In his “State of the Franchise” series on NFL.com, Adam Rank has been writing 2021 previews for each team in the league. On Monday, he turned his attention to the Kansas City Chiefs, saying that for the current AFC Champions, “it’s Lombardi or bust.”
The whole article is well worth your time — but here are some highlights:
Head coach: Andy Reid. I’m not sure if Andy is the best coach in the NFL, but is he the coach you’d want to play for most? All right, not you, Le’Veon Bell. But who else would you pick? Bill Belichick? I mean, think of Andy and Bill as fathers of straight-A students. Belichick mans the house where video games are off by 6 p.m. Lights out by 7:30. Andy is up playing Madden with the kids at midnight. Beastie Boys blaring at unacceptable levels. Two different ways to go about it. Both successful.
This is a pretty cool way to look at it. Right now, Reid and Belichick are the league’s two most successful coaches — and are among the most successful of all time. But even though they are good friends, their styles couldn't be any more different. Reid is among the most well-liked coaches. Belichick is... not.
Quarterback: Patrick Mahomes. Super Bowl LV was supposed to be Patrick’s coronation as the best quarterback in the game. Kind of like when Hulk Hogan faced The Rock in WrestleMania X8. I’m not sure we got the double-turn of Brady becoming the good guy and Mahomes becoming the heel (though it was a home game for Brady), but there were many parallels. That said, life didn’t imitate art, as Brady ended up winning the game and holding the throne as the G.O.A.T. At least for now.
“At least for now” is the key phrase of this paragraph. Without getting into the whole “rings vs. wins” argument, the idea that Mahomes couldn't eventually be seen as the greatest quarterback of all time is just... wrong. I’m not saying that Mahomes will surpass Brady. Instead, it’s simply too early to say that he can’t.
2021 breakout star: L’Jarius Sneed, defensive back. The Chiefs get so much praise for what they do offensively, so it figures nobody noticed when Sneed was an absolute stud during his rookie season. It’s like being a small indie band crushing it on a side stage at Coachella, while The Killers are rocking on the main stage. (I don’t know why The Killers were my go-to band here, but they are great.) Sneed lines up all over the field. He can even get to the quarterback, as he had two sacks and three quarterback pressures. But he was great in coverage, limiting quarterbacks to a passer rating of 54.2, the third-lowest among nearest defenders with a minimum of 40 targets, according to Pro Football Focus. And he missed time last year (seven games). He’s going to be even better in 2021.
It’s reasonable to think of Sneed — taken in the fourth round — as the steal of the 2020 NFL Draft. Let’s fast forward to how things might look a year from now — after offensive lineman Trey Smith (a sixth-round pick) might have won a starting job on the Chiefs offensive line. What are people going to say about Chiefs general manager Brett Veach if he lands the steal of the draft in two consecutive seasons? I can tell you one thing they should say: being able to find the draft’s best talent outside of the most obvious top picks is just about the best skill that the GM of a perennial contender could have.
[Will the Chiefs be able to take] the next step defensively? The Chiefs have been pretty good on defense, allowing an average of 20.9 points per game under Steve Spagnuolo since he took over in 2019. Kansas City being good on defense is often overlooked. Must have been like when people first went to Dunkin’ for the donuts, before they realized the coffee was also delicious. Now you kind of forget they even have donuts. Not that we will forget the Chiefs’ offense, but you know what I mean. But the D could be even better this year. The Chiefs allowed a 76.6 red-zone TD percentage to opponents last year (worst in the NFL). If they can get back to the 50.9 percent they posted in 2019, this team might be unstoppable.
This could be a pretty big “if” — but Rank is making a good point: while fielding one of the league’s worst defenses, the Chiefs came tantalizingly close to making the Super Bowl in 2018. If Spagnuolo can fix the team’s biggest defensive weakness from 2020 — which is apparently exactly what they are focused on doing — the Chiefs are going to be very tough to beat.
[For the 2021 season to be a success, the Chiefs MUST win] the Super Bowl. Yep, it’s Super Bowl or bust. This is how K.C.’s current coach/quarterback duo is going to be judged for the remainder of their days together. It was impressive last season to get back to the Super Bowl. That’s not the goal. The goal is winning the whole damn thing.
Yessir. Not just now — but in 2022, 2023 and so on.
Rank didn’t get everything exactly right — in an early version of the article, he incorrectly identified Mitchell Schwartz as the player who tore his Achilles in the AFC Championship game — but his takes on the Chiefs’ upcoming season are generally right on the money. And it’s a fun read, too. You should check out the whole thing.