The football offseason is always a tough stretch to get through. After the confetti settles in the Super Bowl, pro football fans have to wait until September for another meaningful game.
To get through the offseason, we look ahead to the next season and analyze the moves teams make. This leads to predictions that are too early to matter, and while it may be fun to make predictions, fans have to be careful to not have too many unrealistic expectations before the team even steps on the practice field for training camp.
The Kansas City Chiefs are ready to start a new era with Patrick Mahomes under center. The 2017 first-round pick by the Chiefs sat last year as Alex Smith had a career year. Smith was sent to the Washington Redskins in a trade and now the gunslinger from Texas Tech will take over.
Excitement is high in Chiefs Kingdom, as it should be. Mahomes has been compared to Brett Favre, one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks, but the hype train needs to pump the brakes a bit before the expectations become too high and unrealistic.
While being compared to Favre is usually a good thing, one cannot ignore that Favre’s gunslinger mentality cost his teams games with stupid decisions. As a Vikings fan, watching his interception to Tracy Porter of the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship game in January 2010 still hurts myself and other Vikings fans. Just listen to Paul Allen’s radio call on YouTube and see what I mean.
Mahomes is not Alex Smith. He is going to lose a game or two this year from a costly interception, like Favre did numerous times. While Favre also made some of the greatest throws as well, the dumb decisions cannot be ignored and Chiefs fans have to watch out for them. I think he is going to struggle a lot this season, but will show a lot of flashes as well to show why KC traded up so much to snag him in 2017. If he struggles like I think he will, some will bring out the “bust” word already, but I think that is too quick to give.
While the Chiefs are the defending AFC West champions, fans should not expect to run away with the division this season.
The return of Jon Gruden to the Oakland Raiders could boost the team back to the level they played at in 2016 prior to Derek Carr’s injury in Week 16. If Carr doesn’t get injured, the Raiders have a better shot to win in Week 17 at Denver, which would have given the team the AFC West instead of KC. The Raiders defense still has a lot of issues, but if Gruden can get Carr and the rest of the offense clicking, this Raiders team will be dangerous.
Denver’s quarterback situation has been a mess since Peyton Manning retired, and Case Keenum looks to be an upgrade, but his 2017 season could also be a fluke. The defense may have lost some pieces from the Super Bowl team, but there are still playmakers to watch out for on Denver.
The wildcard in the division is the Los Angeles Chargers. On paper, this team has upper-tier talent across nearly all positions, but the team always seems to find a way to not live up to expectations. If the Chargers play to their potential, this team can easily snag the division.
All three teams also have one thing in common that the Chiefs cannot ignore – top-tier pass rushers. Denver has Von Miller, Oakland has Khalil Mack and the Chargers have Joey Bosa. All three can make Mahomes’ life a nightmare if they penetrate through the line.
Another thing that the Chiefs really need to pump the brakes on is the Sammy Watkins hype. Watkins has not been the top threat that he was expected to be coming out of college.
After injury-riddled years with the Buffalo Bills, Watkins was traded to the Los Angeles Rams. While Watkins played in the most games since his rookie season, he had his second lowest yardage in a season. That was with Sean McVay, one of the brightest offensive minds in the league, as his head coach.
Watkins could prove me wrong and have a breakout season with the Chiefs similar to what the Philadelphia Eagles saw with Nelson Agholor in 2017, but as of right now, I would not count on it. I could be wrong, but I just do not think he will be the difference maker that Chiefs fans think he will be.
If I am wrong and this offense plays to its potential, the team still has another big weakness – defense. This defense was downright awful at times last season. The return of Dee Ford and Eric Berry should help, but Berry is getting up there in age and his production could dwindle. The Chiefs need a lot out of Ford this season, especially in a division with three of the best pass rushers in the game.
The schedule does not help the young quarterback either. The first six games have Kansas City at the Chargers, at the Pittsburgh Steelers, San Fransisco 49ers, at the Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars and at the New England Patriots. The Chiefs could easily be 0-6 to start the season. I think a 2-4 or 3-3 start is more realistic. The rest of the schedule features some favorable games against the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, but missing the playoffs with a 7-9 to 9-7 record is a realistic finish for the Chiefs this season. The Chiefs Kingdom might need to hold off just a little on the hype.
Luke Peterson is the sports editor of the Leavenworth Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org