In a couple of months, the Kansas City Chiefs will be in full swing of defending their Super Bowl title. They aim to be the first back-to-back Super Bowl champions since the New England Patriots won at the end of the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
The track record of teams following their championship season isn’t bad. The Chiefs went back to the Super Bowl in their last title defense; many champions make the playoffs at the very least the following season.
So what are the best and worst-case scenarios for the Chiefs’ 2023 season? Are they capable of winning a second-consecutive Super Bowl? Is there a reality where the AFC pushes the Chiefs out of the postseason? I imagined the ceiling and the floor for the upcoming season.
Best case scenario: Super Bowl LVIII Champions
Shocking, I know. The best version of the Chiefs’ 2023 season would end with them hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at midfield of Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada, next February.
It wouldn’t be capping off a perfect season, however.
Even if the Chiefs were to add to their firepower and sign free-agent wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, the AFC has too many good teams for Kansas City to roll through unscathed. Teams like the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, and Los Angeles Chargers all get another shot at taking down the king — as ascending contenders like the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, and Miami Dolphins will have their best for that week. A vengeful Philadelphia Eagles team also awaits from the NFC.
But we know this team doesn’t need to win every important regular-season game to prove they’ll be ready for the playoffs. Even in the losses they take, the team’s balance is what will impress. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes will once again torch NFL defenses, but he’ll be doing it using as many different pass catchers as he ever has. Tight end Travis Kelce is still capable of the 110 catches, 1,338 yards and 12 touchdowns that made him first-team All-Pro in 2022 — but in 2023, he doesn’t reach those numbers, and it’s a good thing.
It makes way for the emergence of wide receiver Skyy Moore as an all-around receiver, showing reliable hands, effective routes and releases, and an ability to maximize yards after the catch. His versatility allows other pieces to fall into place: wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling primarily working down the field, and Kadarius Toney making plays underneath.
It would also be Kelce’s companion at tight end contributing to his lighter box score. Noah Gray has made strides over his two seasons, leading to the coaches and Mahomes trusting him to do more of what Kelce does for the unit.
On defense, the best-case scenario of the unit is centered around another dominant, Defensive Player of the Year-type season from defensive tackle Chris Jones. It’s possible that defensive line coach Joe Cullen unlocked that elite, all-around level of play from Jones last season and that we can expect it to happen again at age 29.
On top of that, I believe the defense needs notably impressive seasons from two individuals to best reach their ceiling: defensive end George Karlaftis and safety Justin Reid. Both project to lead their position rooms in snaps, and those positions might be the two important positions to a defense coached by Steve Spagnuolo.
Worst case scenario: Wild Card playoff berth
Now let’s get pessimistic. The floor of the Chiefs’ season still involves making the postseason, but it may not include winning the AFC West.
The Chargers have been a talented enough team to be toe to toe with the Chiefs over the last two years. They lost to Kansas City by a combined six points over the two games in 2022 and actually upended the Chiefs in 2021 at Arrowhead Stadium. Quarterback Justin Herbert will be another year developed, and the injury bug could always be on their side for once this year.
However, the Chargers can only win the division if the Chiefs slip up. In 2023, that could look like the offense not progressing as we project it to. The run game and the threat of it became important to Kansas City’s offense last year, but the departures of left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and right tackle Andrew Wylie could impact that continuation. Right tackle Jawaan Taylor is praised for his footwork in pass protection but not as much as a run blocker.
That could allow defenses to sit back in coverage more — like the unit saw so much of the last two years. Mahomes has had wide receivers Tyreek Hill and JuJu Smith-Schuster to lean on outside of Kelce, but that option isn’t as clear in 2023. If Mahomes’ relationships with receivers like Valdes-Scantling and Moore don’t improve this year, it could lead to a stagnant offense.
That’s a similar theme for the defense, where the unit is comprised of so many second-year players looking the part of a breakout candidate. In reality, it’s unlikely that every rookie that impressed us last season will take a positive step in their sophomore campaign. There could be some impactful growing pains, especially at the cornerback position.
Up front defensively, the floor is much lower than the ceiling is high on the range of outcomes. The team primarily depends on first-round picks from this year and last year to be their most feared rushers off the edge. They are then banking on the coaches to develop free-agent signing Charles Omenihu into more than a situational rusher from the inside.
Suppose rookie Felix Anudike-Uzomah looks like a rookie, and Omenihu struggles to expand his game. In that case, it puts pressure on Karlaftis to be a dynamic difference-maker — even though he may be more of a solid, opportunistic rusher.