With Tom Brady leaving New England for Tampa Bay, Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs have supplanted the Patriots as the biggest bully on the NFL block.
While Kansas City’s four consecutive AFC West crowns aren’t anywhere close to New England’s string of 11 straight AFC East titles, not even the Patriots have dominated their division like the Chiefs have ruled theirs over the last five seasons.
In that span, the Patriots are 24-6 despite an ordinary 6-4 mark against Miami, and the Chiefs are 27-3 with 9-1 marks against every one of their division rivals.
If not for these last-minute heroics, the Chiefs would be perfect in that stretch:
–The Broncos scored two touchdowns in the final 36 seconds to snare a 31-24 win in 2015, the last time they beat the Chiefs.
–The Raiders scored a touchdown with no time left for a 31-30 win in 2017.
–The Chargers scored a TD with 4 seconds left for a 29-28 win in 2018.
The Chiefs used their blazing speed on offense to end five frustrating decades without a Super Bowl title. So their AFC West rivals all added speed to their rosters this offseason in hopes of reining in the champs.
“Every move and signing we make we have to have them in mind,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said of the Chiefs, who raced past San Francisco with a 21-0 blitz in the final six minutes of the Super Bowl.
“Let’s be honest, the entire league is chasing the Kansas City Chiefs,” said Raiders GM Mike Mayock. “But we’re in the same division. They keep getting faster and more athletic, more dynamic every time you turn around. Other teams have to do the same.”
In the first round of the draft, the Raiders chose receiver Henry Ruggs III, the fastest player at the combine; the Broncos selected receiver Jerry Jeudy, and the Chargers added fleet-footed linebacker, Kenneth Murray.
“We just feel like we had to add that explosiveness,” Broncos GM John Elway said.
The Broncos even bypassed a big need at tackle to select another speedy receiver, KJ Hamler, in the second round. That strategy took on greater scrutiny when right tackle Ja’Wuan James opted out of the 2020 season over coronavirus concerns and Hamler spent much of training camp sidelined by a hamstring injury.
The Chiefs didn’t standstill.
In addition to grabbing standout LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round, they spent the draft getting their defense up to speed to complement all the burners they have on offense.
Second-round pick Willie Gay Jr. ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash among linebackers at the combine, and fourth-round pick L’Jarius Sneed not only had the fastest time among safeties at 4.37 seconds but was the fourth-fastest of any player that ran during the week in Indianapolis.
“They keep getting faster and keep raising the bar,” Mayock said.
Other subplots to watch as the Chiefs defend their second Super Bowl title:
Although the Chiefs hope to have about 16,000 fans at each of their games, their division rivals won’t have any spectators until further notice. The Broncos got a taste of what that will be like when they held a stadium scrimmage at empty Empower Field.
“It was sad,” said guard Dalton Risner, a Colorado native. “I love Denver. I love the fans. … I was fake pointing up into the stands all day acting like I saw a few 66 jerseys.”
The Broncos pumped in crowd noise and they’re selling cardboard cutouts of fans for $100, which will go to charity.
“We’d rather have real fans there obviously,” QB Drew Lock said, “but it’s something we have to adjust to.”
For the first time since 2006, someone other than Philip Rivers is the Chargers’ starting quarterback. Tyrod Taylor gets first crack but he looks like a placeholder for Justin Herbert, whom the Chargers selected with the sixth overall pick as their QB of the future.
Rivers, now with the Colts, led the AFC with 4,615 passing yards and had 23 touchdown throws. But he also threw 20 interceptions, led an offense that committed six red-zone turnovers, and twice gave away the ball on downs.
The Chiefs begin defense of their crown and kick off a season like none other Sept. 10 against the Houston Texans.
Kansas City was due to return 20 of its 22 starters before guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and running back Damien Williams opted out. “If you’re going to have a year where bringing a lot of guys back that are experienced — not having rookie minicamps, OTAs — this would be the year to have it,” Chiefs GM Brett Veach said.
NO BLACK HOLE
The Raiders have left Oakland and the famed Black Hole behind for the glamour and glitz of Las Vegas. But did they leave behind their middling offensive performances?
With Ruggs, breakout tight end Darren Waller, versatile back Josh Jacobs, and slot receiver Hunter Renfrow, the Raiders have their most complete offense since coach Jon Gruden returned in 2018.
“The opportunities are limitless,” QB Derek Carr said.