Kansas City Chiefs · RB
The Chiefs’ offense is as balanced as it’s ever been in the Patrick Mahomes era, with the passing offense struggling to find its rhythm. Kansas City also boasts the best defense it’s had in a long time. That’s all great news for Isiah Pacheco, who is the sure-fire favorite in a backfield featuring other talented players (Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon). Averaging 4.2 yards per carry this season, Pacheco has an angry running style that bodes well for a team that is suddenly not scoring at will and is instead looking to drain the clock in the second half of games. He thrived down the stretch as a rookie, gaining 633 rush yards on 126 carries for 5.0 yards per attempt in Weeks 10-18, and I suspect we’ll see him get more opportunities late in 2023 than he did a year ago. Pacheco has the confidence and talent to be yet another offensive star in K.C.
The Chiefs have never had a stronger cadre of pass rushers around Jones, which has a multiplying effect on all of the foolishness that Spagnuolo gets up to on the chalkboard. As an offense, you have to worry about additional bodies coming in the rush; and, whether they do or don’t come, you’d like to have an additional body for Jones as well, who could be rushing from the interior or the outside. If you somehow manage to solve both of those problems, well, shoot—the Chiefs have a group of guys who can win one-on-one now. 2023 first-rounder Felix Anudike-Uzomah hasn’t even started contributing to the group yet, and if it keeps playing like this, he won’t need to.
The depth and versatility of this defensive line is yet another check in the win column for general manager Brett Veach and the Chiefs scouting department, with a tip of the cap to Spagnuolo for his insight and development. The Chiefs have drawn more reliable contributors on defense from picks outside of the top 20 and free agents outside of mega-contracts than any other team in the past few offseasons. And now, they’re reaping the rewards. (If only they had the same luck at wide receiver!)
1 - Lamar Jackson
Baltimore Ravens · QB · +400
(10 votes: Abdoo, Battista, Chadiha, Edholm, Frazier, Grant, Jones-Drew, Patra, Reuter, Ross.)
T-2) Jalen Hurts (+400) | 7 votes: Blair, Florio, Gonzales, Magdziuk, Mariucci, Okada, Walker.
T-2) Patrick Mahomes (+260) | 7 votes: Band, Carr, Cersosimo, Filice, Holzman-Escareno, Sessler, Zierlein.
Kansas City Chiefs
Weird to think of the Chiefs as a defensive team, but this is their identity in the first half of the year. Kansas City is second in the league in points allowed per game and fourth in yards allowed per game, holding every opponent to 24 points or fewer.
Patrick Mahomes is still getting the job done at quarterback with the lack of playmaking pass catchers outside of Travis Kelce (although Rashee Rice is coming into his own). The Chiefs are still ninth in points per possession regardless.
Andy Reid’s teams are usually second-half teams, so the 7-2 start for the Chiefs is dangerous for the rest of the AFC.
1. (AFC West Champion)
After getting the No. 1 overall seed in 2022, the computer is projecting that the Chiefs (7-2) will once again finish at the top of the AFC. The big thing working in Kansas City’s favor is that they have wins over two of the teams that might compete with them for the top seed (Jaguars and Dolphins). Also, they currently have the best conference record in the AFC (5-1), and that’s one of the main tiebreakers used if they finish with the same record as a team that’s not on their schedule this year, like the Ravens.
1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
Previous Ranking: 1
The Dolphins game was a weird one for Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs offense.
In positive news, the Chiefs didn’t make mistakes. Mahomes took two sacks, but that’s not a debilitating amount. He didn’t throw any picks and hardly put the ball at risk. That was enough to score 14 points in the first half, giving themselves a comfy lead to work with.
On the flip side, the Chiefs offense didn’t try anything. Mahomes was limited to a flurry of screen passes and RPOs, only occasionally letting loose down the field.
The biggest issue was the Dolphins’ ability to pressure Mahomes. It felt like every time the Chiefs tried to throw down the field the Dolphins were sending an extra body and getting pressure on Mahomes before the ball could get out cleanly. The Chiefs offense kind of just wilted as a result.
I still don’t think the Chiefs’ relative struggles (still a top-five offense, by the way) are a Mahomes problem, though. Shaky tackle play and young wide receivers who can’t separate are the primary issues. That Mahomes has even made the offense functional is a testament to his ability.
31. Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Edge, Kansas City Chiefs
Currently 17th on the team in total defensive snaps accrued, Felix Anudike-Uzomah has been deployed as a third-down pocket pusher and nothing more.
While his weekly snap count hovered around 20 during the early portions of the season, he’s amassed five, 10, nine and four total snaps over his last month of games.
The Chiefs look to be playing the long game when it comes to his development, but it’s not like they have a number of starters popping or quality depth to pull from at the edge spot. His lack of snaps could be concerning moving forward.
Preseason pick: Chiefs 35, 49ers 31; Patrick Mahomes MVP
Midseason pick: Chiefs 28, 49ers 24; Patrick Mahomes MVP
I’m sticking with my preseason picks. I still have a ton of confidence in Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, Chris Jones & Co. The Chiefs’ defense is legit, and Jones has been a monster this season since returning from his training camp holdout and missing the first game of the season. Yes, Kansas City has issues on offense with its receivers. But as long as Mahomes and Travis Kelce are together, it’s hard to bet against the Chiefs. And rookie Rashee Rice has been coming on, so I still think K.C. can find a way in a rugged AFC and win its third Lombardi Trophy under Reid. As far as the 49ers, it’s up to Kyle Shanahan to figure out a way to get the most out of Brock Purdy, Nick Bosa, Christian McCaffrey and the rest of a loaded roster. San Francisco is the most talented team in the league on defense after the recent addition of Chase Young at the trade deadline, and he should help cover up some shortcomings on defense over the past few games for the 49ers. If the 49ers are healthy, it should be a heckuva NFC championship in Philly. This time, I’m going to put my money on San Francisco because the Eagles have lived on the edge during the first half and sooner or later, it’s going to catch up to them.
Around the NFL
New York Jets coach Robert Saleh’s loyalty to quarterback Zach Wilson, amid one of the worst offensive slumps in team history, has sparked speculation that perhaps Saleh is being mandated by his superiors to keep Wilson in the lineup.
“No, we’re on the same page with that,” Saleh said Wednesday. “So any conspiracy theory that might be out there, we’re on the same page.”
Saleh may have contributed to the narrative with a comment he made late Tuesday during his weekly spot on the Michael Kay Show on ESPN New York radio. Asked why he’s not starting Trevor Siemian on Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders, Saleh said, “Fair question. I don’t know. I’m going to plead the Fifth.”
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
VOTING: WR Rashee Rice (17)
While the rest of the Chiefs’ wide receiver unit has been lackluster up to this point in the season, there is reason for excitement for Rashee Rice. His 32 receptions for 378 yards are not going to win any awards or break records, but his four receiving touchdowns are tied for the most on the team with Travis Kelce.
The team has made an effort to target him in the red zone as well as get him the ball in the open field and for a good reason. 263 of Rice’s receiving yards have been after the catch, putting him at 9th in the NFL among all wide receivers. He has shown a blend of speed and physicality when running in the open field.
Not only has Rice shown his ability to create with the ball in his hands after the catch, but he also has provided an explosion to the Chiefs’ offense putting up four plays, each over 25 yards through the first half of the season.
A tweet to make you think
The Chiefs are the top team in the NFL right now, according to ESPN Analytics pic.twitter.com/2Im7ByoXuK— ESPN (@espn) November 7, 2023