In November last year I wrote a piece about the Chiefs’ biggest competition in the AFC towards the end of the 2018 season. Well a lot has changed since then and there are some new threats facing the Chiefs this time round.
So who are they? Why are they a threat? And how worried should we be about them? By the end of this article all of those questions should be answered. I took 1 team from each division who I believe will cause the most trouble for Kansas City’s Super Bowl run this year. I also threw an extra team in the mix as well to shake things up a bit.
AFC East – New England Patriots
I think it’s always wise to start with the current world champions when looking at threatening teams this season. The New England Patriots are a dynasty that will go down in the history books as one of the greatest of all time. Their longevity and success is unmatched in the world of sports as a whole, let alone the NFL.
But this isn’t exactly news is it? The reason why the Patriots won’t fall off too much in 2019 is because they’ve kept on their toes during free agency and drafted well.
The New England front office isn’t stupid. They understand that Tom Brady isn’t getting any younger and when he goes, it’s likely that Belichick will go soon after him. If they want to go for another ring then they need to get it done either this season or next. There’s no time to let young talent develop naturally on the roster.
It’s why they’ve attempted to compile a strong supporting cast for Brady this upcoming campaign. Losing Coradelle Patterson in free agency hasn’t really impacted the team that much because they still have Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett and have also brought in Demariyus Thomas and Bruce Ellington during free agency.
On top of this, they also signed 15 year veteran TE Benjamin Watson to help with the passing game. The 38 year old was drafted by New England back in 2004 but hasn’t played for the team since 2008. However he’s still efficient at his age; catching 35 of his 46 targets (76.1%) from Drew Brees last season. With a similar quarterback throwing to him this year I can see Watson being just as valuable of an asset to the Patriots (especially with Gronk’s announced retirement).
Their efficient offensive line has also kept most of its key members (despite the Raiders taking LT Trent Brown off their hands) and that running back room is also particularly scary. James White, Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead all had credible seasons and their running back by committee system worked well all-season long. If they can repeat their successes this season then their offence is definitely something to worry about as a Chiefs fan.
On the other side of the ball the Pats did lose their best pass rusher, DE Trey Flowers, to the Lions during free agency, but overall they still don’t look like they’ve taken a step back defensively. In fact they filled this hole instantly by acquiring Michael Bennett via a trade with the Eagles.
Bennett had a few more sacks than Flowers over the last 2 years but he is also 8 years older than the ex-Patriot so it’s obvious that New England are looking to carole strong talent now rather than building foundations for the future.
The rest of that side of the ball has also retained its strength as the McCourty brothers, Stephon Gilmore, Patrick Chung Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower still remain on the roster.
They polished this all off with a quietly good draft. Adding to receiver depth in round 1 with N’Keal Harry as well as building upon the weaker of their positions at DT, OL and DB in the later rounds. However, as I said, the Patriots are going to want to jump straight back into ‘win now mode’ so these rookies won’t have much of an impact on the team this season (other than Harry who could have a good rookie season alongside Brady).
It’s clear that the biggest competition the Chiefs will face in the AFC next season is going to come from New England. Their organisation is run extremely well from top to bottom and Brady has a strong enough cast around him to slow down the signs of age.
However, I still think the Chiefs have enough firepower to overcome them. We face off against the Patriots in Foxborough in week 14 and may also end up seeing them in the postseason too.
AFC West – Los Angeles Chargers
You would think that critics would favour the Chiefs in the AFC West after they won the division for the 3rd consecutive season. However, once again, the Chargers have been picked as the favourites to come out on top in 2019.
There’s no doubt that LA are the strongest competition we face in the AFC West and, despite my confidence in the Chiefs’ chances of topping the division again, they could still be a threat to the title.
The main reason that the Chargers pose a threat in the division is because they have talent all over the board. At nearly every position there are guys who can make plays and be the difference maker. With so many threats to worry about it’s hard for opposing teams to hone in on a weakness and expose it.
Rivers has plenty of weapons on this Chargers’ offence that he can utilise. Running back Melvin Gordon had a strong stat line last season with 885 yards off of 175 attempts (5.1 yards per attempt), 10 rushing touchdowns and 4 receiving touchdowns. His performance was also enough to award him a pro bowl appearance and he wasn’t the only player on this Chargers’ offence who received a trip to Orlando. Philip Rivers, Mike Pouncey and Keenan Allen were all selected too whilst Russel Okung received a 1st alternate selection and Derek Watt was on the 3rd alternate list.
This is what I mean when I say they have talent all over the field. Keenan Allen went off last year with 1196 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns, catching 71.3% of throws that came his way. They also have 2 pro bowl calibre offensive linemen and a veteran QB who’s ranked in a lot of peoples’ minds as a top 10 player at his position.
That’s not even mentioning the return of TE Hunter Henry, who was selected by the Chargers in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft but sat for the entirety of the 2018 season due to injury. His return will likely be huge for the team and will add another person for the Chiefs’ defence to worry about.
As well as this, their defence looks just about as stacked as their offence this season. Their defensive line looks formidable with Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Brandon Mebane and rookie Jerry Tillery (who was selected 28th overall by Los Angeles) leading the pack. If that wasn’t threatening enough they also have Derwin James at safety, who’s going into his second year after being a front runner for defensive rookie of the year last season (losing out to Colts linebacker Darius Leonard) as well as Casey Hayward and Trevor WIlliams at corner.
Oh and did I mention that 3 of these guys made the pro bowl this year too? James, Ingram and Hayward all received selections for their performances in 2018 so, if you weren’t scared of the Chargers before reading this, then you should be by now.
On their day the Chargers can be the best team in the league simply because of the sheer amount of talent on the roster. This is why I think the Chiefs need to be cautious of them in 2019 and not assume we’ll lift the division title with ease this upcoming season.
AFC South – Indianapolis Colts
The Colts became 1 of the hottest teams in the AFC in the 2nd half of last season. They entered the playoffs as a wildcard team and took down the Texans before falling to us in the Divisional Round.
However, since then they’ve only gotten better. For starters there aren’t anymore doubts about Luck’s health. Opposing defences need to be weary of his abilities when he’s on the field because, on his day, Luck can really light it up.
And the pieces around him are ready to ball too. Marlon Mack had a very confident season in 2018. Totalling 908 yards on 195 attempts (4.7 yards per attempt), 17 catches for 103 yards and 10 touchdowns in only 12 regular season games. In the playoffs he averaged 5.9 yards per attempt and picked up another touchdown.
Mack also had Nyheim Hines running alongside him last year who had a respectable year too; averaging 3.7 yards per attempt and 4 total touchdowns. Adding the former Chief Spencer Ware in the off season could make the Colts running back room even more formidable than last year.
The receiver position was a little thin for Indianapolis in 2018, with just TY Hilton being a memorable name, so it’s certainly something they wanted to address in 2019. Hilton had a good season as he totalled 6 touchdowns and 1270 receiving yards (also setting a career high in catch percentage with 63.3%) in the 12 regular season games he played.
So who have they brought in to help? Well Devin Funchess joined the team in free agency who had a decent season and should perform better than the Colt’s number 2 guy in 2018.
Their offensive line was strong last year and continues to be so. If they can keep Luck on his feet and make holes for their backs then the Colts’ offence will be a huge worry for any opposing defence, let alone the Chiefs.
The defensive side of the ball is also going from strength to strength. Their front 7 had a good year and they will hope to continue this by adding veteran, and ex-Chief, Justin Houston to the depth chart. Their secondary isn’t particularly worrying because, aside from Malik Hooker, there isn’t a whole load of talent.
So the Colts are hoping that their 2nd round draft pick, cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, can step up in his first year and make this DB group more of a threat. His tall frame and long arms makes him quite the player to line up opposite however he is yet to prove himself at the pro-level. The other draft pick who needs to hit the ground running for Indianapolis is wide receiver Paris Campbell as depth at that position may hold the Colts back in 2019.
The biggest threat about the Colts is the age of their talent. They have an incredibly young core with 2018 Defensive Rookie of the Year winner Darius Leonard, Malik Hooker and Marlon Mack all showing up early in their careers. They also have a couple of rookies who were highly scouted pre-draft (Ya-Sin and Campbell). This means the Colts have the ability to grow into a threatening team for years to come. However they could also cause some serious trouble this year too.
The Chiefs play the Colts in Arrowhead in week 5 and it should be one to watch. I also think there’s a big chance that the Colts win their division and make it to the playoffs in 2019 so there’s even the possibility of a playoff rematch.
AFC North – Cleveland Browns
Has anyone had a stronger off season than the Cleveland Browns? The front office clearly had a vision for the team and they’ve done everything in their power to turn that dream into a reality. I could even see the Browns winning the North this year, beating out the Bengals, Steelers and Ravens, to secure a playoff spot.
So how does a team go from a 8-39-1 record over the last 3 years to becoming a playoff contender? They made moves, that’s how. The biggest story from this year’s off season was the Browns acquiring star receiver Odell Beckham Jr from the Giants in exchange for a 1st round pick, a 3rd round pick and safety Jabrill Peppers.
OBJ will now line up alongside his college roommate Jarvis Landry, who is going into his second season in Cleveland. Once you look at that, coupled with Nick Chubb and David Njoku, saying “the Browns offence looks scary” is an understatement.
And it’s all being centred around 2018’s number 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield. Mayfield had a confident rookie campaign, being a front runner for offensive rookie of the year on 3725 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 63.8% completion percentage. I think that Mayfield will continue to develop in 2019, simply because of the upgrades that have been made to the positions around him.
As well as OBJ, the Browns also controversially brought in ex-Chief Kareem Hunt who had a strong start to 2018 before he was cut from the Kansas City roster due to the off-field issues that I’m sure you’re aware of. Now that he’s in a new home, Hunt is prepared to change how he’s perceived by the league and the media and should only make the Browns’ offence more lethal going into 2019 (if he stays problem-free from now on).
They also had a top 5 offensive line in 2018, and are set to have another good year, which will help Mayfield to stay out of that infamous sophomore slump. So I think, if all of their pieces gel together at the same time, they could have one of the best offences in the league next season.
Their weakness, however, lies with their defence. Despite making moves to bring in DE Olivier Vernon and DT Sheldon Richardson (2 respectably good players), they still has a few holes that may stop them from posing a threat to opposing offences.
Their linebacker core is good but nothing to rave about. With Christian Kirksey spending the last 7 weeks of the season on IR for a hamstring injury it leaves a question mark about the health of that position.
Aside from Denzel Ward, who had a great rookie season, and Damarious Randall the secondary is looking a little flimsy too. Terrance Mitchell, who spent a year in KC in 2017, is likely going to be a starting corner despite also being on IR for 8 weeks in the middle of last season.
The Browns need to hope that Greedy Williams lives up to expectations and then some, if they want to make sure their game can be deadly on both sides of the ball. Having said that, their defensive line does look extremely threatening with Myles Garrett, Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon all being likely starters in 2019.
Overall, their offence is loaded and set to cause problems all year long. This means that, if the Browns’ defensive line can bring QB pressure and stuff run lanes, they can be a massive threat to anyone who faces them in 2019.
Dark Horse – Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville could come out of nowhere in 2019. After only winning 5 games last season, putting them last in the AFC South, the Jaguars have put themselves in a much better position going into 2019.
Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles is now the starting quarterback which is certainly an upgrade from Blake Bortles. They’ve also added to their young receiver core by bringing in ex-Chief Chris Conley and Leonarde Fournette is still a respectable running back despite having a bit of a slump in his sophomore year.
Fournette had 439 yards, 6 total touchdowns and averaged just 3.3 yards per attempt in 2018. However it’s also important to note that he only played in 8 games last season, sitting the rest because of hamstring and ankle injuries.
Their offensive line is a little on the weak side too, which crippled their offensive production last year; mainly because of LT Cam Robinson’s season ending injury in week 2. In fact, injuries plagued this Jacksonville team throughout the season as 23 of their players were on the injury reserve list for 5 games or more last season.
However their defence is still in a confident position. Calais Campbell finished the season with 10.5 sacks and Yannick Ngakoue had 9.5 (17th and 23rd in the league respectively). They also have a fairly strong linebacker core with Myles Jack, Telvin Smith and rookie Josh Allen being the expected starters in 2019. Allen was selected 7th overall by the Jaguars and is set to have a confident start to his career; mainly because of the support around him.
Their secondary is also a threat with Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye still respectable corners. One potential weakness is at safety but I think the rest of the positions on the field should be able to successfully pick up the slack.
Expect the Jaguars to quietly pose a threat in the AFC. Their main cause for concern at the moment is the health of their squad so, if they can limit the injuries, they have a very threatening team.
The Chiefs open the season at Jacksonville this season so we’ll be getting the first look at how scary this team is. This worries me even more as we won’t be able to truly tell what their potential is before the season begins in September.
We were one offside penalty away from the Super Bowl in 2018 and since then the team has only gotten better. If you want my honest opinion I think it’s the rest of the AFC who need to be afraid of us next season. However it only takes 1 upset to spoil these chances and these are the teams that I think are the most likely to pull that off.
Don’t see this as a pessimistic article, I still have the highest hopes for the Chiefs’ 2019 campaign. Instead, look at it as a cautionary piece to make note of for later down the line.