Mathieu is also a chess piece. It was made clear when he signed with the Chiefs in free agency that Mathieu would come in and not just play safety, but line up at nickel corner and cornerback, blitz the quarterback and do everything in between.
”Way back when we installed in the OTAs, I remember putting up play sheets of certain coverages, not all of them, and I told them that as I explained what each person does, everybody should listen, because at some point, most of you will have to play a different spot,” Spagnuolo said during the week before the regular-season finale against the Chargers. “I think when you can do that, it gives you flexibility, and maybe it gives the quarterback something to think about.”
Kansas City ended the regular season on a six-game winning streak, which is tied for the second-longest winning streak to end a season in franchise history. Since Week 11, the Chiefs have allowed the fewest points-per-game (11.5) in the NFL.
Of the top seven signal-callers in Total QBR, five are African American. Lamar Jackson, the Baltimore Ravens’ second-year phenom, led the league with a mark of 81.7. Jackson was followed by Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs at 76.4. Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys (70.6, fourth), Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks (69.8, sixth) and Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans (68.9, seventh) complete the group.
In addition to providing the big-play Chiefs offense with yet another home-run threat, Williams may also be the solution to a running game that ended the regular season ranked 23rd in the NFL.
The Chiefs have one of the most complete and best all-around teams in the NFL, but the running game has been a concern. Opposing defenses have flooded passing lanes in an attempt to take away Patrick Mahomes’ deep passing game, and the Chiefs have not always taken advantage of the open running room provided by these defensive fronts.
2. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
What he does best: Extreme playmaking
Mahomes has unreal talent, and he knows it. So does Andy Reid, and the Chiefs have surrounded their franchise quarterback with fantastic individual playmakers. He is the most dangerous passer in the NFL.
3. Patrick Mahomes
It was a trying season for the reigning MVP. His top receiver, Tyreek Hill, dealt with injuries, while Mahomes went down with a dislocated patella in October. Somehow, he only missed two games, but Mahomes couldn’t quite replicate his touchdown avalanche of 2018. Did he have a bad year, though? Absolutely not. Mahomes still ranked in the top 10 in touchdown passes, passing yards per game, and passer rating. Once he got back to 100 percent, the Chiefs won their last six games of the year to secure a first-round bye.
Key stat: Cut his interception rate from 2.1 percent in 2018 to 1.0 percent in 2019
2. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes missed two games this season due to injury and he didn’t match his insane touchdown production from 2018’s MVP campaign, but that doesn’t take away the fact that he was once again among the best in the league at chucking it down the field. Mahomes cracked 4,000 yards, tossed 26 touchdowns, and was picked off just five times in leading the Chiefs to a first-round playoff bye. An argument certainly exists for Russell Wilson over Mahomes for the second All-Pro QB slot behind Lamar Jackson, but the prolific Chiefs passer probably should have been there given the sheer value added to his team.
Robinson’s numbers were ballooned by a four-week stretch early in the season when Tyreek Hill was unavailable. After scoring three combined touchdowns in Weeks 2 and 3, Robinson didn’t find pay dirt again until the regular-season finale against the Chargers. While he’s technically still third on the Chiefs’ depth chart, Robinson is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason and the skills displayed by rookie Mecole Hardman could lead to Kansas City letting Robinson walk.
Around the NFL
Buffalo Bills (10-6) @ Houston Texans (10-6)
The last time the Buffalo Bills won a playoff game, neither Josh Allen nor the Houston Texans had been born. On Sunday, Allen will lead the Bills to their second playoff game in the past 20 years, but defense will be the key to victory in Houston. The Bills are the sixth-most-efficient defense according to Football Outsiders and have held 10 opponents to 17 or fewer points this season. Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White might be the best cornerback in football and will likely spend a lot of Saturday stuck to Houston star receiver DeAndre Hopkins. That puts a lot of pressure on the pass catchers behind Hopkins, especially receiver Will Fuller V, who has a groin injury and will be a game-time decision.
“That game still motivates me,” Jackson said Friday after the Ravens’ final practice of the bye week. “I still haven’t played my second playoff game yet. ... That game is over with. We’ve been having a great year this year. We just got to keep it going. I want a Super Bowl. I’m not worried about that. That was my rookie season.”
The average NFL game was watched by 16.5 million viewers, the highest total since the 2016 season. It averaged 15.8 million in 2018 and 14.9 million in 2017. Meanwhile, digital viewership increased 51% compared to the 2018 season. According to the league, an average of 487,000 viewers streamed each game in 2019.
Bold prediction: Tom Brady plays his final game with the Patriots
If the Titans pull off the upset, Brady will be headed into the offseason with his future completely up in the air for the first time in his 20-year career. The Patriots quarterback will be a free agent at the end of the season, and the fact that the two sides haven’t worked out a new deal could indicate that they’re both ready to move on from each other. Brady was actually asked this week about the possibility of this being his final game with the Patriots, and well, he gave the exact answer that you probably thought he was going to give, which basically means he ducked the question.
5) Los Angeles Chargers (AFC West, 5-11)
The Philip Rivers era may very well be over, and running back Melvin Gordon could be headed out the door along with the venerable quarterback. That said, the cupboard is not completely bare. The Chargers still have skill-position players to build around, including receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, and they have the makings of a top-10 defense, led by Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa and Derwin James (who was, we should not forget, injured for most of the 2019 season). Keys to success will be unearthing a way to unseat the Chiefs, who are 27-3 vs. AFC West teams since 2015 and have claimed four straight division crowns.
In case you missed it at Arrowhead Pride
Safety Tyrann Mathieu was named to the AP first team as a defensive back and to the second team as a safety. Tight end Travis Kelce, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and kick returner Mecole Hardman were named second-team All-Pros.
It’s worth noting that on Sunday, Daniel Sorensen still played the second-most snaps among Chiefs safeties — as usual, Tyrann Mathieu had the most — but played in the box for most of them. Still, he could get snaps as a deep safety in base personnel packages. Even if Sorensen is next in the pecking order, Fuller and Watts have to be ready to fill Thornhill’s shoes on the vast majority of defensive snaps.
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