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New projection sends Chiefs to the AFC championship — but not the Super Bowl

Nate Davis makes a case where Kansas City falls short of the championship game.

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NFL: NOV 04 Chiefs at Browns Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Wednesday, USA Today’s Nate Davis presented his team record projections for the 2021 season. To create them, he predicted the outcome of all 272 of this season’s regular-season games, which allowed him to predict playoff seedings, too.

He thinks the Kansas City Chiefs will win their sixth-straight AFC West crown — but enter the playoffs with the fourth seed after finishing the regular season with a 12-5 record.

(4) Kansas City Chiefs (12-5): Mahomes mused about going 20-0 last month – and later backed away from it – yet there are plenty of reasons to expect some measure of regression from a team that’s won five consecutive division crowns, reached three straight AFC championship games and appeared in the last two Super Bowls. Last year’s conference champs must navigate an unforgiving schedule, which includes a tough trio of AFC West foes, even as Andy Reid tries to dial in a revamped offensive line and seeks more production from his No. 2 wideout, likely Mecole Hardman. DE Frank Clark’s legal troubles could present another obstacle. However that schedule, which is heavily frontloaded, presents only two 2020 playoff teams after October.

In the playoffs, Davis thinks Kansas City will beat the fifth-seeded Baltimore Ravens in the Wild Card round and then defeat the third-seeded Buffalo Bills to advance to their fourth straight AFC championship — but miss the Super Bowl by falling to the top seed: the Cleveland Browns. He then believes the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will beat Cleveland in the Super Bowl.


While Davis didn’t reveal each one of his individual game picks, reading between the lines suggests that he thinks the Chiefs will fall to both the Browns and Bills in the season’s early weeks — thereby giving Buffalo (also with a 12-5 record) the third seed in the playoffs. Since he believes they will win the second seed with another 12-5 record, he also appears to think the Tennessee Titans will defeat Kansas City in Nashville during Week 7.

Davis’ characterization of the AFC West as a “tough trio of division foes” — and projecting the Los Angeles Chargers will finish 11-6 — suggests he may think the Chiefs could drop a couple of division games, which would account for the other two losses.

And frankly... none of that is entirely off base. However it ends up being constituted, the Kansas City offensive line could struggle in the early part of the season. If the Browns prove to be legitimate contenders for the AFC crown, opening the season against them — even at Arrowhead Stadium — could prove very tough. And Davis is right: the first part of the team’s 2021 schedule does look pretty unforgiving.

But suppose you believe that the Chiefs’ offensive line will improve as the season progresses (which Davis appears to do, since he is predicting two Kansas City playoff victories). In that case, I think you would have to consider giving the Chiefs the advantage in their third postseason game — against an opponent to whom they lost the opening game of the season.

In such a matchup, I wouldn't bet against Andy Reid.