes last year? I know we've had some great quarterback seasons recently, but this was one of the best. A phenomenon, like when Michael Vick was down in Atlanta. Mahomes is the kind of player that will turn my children into Chiefs fans, even though I worked so hard to make them Bears fans. But now they want that Mahomes jersey for Christmas. And I'm like, "You ingrates. You kids got matching Jay Cutler jerseys and should be happy with that." But I digress. Mahomes set franchise records for touchdown passes (50), passing yards (5,097), passer rating (113.8), games with a passer rating above 100 (13) and 300-yard passing games (10). I mean, there were more. But you kind of get the point by now. The most telling thing might be this nugget unearthed by Pro Football Focus:
Projected 2019 MVP (who isn't Mahomes): Damien Williams, running back. He was a really good replacement for Hunt last year. Williams, who went undrafted in 2014, had hung around with the Dolphins for four years and had never topped 200 rushing yards in a season. But he looked like a legit star running the ball for the Chiefs down the stretch. Williams had at least 100 scrimmage yards in two of the final three regular-season games while scoring four touchdowns in that span. He rushed for 129 yards and a touch in the team's playoff win over the Colts. Recently named the starter in the backfield, Williams could be a star this year.
2019 breakout player: Breeland Speaks, defensive end. The Chiefs moved up in the 2018 NFL Draft to select Speaks in Round 2, so the team obviously was very excited about his potential. There were flashes in his rookie season, although he recorded just 1.5 sacks. But the hiring of Steve Spagnuolo as coordinator and the shift to a 4-3 defense should help his growth in the NFL.
New faces to know: The Chiefs made a bold move prior to the draft when they traded a 2019 first-round pick, a 2020 second-rounder and exchanged '19 third-rounders with the Seahawks for defensive end Frank Clark. The Chiefs then signed Clark to a five-year extension. Kansas City parted with pass rushers Justin Houston and Dee Ford in the offseason, but Clark is younger than Houston and should be an upgrade over Ford. The Chiefs also signed Tyrann Mathieu to replace Eric Berry in the secondary.
The 2019 roadmap
The competitive urgency index is: EXTREMELY HIGH. This team is built to win now, and while Reid's long been a great coach, it's certainly fair to point out his struggles in the postseason. He has just a lone appearance in the Super Bowl, with the Eagles in 2004. I will offer you this one bit of hope: Reid hasn't had a quarterback like Mahomes in his prime (who has, though?). He did some great work with Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick in Philly, but it wasn't vintage Vick. That was like current-day Batista at WrestleMania, which was still really good. But it wasn't him in his prime. So I'm willing to believe Reid can get this team to the promised land this season and beyond.
Fix the defense? The Chiefs allowed the second-most yards last season (6,488). Only the Cincinnati Bengals allowed more. The Chiefs also allowed 421 points, which was the ninth-most in the league. As I mentioned earlier, the Chiefs parted ways with Justin Houston (released by K.C.; signed with Indianapolis) and Dee Ford (traded to San Francisco). This comes on the heels of Marcus Peters being traded to the Rams prior to the 2018 season. But a change in defensive coordinator could work some magic. Look, this team doesn't need to be the 1985 Bears. They just need to make some stops when they're needed.
Find a replacement for Tyreek Hill if he's not around? Rookie Mecole Hardman could have a huge role with the team pending the ongoing child-abuse investigation involving Hill. The Chiefs traded up in Round 2 to select Hardman, an explosive receiver/returner from Georgia. There is no doubt he's going to draw comparisons to Hill's ability on the field.
Deal with the weight of expectations? The cool part about having Patrick Mahomes is that you have Patrick Mahomes. But while we know he's great, the stakes have been raised for this team. The Chiefs have been plagued by playoff misfortune and a bad defense very recently and despite the uncertainty about Hill's future, people are all, "Yeah, I'm still picking them to win the Super Bowl."
Three key dates:
-- Week 1 at the Jaguars. This is what I'm talking about with expectations. Jacksonville is a good team. Like the Chiefs, the Jags recently fell to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game (Myles Jack wasn't down, though). But if the Chiefs don't win this game in convincing fashion, look out -- the doubters will be out in full force. Also, look out because we know how Jacksonville's season ended last year, too.
-- Week 5 vs. the Colts. The Chiefs have the Jaguars, Ravens and Colts all in the first five weeks of the season. All three have high expectations and will be gunning for Kansas City. They also visit the Raiders during this stretch. This is not an easy way to start the year. And I know you want to say something snide about the Raiders, but I wouldn't sleep on them.
One storyline people are overlooking:How great Travis Kelce is. Even before Gronk retired, he had passed the torch to Kelce as the best tight end in the game. Kelce set the NFL record for most receiving yards in a season by a tight end. And that record stood for like an hour until the 49ers' George Kittle broke it. But for a time, Kelce was the record holder. He's the NFL's undisputed TE1 right now.
One storyline people are overthinking:Patrick Mahomes' potential regression. It's natural to talk about it. The first quarterback to reach 50 touchdowns in a season (Tom Brady in 2007) didn't even throw a touchdown pass the following year. Fine. Bad example. Peyton Manning threw for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns in 2013. The following year he had 4,727 and 39. And yes, that is some regression. But that's still a really good year. So yes, as a fantasy dork, I will say there is going to be some regression. It's hard to imagine him throwing for 50 touchdowns again, but he's still going to be a really good quarterback this year. And if the defense can come along to stop some teams, you probably won't need Mahomes to throw 50 touchdowns. So for fantasy gurus, yes, this might be alarming. But as a fan of the Chiefs, don't trip.
For 2019 to be a successful season, the Chiefs MUST ...
This is such a fun time to be a Chiefs fan. There aren't many times when you can say you have the best player in the sport on your team. I was at a "Madden" tournament last year and nearly every kid was using the Chiefs. So, it's cool to be a part of the buzz of the NFL. But none of that is going to matter if they don't get a Super Bowl title.