Top priority: Trade for a big-time wideout
Many a breath was wasted last offseason fretting over a Chiefs attack suddenly missing Tyreek Hill. Andy Reid turns panic into production and he’ll do so again no matter who lines up at wide receiver. It felt like Kadarius Toney was just beginning to bubble into a figure of wonder come the Super Bowl. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Skyy Moore, Richie James and rookie Rashee Rice will help fill the void left by JuJu Smith-Schuster. Justyn Ross is a 6-foot-4 item of intrigue, too, but Kansas City rests in a unique spot. Player development is king, but trading for a plug-and-play star — maybe Tampa’s Mike Evans or this column’s oft-mentioned DeAndre Hopkins — would keep the Mahomes Machine a step ahead of the Bengals and Bills.
1 - Kansas City Chiefs
PROJECTED WIN SHARE: 8.7
Last season, with Tyreek Hill exiting and JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling coming aboard, the Chiefs relied more on the short-passing game than they had in the past — and Patrick Mahomes proved he can adapt to any play style, logging 31 touchdown passes on throws of 10 air yards or less, 12 more than anyone else in the NFL (per Next Gen Stats). Kansas City, meanwhile, ranked first in the NFL in scoring and yards per play. I look forward to seeing what new plays, alignments and wrinkles Andy Reid folds into the offense this year, with the departures of Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman leaving room for Kadarius Toney, Skyy Moore and rookie Rashee Rice to step up around perennial pass-catching anchor Travis Kelce.
Another factor working in Kansas City’ favor: the additions of veteran tackles Jawaan Taylor and Donovan Smith. My models have shown that improved offensive-line play is not just correlated but causal to significant year-over-year increases in first-down and touchdown probabilities. Despite the loss of Orlando Brown, the presence of Taylor and Smith on the line projects to keep the Chiefs’ offense rolling, even if that success is achieved in different ways yet again.
These are likely the consensus three best offenses in the league, and they wind up incredibly close in our final rankings. The differentiator for the Chiefs is that the combination of Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid, and that offensive line is unmatched leaguewide. They have the NFL’s best quarterback, arguably its best play-caller, and one of the best groups up front. We saw last season that they can cycle receivers in and out, and as long as Travis Kelce is there, they can move the ball through the air just fine. The thing keeping the Eagles in front of the Bengals right now is our slightly greater confidence in Nick Sirianni and Brian Johnson than Zac Taylor and Brian Callahan. Both have shown themselves capable of crafting top offenses, but the Eagles (even after losing Steichen to Indianapolis) have shown more versatility and have a better handle on creating small edges wherever available.
Kansas City Chiefs
Can Patrick Mahomes do it again with these wide receivers?
Uh ... are you going to bet against him? The whole question this time last year was whether Mahomes could excel without Tyreek Hill and with a group of castoffs that included JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. All Mahomes did was lead the Chiefs to the best record in the league while winning the MVP award and his second Super Bowl title. So this year, with Smith-Schuster gone and Richie James the only real free agent signing they made to replace him, why should we doubt Mahomes?
Add in a full year with Kadarius Toney, who came over at the trade deadline last year and was one of the most important players in that Super Bowl win, a second season with 2022 second-rounder Skyy Moore, 2023 second-rounder Rashee Rice and maybe even former Clemson star Justyn Ross, who was an undrafted free agent signing last year, and yeah, Mahomes should be fine. By the way, Travis Kelce didn’t retire.
Kansas City Chiefs (14-3) — Division winner
Denver Broncos (9-8)* — Wild-card team
Los Angeles Chargers (8-9)
Las Vegas Raiders (7-10)
People questioned the Chiefs last year, and it worked out poorly for those JABRONIS. The Chiefs are the defending Super Bowl champions and even though they dealt with some attrition, they still have Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid, which puts them in the pole position to dominate this division yet again. Anything under -200 should be considered a good bet with how the Chiefs operate. The Broncos and Chargers are a little scary — as long as Denver’s flying under the radar going into the season I’ll be higher on them. Sean Payton is a massive, massive upgrade over Nathaniel Hackett. It really can’t be overstated enough. Someone got mad at me for putting the Raiders in fourth place here ... they’ve finished second three times since 2003 and haven’t won the division since 2002, so maybe settle down on demanding I think the Raiders will be great this season.
EC Project: Having a Succession Plan at Offensive Coordinator
Overall Grade: B
If we’ve learned one thing about the Chiefs over the past few years, it’s that Kansas City will remain competitive as long as head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes are in charge.
The Chiefs have done a tremendous job of replacing and adjusting to player departures, and that will likely play out again in 2023.
Kansas City lost key contributors like left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., safety Juan Thornhill, wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster, right tackle Andre Wylie and pass-rusher Frank Clark. To replace them, the Chiefs brought in veterans like Jawaan Taylor, Charles Omenihu, Richie James, Mike Edwards and Drue Tranquill before turning to the draft.
Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes
Philadelphia Eagles and Jalen Hurts
Buffalo Bills and Josh Allen
These are the couples you see on Instagram that make you think, “Why can’t I be as happy as them?” The newest couple in this group is Jalen Hurts and the Eagles, who ascended to the top tier after their wedding (or, uh, contract extension) last month. Hurts is now under contract through 2028 on a deal worth up to $255 million. When the Eagles drafted Hurts in 2020, GM Howie Roseman said they wanted to be a “QB factory” (total fuccboi move). But Hurts and the Eagles’ narrow Super Bowl loss convinced them to settle down. Life (and questionable defensive holding penalties) comes at you fast.
Around the NFL
Barring a sudden change of direction, that confidence will be rewarded at the spring owners meetings in Minneapolis next week. There, the 49ers’ bid for Super Bowl 60 in 2026 is slated to be approved by the NFL, a league source said, confirming a report by Sports Business Journal.
“If the Bay Area has the opportunity, we would be honored to host Super Bowl LX,” 49ers president Al Guido said in a statement.
Should the Bay Area bid be accepted, it would bring the Super Bowl back to Levi’s Stadium for the first time since the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 and be the third Super Bowl played in the Bay Area. The Niners beat the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX, a game that was played at Stanford Stadium in 1985.
A fun fact that Kittle revealed was that he grew up a Chicago Bears fan. That makes sense, as Kittle attended high school at two separate schools in Iowa, one in Iowa City, and also attended the University of Iowa, which is also in Iowa City.
It’s important to mention the location, as Iowa City is three and a half hours from Chicago. Since there aren’t any professional teams in Iowa, most of the locals gravitate toward the teams nearby, namely, the ones in Chicago.
Here’s what Kittle said on the Waddle & Silvy show: Being a Bear would have been fantastic. I’m pretty happy with where I ended up. Doing pretty well for myself out here in San Francisco. But the Bears are always dear to my heart. And the Cubs. I’ve got to get back to Wrigley.”
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
All of these well-respected writers could be exactly right. By Week 1, Mahomes could once again be the league’s highest-paid player.
But I don’t think so. Here’s why:
It’s too soon
Mahomes signed his 10-year contract extension on July 6, 2020 — not yet three years ago — when he still had two full years remaining on his rookie contract. This means that he and the Chiefs are now one year into 2020’s 10-year contract.
When the contract was signed, everyone understood that it would be renegotiated before it expired in 2031. At the time, the 2025 offseason — when the deal’s dead money would drop to zero — was identified as the earliest likely renegotiation date. But right now, the deal has $134 million in dead money. In any renegotiation, that money will have to be figured against the cap.
The deal that Veach made with Mahomes’ agents Leigh Steinberg and Chris Cabott was without precedent. It’s unlikely that this carefully-structured agreement will be torn up on a whim.