2018 NFL season preview: Kansas City Chiefs

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It’s a new era in Kansas City, where the Chiefs showed Alex Smith the door. More accurately, they let him walk out the door in favor of starting second year quarterback Patrick Mahomes II. The Chiefs took a risk by not signing Smith to an extension. While it’s true that the team has higher expectations as far as postseason results, Smith had arguably his best season as a pro last year, and he led the team to a 10-6 regular season record and a division title.

But something about the way the Chiefs’ season ended must have made Andy Reid move forward with his young and promising quarterback. The Chiefs played host to an underwhelming Titans team in the Wild Card round. Despite taking a 21-3 lead into halftime, they lost the game 22-21 after failing to score even a single point in the second half.

As the Chiefs move forward with Mahomes behind center, they have built a roster that should make his transition to the NFL much smoother. First, they have a very strong running game, led by second-year running back Kareem Hunt, who was a true rookie sensation last season. Hunt had an incredible rookie season, as he led the entire NFL in rushing in his first campaign with 1,327 rushing yards. As a result of the constant threat in the running game, opposing defenses are likely to stack the box, in a “prove it first” message sent toward Mahomes. That should open things up for the young quarterback, who has a plethora of weapons in his arsenal, which would make any quarterback a little envious.

Travis Kelce will likely be the first choice for Mahomes in the passing game, as he runs routes over the middle in what are higher percentage passes. Meanwhile, the Chiefs also have wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who is one of the fastest players in all of football. And now, the team also acquired receiver Sammy Watkins to help give Mahomes another strong option to throw the ball to. In all likelihood, Kansas City’s success this season will rest on the arm of Mahomes. His performance should dictate how far this team can go. 

Meanwhile, the Chiefs were putrid last season on the defensive side of the ball. They were ranked a terrible 28th in total defense, yielding 365.1 yards of total offense per game. They were almost equally bad against both the pass and the run, ranked 29th and 25th, respectively. Kansas City was the definition of a “bend but don’t break” defense, as they were ranked a middling 15th in points allowed, permitting 21.2 points per game.

They traded away cornerback Marcus Peters to the Rams, which should only make things more difficult on the backend of the defense. The Chiefs will now look to David Amerson to handle the brunt of the pressure in the secondary. The good news is that Eric Berry, the leader of the defense, will be back next season. He will help this unit maintain a physical and rugged attitude that could pay dividends for a team with big aspirations. 

Despite the many changes this offseason, the Chiefs will likely not be a pushover this season. While they are likely to experience some ups and downs, and their young quarterback should endure his own growing pains, this franchise has a lot of pride. Arrowhead Stadium remains one of the toughest road venues in the league, which gives the Chiefs an added advantage in half of their regular season games.

Ultimately, Kansas City’s level of success in the 2018 season will almost surely rest on their quarterback’s level of play. While I’d like to believe that Mahomes has all the tools necessary to be a good (and even great) NFL quarterback, this division – the AFC West – simply has too many pass rushers to let him ease into the job.