USA Today NFL writer Nate Davis released his 2019 preseason predictions on Monday, where he predicts the Kansas City Chiefs will finish 11-5 — but the Los Angeles Chargers will go 12-4 to win the AFC West and eventually the Super Bowl.
For the last few years, this has been nothing new for Chiefs fans. Despite Kansas City being 9-1 in the last four years against the Chargers, 16-2 against the AFC West in the the last three years and winning the division title three seasons in a row, many national analysts refuse to pick the Chiefs to win the West.
Why do these experts continue to put their faith in everyone but the Chiefs — despite Kansas City’s success against the rest of the division? Analyzing the context to the predictions for the last three seasons may provide some answers.
2017 preseason favorites: Oakland Raiders
Even though the Chiefs had just won the division title in the season in 2016, it was no secret that the Raiders were the favorite to take the crown in 2017. For example, six of the 10 analysts in this Sports Illustrated article picked Oakland to win the division. Oakland had matched the Chiefs’ 12-4 record the season before and had young talent up and down its roster. From quarterback Derek Carr — who was coming off an MVP-caliber season — to Pro Bowlers Kahlil Mack and Amari Cooper, the Raiders seemed to be loaded headed into 2017.
Comparatively, the Chiefs also sported a 12-4 record, and went 5-1 in the AFC the previous season. Pro Bowlers like Eric Berry, Marcus Peters and Tyreek Hill made Kansas City a tempting pick, but the biggest question was at the most important position. Analysts believed that Alex Smith could not lead a team to win the big game. Most people believed that Carr was the QB of the future and the present, giving the Raiders the edge.
Of course, Carr never quite got back to MVP form, the Raiders never quite lived up to the hype and the Chiefs once again ended up winning the division.
2018 preseason favorites: Los Angeles Chargers
While the Chiefs did win the West in 2017, they won it with a 10-6 record — leaving them vulnerable in the eyes of many. Alex Smith had a career season, but was traded to the Washington Redskins to make way for Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs also traded away Peters, and were unsure about Berry’s status heading into the season. The acquisition of Sammy Watkins and the emergence of Hill and Kareem Hunt helped establish the Chiefs as a dangerous offense heading into the year, but there were still questions at defense and at the most important position on the roster.
Though Mahomes had shown promise in his Week 17 debut the season before, most analysts were unsure if he would become the quarterback the Chiefs needed. Enter the Chargers, who had an established QB, Pro Bowl talent on both sides of the ball and had lost the division by a single game the year before.
They also had a strong draft leading into the season, grabbing Florida State safety Derwin James — who was projected to be an NFL star — in the first round. On paper, the Chargers were more of a sure thing than the Chiefs; this CBS Sports article notes that a lot of people picked Los Angeles to rule the West last year.
Though they had their nine-game win streak against the Chargers snapped in 2018, the Chiefs went on to otherwise run the table in what was supposed to be the toughest division in football — winning the AFC West for the third consecutive year
Surely, the Chiefs have proven they deserve to be the favorites for the upcoming season... right?
2019 preseason favorite: Los Angeles Chargers
And here we go again. Despite coming off yet another division title, despite having the NFL MVP at quarterback — and despite proving they could excel while carrying a below-average defense — the Chiefs are still being overlooked in many preseason predictions.
Here’s how Davis sees the Chargers.
Los Angeles Chargers (12-4): If they can finally stave off the injury bug — Bosa, TE Hunter Henry and LB Denzel Perryman have their fingers crossed — the Bolts have as much talent as any team, particularly at the skill positions. They’re also battle-tested — let’s be honest, they basically play in front of a hostile crowd every week — capable of winning in any environment, to include a Super Bowl audience in South Florida on Feb. 2. (And wouldn’t it be kinda nice to see Philip Rivers join 2004 draft mates Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger on the championship dais?)
And then the Chiefs.
Kansas City Chiefs (11-5): Will an overhauled defense jell quickly? Can league MVP Patrick Mahomes possibly approach the mind-boggling production he managed in his first year as a starter? Are the off-field distractions at an end with the NFL choosing not to suspend WR Tyreek Hill? Lots of questions, though K.C. is equipped to provide correct answers between the lines. Early tests as AFC West champs open with three of four on the road.
Every season, it seems analysts have more questions about the Chiefs than answers, and feel more comfortable putting their faith in what they feel like is a sure thing.
The perceived disrespect before every season may be for frustrating Chiefs fans. But if it reaps the same results, not many will complain.