One of the most wildly anticipated seasons in Kansas City Chiefs history begins on Sunday when the team reports for training camp.
For the first time in their history, the Chiefs come into the season having won back-to-back AFC West titles and now they’re going for the hat trick.
They’re housed in arguably the most balanced division in pro football, as any of the teams could easily finish first as they could last. Parity is going to rule and the team that plays the best within the division figures to emerge as the champion.
Much has been written and discussed this offseason about the Chiefs, most notably about second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes, on whose shoulders much of the season is riding.
Mahomes started the season finale against Denver and delivered a comeback victory, whetting the fans’ appetite with his big arm and somewhat flamboyant style. There’s no question he’s a great athlete and plays with no fear, but he is still in the infant stages with his decision making.
Mahomes has been bandied as the No. 1 breakout player in the NFL, so expectations are already unrealistic. But he carries himself with confidence and who knows, maybe he’ll be even better than expected.
If Mahomes can play with a semblance of consistency, the Chiefs’ offense figures to take off. The 1-2 punch of Kareem Hunt and Spencer Ware will rival any running back combo in the NFL. Travis Kelce is a Top 5 tight end, Tyreek Hill is the NFL’s most exciting player in the open field and if newcomer Sammy Watkins can stay healthy, he has All-Pro potential. Charcandrick West and Anthony Sherman lend backfield depth, while receiver Chris Conley comes back and he was just starting to flourish when he went down.
The offensive line has been checkered in recent years as it’s probably a middle-of-the-pack unit. Eric Fisher, the one-time No. 1 overall pick, never has become the dominating player that was predicted, but he’s good enough. Health, as with any offensive line, is the key.
What could make this a maddening season for the Chiefs fans, though, is the defense. There’s a lot of new faces in new places and it was repeatedly torched last year.
The unit simply has to get better against the run. The Chiefs were like a sieve last year and now it must replace key components like Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, Marcus Peters and Ron Parker. What would really help would be for Justin Houston to return to the form that earned him a mega-contract as it’s been all downhill since then, though injuries have marked his last couple of seasons.
The secondary will welcome back Eric Berry and add Kendall Fuller, who came in the Alex Smith trade and should help. But it’s a group in flux and could be a weakness.
Special teams will be solid with ageless punter Dustin Colquitt and last year’s kicking find Harrison Butker, who hopefully wasn’t a one-year wonder.
If nothing else, the Chiefs should be a fun team to watch. I have a feeling they’re going to ride the proverbial roller coaster, but given their division a 10-6 record should be good enough.