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Looking back on the Chiefs season through my predictions — both right and wrong

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My prognostications didn’t all hit the mark, but reviewing them provides perspective on the 2018 season — and beyond.

AFC Championship - New England Patriots v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

Back in September, I wrote an article making 10 bold predictions for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2018. It was meant to be about 50 percent tongue-in-cheek, but I also believe people who write about sports are obliged to be accountable in their predictions.

So now that the Chiefs season has concluded, I’m going over what I got right (and wrong) in 2018 — and in so doing, looking back on the season.

1 . The Chiefs will win the AFC West.

I am happy to have correctly predicted the Chiefs would win the division, but I totally blew how the season would play out in order to get there. You have to call this one a miss.

It turned out most of the losses were in the back end of the season, and most of the victories were in the front end. The defense never did gel and improve. To be sure, the defense played well in a handful of games — and did improve slightly as the season went on — but definitely not in the way I expected.

2. Patrick Mahomes will drive us crazy.

With this one, it’s not so much that I was wrong, but that I should have been more... uhhh... optimistic.

In his first season as a starter, Mahomes made far fewer mistakes than I anticipated, and by the end of the season, he wasn’t just on the way to becoming another Aaron Rodgershe was already there! That’s not to say there aren’t areas in which Mahomes could improve. There are. That’s good news for the Chiefs and a very scary prospect for the rest of the league — particularly the AFC West.

3. At least two Chiefs losses will be directly attributable to bad calls.

I took some heat for making some not-so-bold predictions — and that’s a fair criticism of this one. It turned out to be true, but I can take no credit for it; it wouldn’t have taken a rocket scientist to figure it out!

Here I was specifically thinking of the changes in roughing the passer penalties that were so controversial early in the season. The furor died down after a while, but one of the reasons that happened is that some teams — the Chiefs among them — realized that the correct response to the rule change was to emphasize strip-sacks. That’s a credit to former Chiefs outside linebackers coach Mike Smith, who has now left for Green Bay after the hiring of new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

4. Travis Kelce will have eight passing touchdowns again. But he’ll throw one of them.

This one was half right. Kelce had 10 touchdown receptions in 2018 but was never asked to throw the ball.

The point of this one was to remind readers that Andy Reid has always drawn up trick plays intended to catch a defense off guard. But to my surprise, there were few of those in 2018. Certainly, misdirection remained a staple of Reid’s offense, but with Mahomes as his quarterback, Reid seemed to recognize that he didn’t need plain old trick plays in 2018; Mahomes and his merry band of offensive weapons could be depended upon to move the ball. If I had realized Mahomes would progress so quickly — which I obviously didn’t — I might not have made this prediction.

5. The Chiefs defense will hold opponents to a passer rating of 80 or less, and there will be complaints about the secondary being awful.

The second part of this prediction was tongue-in-cheek. The first part wasn’t, and it was wrong. The Chiefs finished the season with an opposing quarterback passer rating of 92.7, which was 12th-best in the NFL.

Of course, I didn’t know that Eric Berry would remain “literally day-to-day“ for the entire season. I don’t think anybody did. Maybe Berry’s presence on the field would have made this prediction closer to the truth — or maybe it wouldn’t have. With any luck, Berry can not only play in 2019, but also play at a high level. He’s certainly going to be paid enough for us to hope for expect that.

6. By the end of the season, the Chiefs offensive line will be stable from one side to the other.

This one was was (mostly) made for laughs, but I’ll take credit for nailing it anyway. Without the multiple injuries that plagued this group, it’s reasonable to say the Week 1 starters would have stayed the same all the way through Week 20. For the Chiefs under Reid, that was a welcome development.

But since the Chiefs did have the injuries, we got to see that the team had a good group of players to back them up. Andrew Wylie, Jordan Devey and Austin Reiter all served admirably in relief, and even Jeff Allen — brought back to the team after the offensive line filled up an entire wing of a local hospital — pitched in. Center Mitch Morse is a free agent in 2019, and it’s good that the Chiefs already have an option in-house should they decide to move on. Otherwise — for the first time since Reid’s arrival — there really aren’t question marks anywhere on the line.

7. Sammy Watkins will make a lot of money playing for the Chiefs.

Another silly prediction — but one intended to illustrate a serious issue: we didn’t really know what we were getting with Watkins. And we still don’t.

Watkins had 519 yards on 40 catches during nine starts. That was adequate on a per-game basis; over a 16-game season, that works out to 922 yards on 71 catches. That’s a fairly acceptable level of production for a number two receiver. It’s fair to argue that Watkins was overpaid as a number two, but it’s also hard to put a price tag on how good the Chiefs offense was when he was on the field.

The trouble was keeping him on the field. Watkins hasn’t started a full season since his rookie campaign in Buffalo. For him to be worth the investment the Chiefs made in him, he’s going to have to be more available.

8. Ben Niemann will be the special teams ace.

This one passed muster. Niemann played on all the special teams units except the field goal kicking team, and Pro Football Focus gave him an 86.2 grade on special teams — highest on the team.

Whether Niemann — a linebacker by trade — can contribute on defense remains to be seen. He was solid (if unspectacular) in his lone start against the Cardinals, but how the 4-3 alignment favored by Spagnuolo might change his role is unknown. Even if his contributions in 2019 are primarily on special teams, he will be more than worth a roster spot.

9. The Chiefs will not give up a punt or kickoff return touchdown.

Another winner. The Chiefs still haven’t given up a kick return touchdown under Toub.

In the six seasons since Toub arrived, the Chiefs have given up exactly two points to their opponents on special teams plays — a safety on a punt blocked by the Jacksonville Jaguars in Toub’s very first game as Chiefs special teams coach in 2013. (Yes... the Chiefs gave up a touchdown to the Indianapolis Colts on a blocked punt in this season’s divisional round game, but because regular season and postseason records are kept separately, that remarkable Toub record remains intact, too).

10. The Chiefs will win the Super Bowl.

Just like the 2018 Chiefs season: a swing and a miss.

I’ve referenced this prediction a few times since September, and always described it as containing more than a bit of homerism. So even if it had happened, I don’t think I would have claimed any great skill for having predicted it.

Well... not much, anyway.

Still... it’s hard not to see the 2018 season as a step forward. Making the conference championship game for the first time in a quarter-century was nothing to sneeze at — especially as it came on the heels of a dominating divisional round win over a longtime playoff nemesis. The Chiefs may have lost to the Patriots, but nobody who watched that game is likely to believe the Chiefs won’t be back in the AFC Championship again.

Soon.


I made some other predictions in 2018.

At the end of August, I argued that Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton wasn’t going anywhere. That one riled up a few people; I still get emails about it. But I stand by what I said because I was right: unless the defensive performance of the team continued its downward trend in 2018, Sutton would be staying. But the slide continued, and now Sutton is gone.

The other one that people still want to bring up is my Week 9 prediction that the Chiefs would fall to the Browns. It turned out to be wrong, but I stand by that one, too. This is the NFL, where even championship-level teams sometimes lose games to inferior opponents — see Patriots at Lions in Week 3 and Saints at Buccaneers in Week 1. Picking a talented team playing at home that’s just jettisoned its head coach and offensive coordinator for fighting among themselvesparticularly if one of them is Todd Haley — isn’t dumb. In fact, if you’re going to pick an upset, there’s hardly a better time to do it, because interim head coaches win a disproportionate number of their first games.

I picked against the Chiefs twice in 2018: on the road against the Browns, and on the road against the Steelers. While both of those picks turned out to be wrong, I regret neither of them. However, I do regret picking the Chiefs to win against the Patriots in Foxboro, and the Rams in Los Angeles. In both cases, I foolishly resisted the temptation to predict the games would be shootouts — and the only reasonable way to predict the winner of a shootout is to pick the home team. I’ll remember that in 2019.