The Kansas City Chiefs were the talk of the NFL after a 5-0 start to the 2017 season, which included road wins over the likes of the Patriots, Chargers and Texans, as well as a home win over the Eagles. Things took a drastic turn for the worse after that impressive start, as KC went just 1-5 in their next 6 games, which included ugly losses to both the Giants and Jets.
To the Chiefs credit, they bounced back with 4 straight wins to finish on top the AFC West for a second straight season at 10-6. Marking the first time in franchise history that Kansas City secured back-to-back division titles.
Despite the strong finish and AFC West championship, the season ended with a devastating loss to the Titans at home in the playoffs. The Chiefs took a 21-3 halftime lead over Tennessee, but were outscored 19-0 in the 2nd half and lost 21-22.
That loss to the Titans proved to be the final game for starting quarterback Alex Smith, who was traded to the Redskins in the offseason to clear the way for promising second-year signal caller Patrick Mahomes. While there’s concerns with turning over the offense to a 22-year-old that has just one start (Week 17) under his belt, there’s no question the talent is there. It’s really just a matter of whether he can take care of the ball.
The most important thing for Mahomes is he’s stepping into a great situation, as the Chiefs might just have the best group of skill players in the league. Kansas City returns one of the best tight ends in the NFL in Travis Kelce, arguably the fastest player in the NFL in wide out Tyreek Hill and a second year running back in Kareem Hunt, who led the NFL in rushing as a rookie.
The also added wide out Sammy Watkins to the mix, who wanted to be a part of this Mahomes transition and should be a perfect fit in head coach Andy Reid’s offense. They also get back talented wide out Chris Conley from injury and added a couple more capable running backs in Damien Williams and Kerwynn Williams.
One of the reasons the offense struggled after their strong start is the injuries to center Mitch Morse and right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. Both are back healthy and will form a solid core with tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz. The only real question is who will start at left guard, but they have several quality options to pick from.
With an offense that should put up points in bunches, the key to the Chiefs season will be what they get out of a revamped defense. Changes needed to be made after last year’s team ranked 29th against the pass (247.o ypg) and 25th against the run (118.1 ypg).
A big reason Kansas City’s stop unit struggled was a season-ending injury suffered by Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry in Week 1. Berry will be the anchor of a brand new secondary that will no longer feature Pro Bowl corner Marcus Peters, who was traded to the Rams. Filling the shoes of Peters will be Kendall Fuller, who was the big piece they got back in the trade with Washington for Smith. They also brought in David Amerson to compete with holdover Steven Nelson for the other starting job. Veteran safety Ron Parker was let go, leaving Eric Murray, Daniel Sorenson and rookie Amari Watts to compete for the open spot.
At linebacker the Chiefs still have one of the top pass rushers in the game in Justin Houston, but he only managed 9.5 sacks last year. What KC really needs is for for someone to step up at the other outside linebacker spot. Dee Ford was a non-factor in 2017 because of injuries and should be better, but will also be pushed by rookie Breeland Speaks. Reggie Ragland and the newly signed Anthony Hitchens should be a decent duo inside.
The big new addition up front is nose tackle Xavier Williams, who signed as a free agent. They also used a 3rd round pick on nose tackle Derrick Nnadi, giving them some nice depth. Chris Jones is an emerging star at one defensive end spot and Allen Baily is capable of holding his own on the other side.
All of this adds up to a wide range of opinions on where this Chiefs team is headed in 2018. There’s some that still feel like they are the cream of the crop in the AFC West. While others think the losses of Smith and Peters will be too much to overcome and have KC pegged to finish last in the division.
2018 Chiefs Schedule & Projected Odds
Below you will find the early odds released by Vegas for Weeks 1-16, as well as my projected number for Week 17. Using the lines we are able to give a game-by-game win probability, which we used to come up an expected win total.
|4||at Broncos MNF||+1||0.49|
|6||at Patriots SNF||+7||0.25|
|11||at Rams MNF||+4.5||0.33|
|16||at Seahawks SNF||+3||0.41|
Projected Wins: 8.01
Over/Under Wins Prediction: OVER 8.5
The Chiefs haven’t won fewer than 9 games since Reid took over the head coaching job in 2013 and I’m willing to bet that streak continues in 2018. I understand the concern of going from a proven starting QB in Smith to a bit of a wild card in Mahomes, but you have to keep in mind KC didn’t have to trade Smith. They could have kept him around another year. That right there tells you how much confidence this organization has in Mahomes, who has received nothing but praise from other people around the league.
Given the weapons that Mahomes has around him and the arm talent this kid has (possibly the strongest arm in the league), I think there’s a decent change he takes the league by storm. This could easily turn out to be the most explosive offense in the NFL.
As for the defense, I think it’s far from an elite unit, but I also don’t think it can be a whole lot worse than it was a year ago. That’s why I’m not overly concerned with the loss of Peters in the secondary. In fact, I think there’s a good chance the defense will be improved given all the upgrades they made up front.
Odds to Win the Super Bowl: +3000
A lot will have to go right for the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl, but it’s definitely not out of the question. It all comes down to how you feel about Mahomes. If he’s as good as everyone is saying he is, this is going to be one of the most talented teams in the NFL. One that will no longer be plagued by Smith’s dink and dunk approach in the postseason. I believe Kansas City is hands down one of the best value plays out there right now, as there are 13 teams who currently have better odds to win it all.
Odds to Win the AFC: +1100
While I would rather take my chances with the Chiefs at +3000 to win the Super Bowl, I wouldn’t mind holding a ticket on KC to win the AFC. This has been one of the better teams in the AFC since Reid took over and may have just got a big time upgrade at quarterback with Mahomes. No disrespect to Smith, who does an outstanding job of not turning the football over, but Mahomes is a guy that can go out and win you a game, where Smith’s primary goal was to play conservative and try not to lose it.
Odds to Win the AFC West: +275
I get all the hype around the Chargers and Raiders, but I’m surprised just how little love the Chiefs are getting in the AFC West going into the 2018 season. Kansas City has won the division each of the last two years and are a ridiculous 16-1 in their last 17 division games. That includes 8 straight wins over the Chargers, who are pegged as the favorites to win the AFC West, despite the fact that they haven’t won the division since 2009, which was also the last year they won more than 9 games in a season.