As the Kansas City Chiefs prepare to open the 2021 regular season this Sunday afternoon against the Cleveland Browns at Arrowhead Stadium, it’s time to think about some bold predictions for the coming season. We asked the Arrowhead Pride staff to reach deep down to come up with their boldest for 2021.
Tyreek Hill gets 20 receiving touchdowns
Now, extremely keen Arrowhead Pride readers might remember that this was the same bold prediction I made all the way back in 2019. But unfortunately, an injury ended up plaguing the Chiefs speedster early in the season, making that prediction almost impossible. Two years later, Hill looks better than ever — and seems ready to cause chaos. After catching 15 touchdown passes in 2020, I’m here to say that he gets a few more, making it all the way to 20. — Tom Childs
Chiefs set franchise record for team sacks
Everybody is focusing on Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones switching to defensive end this season — but defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has made it clear that Jones will continue to play on the inside in 2021. Since this will allow Spagnuolo to create mismatches for Jones wherever he can find them, this should give Jones plenty of opportunities for sacks.
But I also think Jones will then see plenty of attention from opposing offensive lines — which will create more opportunities for others, too. The team record — set in 1992 — is 60. The team would have to average 3.6 sacks a game to break it. With Jones leading the way, I believe they have the personnel to do it. — John Dixon
Charvarius Ward leads the team in interceptions
L’Jarius Sneed is the new darling at corner — and for good reason. In just nine games, he showed flashes of being a shutdown corner. However, at this time last year, fans were bullish on Charvarius Ward. In 2019, Ward broke up 10 passes to go along with two interceptions. Remember the epic one over DeAndre Hopkins in the end zone?
Last year was just an uneven year for Ward. He broke his hand early in the season, which forced him to play with a cast for several weeks. To add salt on the wound, Ward went into concussion protocol late in the season. With teams prone to avoid Sneed, I expect Ward to get more opportunities to pick off opposing quarterbacks — and without a cast, I like his chances. — Mark Gunnels
Chiefs set franchise record for regular-season point differential
Surprisingly, a Patrick Mahomes-led team does not hold this record. It was set in 1968, when there were only 14 games. That Kansas City team outscored their opponents by 201 points, an average margin of victory of 14.4 points. The highest differential the team has had under Andy Reid was 144 points in 2018.
I believe the 2021 Chiefs will set the new mark; 202 points would be an average margin of victory of 11.9 points. The offense has enough firepower, and the defense will be strong enough to match it. I believe this will be the best defensive unit in the Steve Spagnuolo era, which will help the team close out opposing offenses more effectively than they have in previous years. I also believe the improved offensive line will make the rushing attack more effective in second halves, allowing the offense to put up more points even as they throttle down the passing attack.
On top of all that, I think both the coaches and players are motivated to prove that Super Bowl LV was a fluke. Thoroughly dominating the opposition each week will send that message. — Ron Kopp, Jr.
Patrick Mahomes becomes first NFL quarterback to throw for 6000 yards
When the NFL added a 17th game to their schedule, it became inevitable that every single pro football record would one day be broken. And it begins with Patrick Mahomes toppling Peyton Manning’s single-season passing yards record of 5,477 yards. Mahomes came close to the record in 2018, throwing for 5097 yards. But with the improved offensive line and a plethora of players to whom Mahomes can distribute the ball, I don’t think he will just break Manning’s record. Instead, I think he will become the first NFL quarterback to throw for 6000 yards in a season. To achieve this feat, he will need to average 353 passing yards per game. That’s a high pace to keep up over the course of a 17-week season.
To hit this mark, Mahomes will likely need multiple 500-yard passing games, which will only occur when the Chiefs are involved in shootouts. Circle Weeks 3 (Los Angeles Chargers), 5 (Buffalo Bills), 7 (Tennessee Titans), 9 (Green Bay Packers) and 13 (Chargers) on your calendar as prime opportunities for Mahomes to go off.— Rocky Magaña
Nick Bolton becomes Defensive Rookie of the Year
With the attention of the Chiefs defense focused on Chris Jones at EDGE, people have forgotten about the Chiefs' first selection in the 2021 NFL Draft: Nick Bolton. His selection improved the linebacking corps’ depth and playmaking ability. As of right now, the Chiefs' unofficial depth chart lists Bolton behind Ben Niemann, but that will change soon. As we witnessed during his time at Missouri, Bolton has a knack for getting to the football and being involved in every play. I predict he will become a starter by Week 3 — and by the end of the season, have 100 solo tackles, 125 total tackles, five sacks, three forced fumbles and one interception.
That production will make Bolton the Defensive Rookie of the Year. The last linebacker to win that award was the Indianapolis Colts’ Darius Leonard back in 2018. — Kramer Sansone
Tight ends not named Kelce won’t have many receiving yards — but come through when it matters
A major story coming out of camp and the preseason is the deep tight ends group. The Chiefs once again kept four — and Blake Bell, Jody Fortson and rookie Noah Gray all look like contributors. But in this offense, being a contributor may not necessarily mean being a huge part of the offense —as long as Travis Kelce maintains close to his normal workload.
In five of Andy Reid’s eight seasons in Kansas City, backup tight ends have combined for less than 200 yards. I predict this year’s backups will exceed that total — but probably not by much. Outside of the red zone, Kelce and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire will continue to be the top options for Patrick Mahomes to escape jams. Inside the red zone, however, Reid will use his extra-tall bodies to exploit mismatches. Backup tight ends will finish with less than 300 combined receiving yards — but will score at least six touchdowns. — Jared Sapp
Tershawn Wharton ranks second on the team with eight sacks
The second-year defensive tackle out of Missouri S&T is expected to have a bigger role as a rotational interior pass rusher this season. He figures to be in the mix with Khalen Saunders as part of the Chiefs' third-down pass-rushing packages. When he was on the field in the preseason, Wharton looked nothing short of exceptional — and that’s going to carry into the regular season.
With question marks about Frank Clark — and Wharton’s ability to create from the inside — I don’t even find it that bold of a prediction to expect at least eight sacks from the ascending second-year player. — Stephen Serda
The new-look offensive line ranks among the league’s best
All of the talk about the Chiefs’ rebuild up front has led to optimism about the Kansas City offense — but it’s possible we aren’t going far enough.
With a left side that boasts two Pro-Bowl-caliber starters, there’s a sense of comfort and dependability that we might be overlooking. The same is true for the rookie playing at center. Creed Humphrey hasn’t been a big topic of conversation because he’s already that good; he already looks like an upper-echelon starter. Meanwhile, everyone has been talking about Trey Smith and his highlight-reel plays, while worrying about Lucas Niang’s inexperience or weight — or whatever the concern of the day might be.
In the end, I think the best thing to happen to this offense was that these three rookies won their respective jobs — and were able to play together from Day 1. I think they’ll get better and better as the season goes on — and by the end of the year, we’ll hear about the Chiefs having a top-5 unit that has really learned to play together. Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Patrick Mahomes might just have career years. They’ll have these five large individuals to thank — likely with very expensive presents. — Matt Stagner
Clyde Edwards-Helaire posts over 1,800 combined rushing and receiving yards
Had Edwards-Helaire played the final three games of the 2020 regular season, he was on pace to finish the year with just over 1,350 all-purpose yards. This year, with the anticipated improvement in run blocking on the offensive line, a greater presence in the screen game, and a more nuanced route tree as a receiver, I think Edwards-Helaire breaks out in a major way, becoming one of the NFL’s premier running backs.
The Chiefs will have a lead toward the end of several games, and closing those out with a more efficient rushing attack is surely in their plans for 2021. — Bryan Stewart
Chris Jones breaks the NFL’s single-season sack record
Defensive lineman Chris Jones had already been a problem when opposing offensive lines knew he would be primarily lining up as a defensive tackle, as he averaged 9.6 sacks a season over the last four years (2017-20). Now he is expected to be primarily lining up as a defensive end on first and second down, kicking inside on third down. This offseason, Jones thanked God for that opportunity to play along the edge — and then went and appeared to have the best training camp of his career. At the age of 27, Jones should be entering his prime. Parlay that with the unpredictability as he moves along the line and the talent infusion of Jarran Reed inside, and I think Jones is set up for ultimate individual sack production. We already saw Jones accumulate 15.5 sacks in 16 games in 2018; I think he will be good for 23.0 sacks over 17 games in 2021. — Pete Sweeney
Mecole Hardman tops 1,000 yards from scrimmage
Volume should not be an issue for Hardman. Last season, he multiplied his targets (62) and receptions (41) by a factor of about 1.5 from his totals in 2019. With Sammy Watkins now a member of the Baltimore Ravens, his volume should increase even more. The obstacle standing in the way of 1,000 yards is efficiency. He’ll need to do more with his opportunities in 2021.
Reports from Chiefs camp indicated he might be ready to do just that. Hardman has made noticeable improvements in his route running and releases against man coverage, which should help eliminate some of the past miscues he had with Patrick Mahomes. (A full and relatively normal offseason certainly helps there, too). Given the Chiefs' investments along the offensive line, Hardman could be more involved and efficient on the ground as well. Presumably, the Chiefs will run the ball more effectively between the tackles this season, which will make it easier for Hardman to take jet sweeps for big gains.
Early in the season, I think the Chiefs may emphasize getting the ball in Hardman’s hands to build his confidence for the playoff stretch. Whether he wins one-on-one or the Chiefs scheme him open — or a combination of both — the team will prioritize getting him the ball with room to run. — Ethan Willinger