If I were a superstitious person, I'd say that I jinxed the Kansas City Chiefs by not being bearish on anyone before the Week 2 game against the Baltimore Ravens. So it'll come as no surprise that there are plenty of Bears this week.
Looking forward to the matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers, there's a good chance that many of the trends we saw in the first two weeks will reverse. The game won't be easy, but the Chiefs have an opportunity to show that the first two games were — in some ways — an anomaly. Getting back on track will require some of the Bears to reverse course — and some value (aka sleeper) players to step up.
Here are a few who might do just that.
Mecole Hardman: In Baltimore, Hardman did some things that we've been waiting to see. He caught five of eight targets for 55 yards, helping move the chains with four first downs. While it was a small sample size, it was encouraging to see Hardman working the short and intermediate routes, getting open and making catches. Mahomes and Hardman have yet to connect deep — but that could happen this week. Perhaps we're starting to see Hardman's evolution into a more reliable third receiving target.
Trey Smith: Thus far, the kid has been everything we've hoped he could be. On our Out of Structure podcast, we talked about an over/under for Trey Smith pancakes this season. He might already be getting close to the over. Smith has arguably been the Chiefs' best offensive lineman — which given the talent they added this offseason, is saying a lot. The whole line has been pretty solid — especially in pass protection — but they're still working on the timing and assignments in the running game. The Chargers' defense represents an excellent opportunity to get better.
Harrison Butker: Lost in the drama of the Chiefs' season thus far is the lack of drama from the kicker. He's two for two on field goals — and notably, eight for eight on extra points. Sure... one extra point went off the upright and through — but it still counted. Buttkicker won't be perfect for the whole season, but he deserves credit for being on target. They may need him against the Chargers — the same team against which he hit multiple 58-yard attempts to beat in 2020.
Others trending in the right direction: Byron Pringle, Blake Bell, Tyrann Mathieu, L'Jarius Sneed, Jody Fortson, Lucas Niang
Jarran Reed: The Chiefs' most significant free-agent addition of the offseason has pretty much been invisible against two outstanding rushing teams. Expectations have been high for the impact that No. 90 could make playing on the inside while Chris Jones mans the outside. But so far, the run defense has been as bad as ever — and the pass rush might be worse. On Sunday, Reed will have the opportunity to make plays against Justin Herbert and the Chargers offense. If he doesn't, it might be cause for serious concern about the front seven.
Ben Niemann: All of the Chiefs linebackers struggled against the Ravens — but No. 56 may have stood out the most. Too often, it seemed he and the other linebackers guessed wrong when coming up to the line of scrimmage, causing them to be out of position to stop the Ravens' rushing attack. Against the Chargers, they'll have to be active in coverage against one of the league's best receiving backs; the concern is that Herbert could have a field day targeting Niemann while he's covering running back Austin Ekeler or tight end Jared Cook.
Frank Clark: Given their historically bad numbers in the first couple of weeks, it's no coincidence that all of the featured Bears are on the Chiefs' defense. Other than one tackle for loss, Clark's return to the field was a letdown. Now, another hamstring issue has popped back up during the week of practice; his status for the Chargers game may be in doubt. This season, the pressure is on Clark to produce — but to show he's a premium player, he'll have to be on the field. It's a long season, but this hasn't been an excellent start for Clark.
Others trending in the wrong direction: Anthony Hitchens, Nick Bolton, Chris Jones, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Daniel Sorensen, Mike Danna, Alex Okafor, Creed Humphrey, Joe Thuney
Hold (wait and see)
Juan Thornhill: Many on Chiefs Twitter are jumping to all kinds of conclusions about where Thornhill now stands with the team. There's good reason for concern, as defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo made what seemed like negative public comments about Thornhill needing to "earn" something. But let's not forget that Thornhill played pretty well in the preseason — and against Cleveland. My final optimistic theory is that Thornhill's lack of usage was due to the Ravens' heavy personnel packages. These forced the Chiefs into their base defense — in which only two safeties are on the field — more often than normal. Against the Chargers, Thornhill should get plenty of opportunities — and will likely look much better, playing the deep safety spot against a pass-happy offense. So at least for this week, I'm withholding judgment on Thornhill.
Value (Sleeper) pick
Jerick McKinnon: Even the most bullish fans are worried about running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Perhaps the offense needs a running back who is a little quicker through the hole and more explosive in space — and perhaps McKinnon is that guy. He hasn't yet had much of an opportunity — but if it happens on Sunday, McKinnon could be the spark that turns the running game around.