To get to 14-2 last season, they needed to go 8-0 in games decided by seven points or fewer. There’s no track record of any team being able to sustain anything like that in close games for an extended period of time. That list includes the 2018-19 Chiefs and Mahomes, who was 9-7 in games decided by seven points or fewer before 2020. And while that list includes a couple of games in which late scores by the opposing team made the final score, Kansas City was in real danger more often than not:
In Week 2, the Chiefs faced a Chargers team forced to unexpectedly make a change at quarterback after Tyrod Taylor was injured by the team doctor. Rookie Justin Herbert & Co. led by eight points heading into the fourth quarter, only for Kansas City to score and hit a 2-pointer to tie. The Chargers then drove inside the 5-yard line but were stopped and kicked a field goal. The Chiefs kicked their own field goal to tie at the end of regulation. The Chargers then won the overtime coin toss, inexplicably punting on fourth-and-1 on their first drive. A KC drive stalled in no-man’s land, but Harrison Butker hit a 58-yard field goal to win it.
For the first the first time as Chiefs general manager, Brett Veach has released one of his draft picks before the start of the regular season. That player is receiver Cornell Powell, a fifth-round pick who caught 53 passes for 882 yards and seven touchdowns during his senior season at Clemson. Powell caught just four passes during the preseason.
The Chiefs traded for left tackle Orlando Brown and signed left guard Joe Thuney to a massive free agent contract, returned the likely starter at right tackle in Lucas Niang from last year’s draft (Niang opted out of last season), then drafted Creed Humphrey and Smith, both of whom have worked their way into starting spots at center and right guard, respectively. And with Smith costing a sixth-round pick, rather than the second-rounder needed to acquire Humphrey, Pro Football Talk’s Peter King named Smith as his best value out of the rookie class.
“While at the University of Tennessee, Smith missed some time due to blood clots in his lung,” King wrote. “That cratered his draft stock, and KC GM Brett Veach got him with the team’s final draft pick—sixth round, 226th overall. He’ll make, in total compensation this year, $790,000, and is projected to start at right guard in two weeks when Kansas City opens against Cleveland; the left guard, Joe Thuney, the prize guard in free agency this year, will make $18 million in 2021. The two practices I saw, Smith was first-team right guard and mostly stoned the tackles and linebackers trying to penetrate his gap. “There were times when I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play football again,” Smith told me, “so blocking for Patrick [Mahomes] now is pretty humbling. This is a big task and responsibility I have.”
Kansas City Chiefs (+450)
Bet $100 to win $450
The Chiefs have been to the Super Bowl two years in a row and have the NFL’s best quarterback in Patrick Mahomes. He throws to TE Travis Kelce and WR Tyreek Hill, while second-year RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire is expected to have a greater role in 2021.
The Chiefs also remade their offensive line after Mahomes struggled to find time to throw in their Super Bowl loss to the Buccaneers.
Prisco: Chiefs -320. The Chiefs are the class of the AFC, and with the rebuilt offensive line they will score a ton. The Broncos should be outstanding on defense, but it’s all about Teddy Bridgewater. The Chargers will be fun to watch with Justin Herbert. Las Vegas has too many defensive issues to compete.
Dajani: Cheifs -320. Not even sure if the juice is worth the squeeze in betting this, but yeah, I think the Chiefs are the easy pick.
Breech: Chiefs -320. As long as Patrick Mahomes is their quarterback, I will likely be picking the Chiefs to win the division, which means I will likely be picking them for at least the next decade.
Sullivan: Chiefs -320. The only thing that would have made this call a bit more difficult to make is if the Broncos swung a trade for Aaron Rodgers this offseason. That never materialized and it’s now once again Kansas City’s division to run away with.
Around the NFL
Both quarterbacks performed well in the preseason, although Jones got the lion’s share of action during games. Newton missed a week leading up to the club’s final preseason game after a misunderstanding of COVID-19 protocols forced him off the practice field and into the NFL’s five-day re-entry cadence. Coach Bill Belichick declined to say, at the time, whether Newton’s absence had damaged his chances of winning the job.
Jones was the No. 15 overall pick of the draft out of Alabama.
The Patriots also released longtime backup QB Brian Hoyer on Tuesday as the team trimmed down to a 53-man roster. Currently, Jones and Jarrett Stidham are the only QBs on the Patriots roster.
44. Tyler Bray
Bears TD points: 0
Bears wins points: 0
Career AV points: 0
Bonus points: 0
Bray almost joined Hartsell on the vaunted one-career-attempt list. He threw just one in-game pass over his first seven NFL seasons, but his practice contributions were apparently enough to keep his job safe.
Unfortunately, Bray was called into action last year after injuries to both Trubisky and Nick Foles left Chicago shorthanded at QB. And he looked completely baffled while trying to lead the Bears on a game-winning drive against the Vikings, going 1-of-5 for 18 yards. Now he’s out of the league.
The Las Vegas Raiders have to do something to separate themselves in the brutal AFC West.
Derek Carr threw for 4,103 yards last year, while Josh Jacobs ran for 1,065. Kenyan Drake joined Jacobs in the backfield this offseason, tight end Darren Waller caught 73.8 percent of his passes for nearly 1,200 yards last season, and the wide receiver corps is stacked.
The front office made an attempt to revamp an offensive line that finished 24th last year, according to Pro Football Focus, and the defense added Yannick Ngakoue to boost a Maxx Crosby-focused pass rush that recorded the fourth-fewest sacks in 2020.
Cornerback, though, is a premium spot that is projected to be a weak point. Casey Hayward struggled last year for the Los Angeles Chargers, recording a 59.5 grade at PFF to put him in the “replaceable” category. Nevin Lawson had a 55.6, and Trayvon Mullen Jr. finished at 55.3.
Luckily for the Raiders, Stephon Gilmore of the New England Patriots has been a staple of trade speculation since last year’s deadline. He enters 2021 on the final year of his deal and skipped mandatory camps in June.
Acquiring Gilmore wouldn’t come cheap (perhaps in the second-round range), but he could boost a weak unit on a team that has potential to make a run if it gets hot at the right time.
The AFC West is loaded, but the Raiders aren’t the only team with a remade offensive line that could backfire—Kansas City and the Los Angeles Chargers did the same this summer, while Denver has major question marks under center. There could be an opening for the Raiders, provided they can shore up a key problem on the depth chart.
Meyer said Tuesday that it was considered because of the more stringent COVID-19 protocols imposed on unvaccinated players who test positive or are identified as high-risk close contacts as compared with the protocols for vaccinated players.
Rosters were cut to 53 players on Tuesday.
“Everyone was considered,” Meyer said. “That was part of the [considerations such as] production, let’s start talking about this, and also is he vaccinated or not? Can I say that that was a decision-maker? It was certainly in consideration.”
Meyer’s comments did not go over well with the NFL Players Association. George Atallah, the assistant executive director for external affairs for the NFLPA, told ESPN via email that Meyer’s statements “have led us to open an investigation.”
Winner: Ezekiel Elliott
For no other reason than he remains the most entertainingly childlike character of the show. In limited screen time (boo!), Elliott was a persistent cheerleader, popping up in Dak’s QB meeting room and supporting rookie JaQuan Hardy’s efforts to make the roster. Here’s to hoping we get one last, long look at he and Dak’s bromance in the season finale.
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
Fortson had plenty of reason to be overjoyed. After two offseasons spent trying out for the Chiefs and eventually failing to make the active roster, he has officially made this year’s initial 53-man roster. Head coach Andy Reid confirmed it in his media availability just before Fortson took the microphone.
As he beamed in front of the Zoom camera, Fottson reflected on the journey he took to go from a Division II collegiate wide receiver to an NFL tight end.
“I’ve put a lot of time into this, and there was a lot of days that I thought this wouldn’t come — but I stayed true to it, kept working, and here we are,” Fortson described. “I know there’s so much more work to do, but I was told to take my small victories as well and cherish them. It’s just been a long road; it’s been a long road.”