The Chiefs will score more points than last season, when they led the NFL with 565.
Not only is Patrick Mahomes a veteran relative to where he was at this point last season, but the Chiefs have added to their strong collection of skill players with a pair of rookies, wide receiver Mecole Hardman and running back Darwin Thompson. Both used their considerable speed to score a touchdown in the preseason. Neither figures to be a regular, but the Chiefs will find ways to put their skills to use. The Chiefs with Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins were already a fast offensive team, but this year they can double down on that. -- Adam Teicher
Kansas City Chiefs: 10.9 wins (projected AFC West champions)
I’ve written about a number of Chiefs recently (Patrick Mahomes leads all players in win-share projections, Tyreek Hill is my model’s top slot receiver) and discussed the defense’s potential to improve (putting Mahomes in situations where he has a higher probability to convert). The most improved position group this offseason for this team? Safety. Between signing Tyrann Mathieu and drafting Juan Thornhill, the potential for this position to be a source of strength, as opposed to causing uncertainty, accounted for almost one full win in the median projection (0.78 games).
Kansas City Chiefs
2018 Record: 12-4, AFC West champion (no. 1 seed)
Their world-breaking offense from 2018 is almost certain to regress this year. The question is not if, but by how much. As ESPN’s Mike Clay explained while presenting an excellent case for the Chiefs missing the playoffs, of the 30 offenses that have scored 50 or more touchdowns in the past 10 years, 27 have scored fewer touchdowns the following season. (The other three offenses are all Patriots teams.) On average, those 27 teams dropped roughly one touchdown per game the following season. Clay also projects Kansas City will face the toughest schedule of defenses in the NFL this season.
Still, it’s tough to see Kansas City missing the playoffs entirely, particularly if its 31st-ranked defense improves. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo replaced Bob Sutton, which is potentially a big upgrade. The team also swapped pass rusher Dee Ford for Frank Clark at defensive end and brought in safety Tyrann Mathieu to replace Eric Berry, and both moves improve each position. But Kansas City still has questionable cornerback depth behind Kendall Fuller and also little defensive line help behind Clark and defensive tackle Chris Jones.
Danger of missing the playoffs: Higher than most think, but still low.
“Neither one of us was happy with how probably the last quarter of the season went from the standpoint of movements,” said Bobby Stroupe, Mahomes’ longtime personal trainer. “His play was at a high level — no doubt — but if you look at his film from the beginning of the year versus the end of the year, he moved around a lot more in the beginning of the year. His escapability, his strength in the pocket, was a little bit different.”
The goal was to create a more robust athlete who could absorb more contact while also having greater mobility, and the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback reported to training camp looking noticeably more sculpted.
“I cut down some of the fat,” Mahomes said, “and made it more muscle.”
DE Calais Campbell/DE Josh Allen vs. RT Mitchell Schwartz
Josh Allen looked like a cheat code against the Dolphins in Week 3 of the preseason, but 2018 First-Team All-Pro right tackle Mitchell Schwartz is a huge upgrade over the likes of Jesse Davis and Jaryd Jones-Smith.
As a result, I would expect a heavy dose of Allen on the edge and moving Calais Campbell inside to three-technique a ton on passing downs to take advantage of a weaker Chiefs interior offensive line most likely including Cam Erving, Austin Reiter, and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. If Allen can continue to get production and affect the run of play against Schwartz, then we got a stew cooking for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
On the flip side, Yannick Ngakoue will have his hands full against former No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher, so that interior penetration will be critical to not let Mahomes set his feet and dissect the field.
Only one starter appears on the injury report -- safety Tyrann Mathieu, who practiced in full with a shoulder issue. He injured the shoulder in Week 2 of the preseason at Pittsburgh, but he expects to play in Sunday’s opener against the Jaguars.
Three other players practiced in full with injury designations: running back Darrel Williams (shoulder), safety Armani Watts (shoulder) and tight end Deon Yelder (ankle). Yelder missed the final two games of the preseason after sustaining a sprained ankle against Pittsburgh, but all signs point to his availability in Week 1 at Jacksonville
“That was one of the ones that probably hurt me the most. Me and Shady, I’ve been here a short time but we hung out and did something probably everyday,” Beasley said, via NewYorkUpstate.com. “When we were here we were shooting hoops in [the field house], playing anagrams on the phone – competing. That’s all we did is compete together.”
Beasley said McCoy has already been missed on the practice field.
“It’s very different not having him in the huddle because he’s a very big personality. He talks a lot and he brings a lot of juice,” Beasley said. “It’s just a little bit more quiet. We felt that void kind of missing [him] a little bit.”
It’s hard to figure Schneider could have envisioned any scenario in April where Houston would end up agreeing to pay almost half of Clowney’s salary, making it possible the Seahawks basically get Clowney and Ansah for this season for what Seattle could have paid Clark.
Schneider might well have just figured at the time the decision was made to trade Clark that maybe some things could break right down the road.
As the Clowney situation has shown, the time to trade a tagged player is in the spring, when other teams can negotiate a long-term deal and the trading team can maximize what it gets in return. So, if Seattle was going to trade Clark — after deciding it didn’t want to pay him $21 million a season, which he basically got from the Chiefs — and take a chance it could ably replace him later, the time to do it was before the draft and then see if the dominoes could fall in line from there.
While many assumed that Williams would still be the primary option, Andy Reid said otherwise. Reid told reporters that both backs can be co-starters.
During Reid’s tenure so far in Kansas City, he has never gone to a committee with his backfield. From Jamaal Charles to Spencer Ware to Kareem Hunt to Damien Williams, Reid has always gone with a bell-cow. During McCoy’s time with Reid back in Philadelphia, he was always a three-down back, and that continued when he moved on to Buffalo.
Williams is four years younger than McCoy and has more experience in the Chiefs’ system and will still be a factor despite McCoy’s arrival.
LeSean McCoy vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
McCoy figures to have more value in the Chiefs’ backfield than he had with the Bills, but it’s hard to trust him or Damien Williams until we get some semblance of what the touch share will look like. The Jaguars’ defense is one of the league’s more talented units too, so starting McCoy this week is a little bit shady.
Around the league
“Zeke has been arguably our best player,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in an interview Wednesday morning with CNBC. “I’m not trying to be unfair to anybody else. But he’s an incremental part to our success. We’re glad to get him booked in, we’re glad to have him on the team. And he plays a position that has some pretty interesting dynamics to it because running backs are short-lived, although we had what I consider to be one of the top five greatest ones in Emmitt Smith, and Emmitt ran the ball for 13 years. So you don’t have to have a four- or five-year career to be a running back. On the other hand, Zeke allows us to create such problems for the defense that then we can open it up to our passing, open it up for Dak Prescott.”
Hop aboard the Browns hype train
Cleveland is real excited about the Browns this year. Like, running-down-the-street-screaming-and-scaring-the-neighbors level excited.
The Browns won five of their last seven games in 2018 and enter this year with expectations sky high. Baker Mayfield is a year wiser after setting the NFL rookie record for touchdown passes. He also now has Odell Beckham Jr. on his list of weapons, which already included Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, and Nick Chubb.
The defense should be better, too. Cleveland added Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon to a defensive line that boasts former No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett.
2018 record: 12-4
2018 DVOA: Third on offense; eighth on defense
Best-case scenario: The Chargers were one of the best teams in football last season on both sides of the ball, and they’re returning most of their core. Even with safety Derwin James starting the season on injured reserve, this defense is absolutely loaded. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are arguably the top edge duo in the NFL, and the addition of first-round pick Jerry Tillery gives this front an interior pass-rushing presence that it’s lacked in recent years. The Chargers also have a stacked cornerback group that features Casey Hayward, Michael Davis, and excellent slot man Desmond King. If rookie free safety Nasir Adderley can find his way into the lineup relatively early after missing most of the preseason with a hamstring injury, this could be a suffocating coverage unit.
Philip Rivers is virtually indestructible at this point, and he’s got a nice collection of receivers at his disposal. Keenan Allen is a perennial member of the Always Open Club, and third-year wideout Mike Williams has a chance to break out in a big way now that Tyrell Williams has gone to the Raiders. Tight end Hunter Henry is back healthy after missing nearly the entire 2018 season with a torn ACL, and even if the team is without Melvin Gordon while he sorts out his contract dispute, Austin Ekeler is among the most effective pass-catching running backs in the entire league.
In case you missed it at Arrowhead Pride
If everything goes to plan, you’re right: the Chiefs backup quarterback will only see the field in garbage time — or in meaningless late-season games.
The problem, however, is that things don’t always go according to plan. Should Patrick Mahomes be seriously injured — something nobody wants to even think about — the Chiefs want an experienced, reasonably-capable player to take his place. Since he arrived in Kansas City, that’s the way head coach Andy Reid has always operated.
I say it all the time: a good backup quarterback is insurance — and insurance is expensive. Sometimes it just costs you a few million bucks against the salary cap. Sometimes it costs one of your opportunities to bring back a player from injured reserve, too.
And then there is Chase Litton, who was with the Chiefs through cuts last week. Litton did not make the team, and the Jaguars signed him to their initial practice squad. Reid did not seem all that worried about the possible sharing of trade secrets.
“He is a smart guy, so I’m sure they have quizzed him on it, but you have 300 plays to choose from,” Reid said. “If they can predict those, they are really good. That is kind of where we are at.”
The media laughed again.
“I’m super happy for Chase,” Mahomes added. “He is someone that worked super hard while he was here, and he got to go down there and try out and he made the team. He is someone that is going to work hard and keep doing whatever he can to make his name in this league. So I’m excited for him and his opportunities there.”
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