2020 NFL Preview: Chiefs are confident, but climbing the Super Bowl mountain again is hard

Frank Schwab
·10 min read

Yahoo Sports is previewing all 32 teams as we get ready for the NFL season, counting down the teams one per weekday in reverse order of our initial 2020 power rankings. No. 1 will be revealed on Wednesday.

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Paul Rosales)
(Yahoo Sports graphics by Paul Rosales)

If any team should have been enjoying the offseason and boasting like Muhammad Ali in 1966, it’s the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Chiefs hadn’t won a Super Bowl in 50 years before coming back to beat the San Francisco 49ers last February, but now that they got one they plan on being a dynasty.

Defensive end Chris Jones figured on “five-plus” rings for the Chiefs. Receiver Tyreek Hill topped that, going with seven.

“Why say five? Why not go seven rings?” Hill told ESPN’s “First Take.” “Right now, we’re just chasing [Michael] Jordan, so that’s what we do. So I’m going over five, and I’m saying seven.”

The Chiefs feel good about their core. They were set to bring back 20 of their 22 Super Bowl starters, which is very hard to do after winning a title. Guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and running back Damien Williams opted out of the 2020 season since then, but the Chiefs drafted running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round and 18 of 22 returning starters remains impressive. The Chiefs should feel good about their chances to keep winning.

Yet just about every Super Bowl champion feels they’re going to win multiple titles. There aren’t many teams like the 2015 Denver Broncos, who knew they had to retool at quarterback after Peyton Manning’s retirement. Most champions bring back a key part of their core and don’t consider the possibility they won’t win again.

Nobody expects the Chiefs to fall off. Patrick Mahomes is phenomenal. Hill and Travis Kelce are great targets and adding Edwards-Helaire might make the skill-position group better. The defense is obviously good enough, especially with Jones signed to an extension.

Yet we all understand how hard the NFL is. In the salary cap era, which started in 1994, only five teams have won a Super Bowl and made it back the next year. The 1997 Green Bay Packers, 1998 Denver Broncos, 2004 New England Patriots, 2014 Seattle Seahawks and 2017 Patriots comprise the list. Most champions look like they’ll be a factor forever and don’t make it right back. The Patriots’ endless consistency has given everyone else unrealistic expectations.

Nobody is going to doubt the Chiefs’ talent, from coach Andy Reid and his staff to Mahomes to key defensive leaders like Tyrann Mathieu. But repeating is difficult for any team. The offseason is shorter. You spend months hearing from fans how much a title meant, and that’s especially true for the Chiefs. It’s hard to recreate the same urgency after that. And the NFL is a competitive world. The difference between a championship season and disappointment is slight. Had the Patriots not lost in the final minute to the Miami Dolphins in Week 17 last season, the Chiefs wouldn’t have had a bye and their playoff road would have been a lot harder. Then maybe Kansas City caught a break hosting the Tennessee Titans in the AFC championship game instead of having to travel to play the Baltimore Ravens. Had the San Francisco 49ers stopped “2-3 Jet Wasp Chip” or Jimmy Garoppolo hadn’t overthrown Emmanuel Sanders, instead we’d be celebrating them. Every champion needs to catch a few breaks, and it’s hard to anticipate that happening year after year.

Maybe the Chiefs are the next NFL dynasty. When Tom Brady won his first title at the end of the 2001 season, nobody predicted he’d win five more. The Chiefs feel good about their chances to win again. We’ll see if they’re good enough to overcome the Super Bowl hangover.

Travis Kelce kisses the Vince Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl LIV. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Travis Kelce kisses the Vince Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl LIV. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Avoiding the typical talent drain most champions experience was an accomplishment. The Chiefs bring back most of their roster, and were able to sign quarterback Patrick Mahomes and defensive end Chris Jones to long-term extensions. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire headlined a solid draft, and he’ll take over for Damien Williams who opted out. Maybe more could have been done to bolster cornerback depth after losing Kendall Fuller in free agency, but it’s nitpicking. The Chiefs’ offseason was just fine.

GRADE: B

Not much more can be said about Patrick Mahomes. It’s not crazy to wonder aloud if we’re watching the first steps of the greatest quarterback we’ll ever see. He’s that good. Mahomes is one of only 13 players to won a Super Bowl MVP and regular-season NFL MVP. Nine are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Marcus Allen, Emmitt Smith, Steve Young, Terrell Davis, John Elway and Kurt Warner. Three are locks to make it when eligible: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. And then there’s Mahomes, who has been starting for only two seasons. The salary-cap ramifications of his historic $503 million deal will be felt by the Chiefs down the road, but Mahomes has earned it.

Chris Jones’ new contract says it all. The Chiefs handled a franchise tag standoff by signing Jones to a four-year, $80 million deal. The Chiefs have other good players on defense like Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu, but Jones is the key to the defense. Jones’ grade at Pro Football Focus ranked sixth among all interior linemen last season, and over the last two seasons Jones has the second-best pass-rushing grade in the league via PFF. Aaron Donald, perhaps the best player in the NFL, is first. This Chiefs defense is not going to be great, but Jones makes sure it’s good enough to support a phenomenal offense.

The Chiefs’ over/under win total at BetMGM is a lofty 11.5. If you want to be optimistic and point out the Chiefs have gone 12-4 in both of Patrick Mahomes’ seasons as starting quarterback, that’s fine. But betting any NFL team to win 12 games is a tough sell, so I can’t get behind a bet on the over. And the Chiefs not making the playoffs is +800, which has to be considered given the long odds.

From Yahoo’s Scott Pianowski: “Clyde Edwards-Helaire became a buzzy fantasy name the moment Kansas City drafted him. First-round back, loaded offense, brilliant play designer — all the dots connect. But there was also some question about how much CEH would have to share with Damien Williams, the incumbent tailback.

“Obviously that’s all out the window now — Williams won’t play this year, Edwards-Helaire will. Unfortunately for fantasy purposes, it also makes CEH the shiniest new toy in the first round, and that means he’ll be expensive. If you can land Edwards-Helaire in the late stages of the first round or perhaps in the second pass, I’ll sign off. But if your room prices the rookie like he’s a sure thing, a superstar right away, I need to pass. I know it’s not emotionally satisfying, but often the proper EV fantasy play is the boring choice. If the market jumps in with both feet, I’ll try to keep one foot on the ground.”

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Patrick Mahomes significantly improved one area of his game in 2019. He cut his interception rate from 2.1 percent to 1 percent, which was tied with Russell Wilson for second-best in the NFL (Aaron Rodgers was first). Mahomes threw just five interceptions on 484 regular-season passes. Given the pass-catching talent around Mahomes, like Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, Travis Kelce and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, there’s no reason Mahomes can’t be right back in the MVP race this season, especially if he posts an otherworldly touchdown-to-interception ratio. Mahomes shouldn’t be hitting his true peak for a few more years, which is scary.

Is Andy Reid a top-10 all-time coach?

Now that Reid has his Super Bowl, we can fairly evaluate his historical standing without the same tired criticisms. Reid’s 207 wins are seventh in NFL history. Among coaches with at least 15 seasons, Reid’s 61.8 winning percentage is ninth. He has a better winning percentage than Bill Walsh, Bill Parcells and Chuck Noll among many others. Reid is 79 games over .500, and the only coaches above him are Don Shula, George Halas, Bill Belichick, Paul Brown, Curly Lambeau and Tom Landry — which could double as the list of the most revered coaches in the game’s history. Reid’s 15 playoff appearances rank fifth all time. Reid is a virtual Pro Football Hall of Fame lock now that he has a ring. He has given no hints that he’s even considering retirement at age 62. Reid’s ultimate standing among coaches will come down to how many more championships he wins, because that’s the overly simplistic way most coaches and quarterbacks are ranked. But his case as a top-10 coach in NFL history is pretty strong.

In 2010, Aaron Rodgers was the best quarterback in football. The Green Bay Packers weren’t favorites going into that postseason but won a Super Bowl and carried that confidence into 2011 when they went 15-1. There was a playoff loss at the end of that Packers season, but in a best-case scenario for the Chiefs, they could have a 15-win type season and not get tripped up in the playoffs. It’s pretty easy to imagine the Chiefs being the NFL’s best team, Mahomes winning another MVP and another Super Bowl MVP, and then any debate about the best start to a player’s career would basically be over. If that all happens — and it could — we could entertain conversations like “Would Patrick Mahomes be a Hall of Famer after just four seasons if he retired today?”

The 2017 Philadelphia Eagles were really good. Carson Wentz was considered the NFL’s next star quarterback. They won the city’s first title in decades. Most of the core returned. The 2018 Eagles were 6-7 at one point, and needed three straight wins and a ton of help to make the playoffs. This can’t be said enough: We never see the big drop coming for a Super Bowl team. Nobody ever thinks their team will be the one to fall off right away. We talk ourselves into each Super Bowl team being one that will be a contender for years and years, but that’s not how the NFL works. Maybe Patrick Mahomes is good enough to prevent the Chiefs from a Super Bowl hangover, but if they have a middling season and struggle to even make the playoffs, it’s not like we’ve never seen something like it before.

I don’t have the Chiefs in my top spot in the rankings, and I’ll further explain why when we get to No. 1. It does feel like a 1A/1B situation because I think two teams are far in front of everyone else heading into the season. The Chiefs are going to score a ton of points and Patrick Mahomes will be incredible again, and the defense is obviously good enough too. It feels like picking the AFC champion this season is a coin flip, and maybe the breaks go Kansas City’s way again. I just won’t be picking it that way heading into the season.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars
31.
Washington Football Team
30.
Cincinnati Bengals
29.
Carolina Panthers
28.
New York Giants
27.
Detroit Lions
26.
New York Jets
25.
Atlanta Falcons
24.
Miami Dolphins
23.
Las Vegas Raiders
22.
Los Angeles Chargers
21.
Houston Texans
20.
Arizona Cardinals
19.
Minnesota Vikings
18.
Chicago Bears
17.
Los Angeles Rams
16.
Cleveland Browns
15.
Pittsburgh Steelers
14.
Denver Broncos
13.
Indianapolis Colts
12.
Philadelphia Eagles
11.
Seattle Seahawks
10.
Green Bay Packers
9.
New England Patriots
8.
Tennessee Titans
7.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
6.
Dallas Cowboys
5.
Buffalo Bills
4.
San Francisco 49ers
3.
New Orleans Saints
2.
Kansas City Chiefs
1.
Baltimore Ravens