For the first time in my lifetime, the Kansas City Chiefs are preseason favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. OddsShark currently has them at +300 odds. The organization is clearly confident they can break through — and so are most fans. The built-up excitement will only grow stronger when training camp opens in just over a week.
While the hype is justified, the road to a championship berth will not be easy. There are plenty of threats to the Chiefs’ ultimate goal. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans are all legitimate adversaries for the Lamar Hunt trophy, but they will all take a back seat to the three other betting favorites behind Kansas City — and the Chiefs will take on all three of them during the regular season.
Odds to win AFC: +325
When they play the Chiefs: Week 14 / Gillette Stadium / 3:25 CST / CBS
The defending Super Bowl champions have had plenty of personnel turnover this offseason. Tight end Rob Gronkowski retired — for now. Defensive end Trey Flowers and left tackle Trent Brown signed elsewhere. Important defensive assistants Brian Flores and Brandon Daly left for other opportunities. (Daly, of course, became Chiefs defensive line coach).
That amount of change would be trouble for most teams, but most teams don’t have future Hall of Famers like quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick.
Brady will be 42 this season. He leads an offensive system specifically set up to make life easier for him. They love using running back James White in the short passing game. Wide receiver Julian Edelman excels in quick routes and gaining yards after the catch. Their old-school running game — led by running back Sony Michel — is far from fancy, but it’s effective.
The Patriots defense will always be one of the league’s toughest as long as Belichick is running it. Individual talent like safety Devin McCourty, newly acquired defensive end Michael Bennett and All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore will only help Bill’s scheme be as disruptive as ever.
After leading the league with 18 pass breakups – New England Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore finished the regular season as the highest-graded cornerback pic.twitter.com/z4So5vdGeX— PFF (@PFF) January 8, 2019
Eventually, the New England dynasty will end — and the rest of the league will rejoice. Until then, the Patriots have to be considered the biggest threat to any contender’s championship goal. They will host Kansas City — for the third season in a row — towards the end of the regular season campaign. You can be sure the matchup will have important playoff implications.
During head coach Andy Reid’s tenure, the Chiefs are 2-3 against the Patriots including the postseason. In the Week 14 game, quarterback Pat Mahomes — unsuccessful in his first two attempts — will have his third crack at taking them down.
Odds to win AFC: +750
When they play the Chiefs:
Week 11 / Estadio Azteca (Mexico City) / 7:15 CST / ESPN
Week 17 / Arrowhead Stadium / 12:00 CST / CBS
For the fourth consecutive offseason, the Chargers are a popular pick to take over the AFC West throne. But the Chiefs are three-time defending division champions. While it is fun to laugh at this annual hot take, Los Angeles is a very good team.
They have one of the most talented defenses in the league, including defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, cornerback Casey Heyward and safety Derwin James.
Veteran quarterback Phillip Rivers is running out of time to earn his first Super Bowl ring, and he knows this season is as good of a shot as he’ll have; the 37-year-old quarterback has proven he is still capable of playing at an elite level.
Rivers’ offense will be loaded with playmakers like running back Melvin Gordon, wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and tight end Hunter Henry. While the injury bug seems to victimize the Chargers every season, if they can stay healthy, they’ll be as dangerous as any foe on the Chiefs’ schedule.
Still, Kansas City has owned the Chargers in the Andy Reid era. After losing the first two matchups in 2013, the Chiefs have won the rest of them — that is, up until last year’s Thursday night debacle where they blew a 14-point lead late in the fourth quarter. Reid has proven he knows how to beat his division rivals. He’ll need to prove it once more in 2019 if the Chiefs plan on playing their postseason games in Arrowhead Stadium.
Odds to win AFC: +800
When they play the Chiefs: Week 5 / Arrowhead Stadium / 7:20 CST / NBC
The last time the Indianapolis Colts were playing football, they were getting dominated by the Chiefs on the road in the divisional round of the playoffs. They entered the game with a 10-1 record in their previous 11 contests; they were a surprising playoff team after beginning 1-5 under first-year head coach Frank Reich. If they make another playoff run, there won’t be any surprise this time.
Quarterback Andrew Luck was playing at a very high level down the stretch of the 2018 season. He finished with the second-most touchdown passes in the NFL, and did it with an arsenal of weapons that was further improved this offseason.
Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is always a threat to break away and score from anywhere on the field, and the front office complemented his abilities by bringing in newcomer Devin Funchess and rookie Parris Campbell. Tight end Eric Ebron found himself in the endzone 13 times in 2018, and is joined by Jack Doyle to form a solid duo at that position. Running back Marlon Mack burst onto the scene last year, benefitting from a young, talented group blocking for him. All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson anchored the offensive line while having a very impressive rookie season.
Quenton Nelson dominated as a rookie - and was the league's highest-graded left guard last year pic.twitter.com/HVPC1rZj6n— PFF (@PFF) May 14, 2019
Their defense isn’t star-studded, but they are led by second-year linebacker Darius Leonard, who was an All-Pro in 2018. He will be welcoming a familiar name to the unit: former Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston. Switching to defensive end in the Colts’ 4-3 scheme after being released from Kansas City in March, Houston will be the veteran leader of the defense — and their best edge defender — right off the bat. The Indianapolis secondary will be strengthened with the return of safety Malik Hooker, a young stud who showed great promise before tearing his ACL last offseason.
The Colts have a history of breaking the hearts of Chiefs fans, and could absolutely play spoiler this year if they can pull off an early-season win at Arrowhead.
The Week 5 game is the first in a long stretch of tough opponents for the Chiefs. If the Colts can avenge last year’s postseason beat-down, it will make it much harder for Kansas City to earn a record worthy of a first-round bye.
So... the Chiefs may be the AFC favorites, but let’s not kid ourselves: it won’t be easy.