Analysis

AFC Rivals: Who are the biggest for the Chiefs now?

Coming off a Super Bowl LIV victory with a glistening trophy and rings to show for it, the Chiefs remain the team to beat this upcoming season. With their backs against the wall due to salary cap constraints, they have still managed to bring back some of the players who contributed in last year’s magical season. Though the situations with Jones and Watkins remain unsettled, the Chiefs are still in a position to make a strong run for a consecutive championship. The upcoming draft will likely add depth, competition, and perhaps a starter or two, and the Chiefs will be ready to tackle another grinding season in pursuit of their 5th-straight division title and back-to-back Super Bowl championships.

Who could potentially get in the way? Here is my list of potential rivals for this upcoming season, ranked similarly to your favorite salsa; hot, medium, and mild.

HOT

Baltimore Ravens (AFC North) – If you’re like me, a sigh of relief was exhaled last season when the Titans upset the Ravens in the AFC Divisional Round of the playoffs. The team that boasted the best regular season record in the NFL in 2019 lost only to the Chiefs and Browns in weeks 3 and 4 and never looked back. What happened against the Titans was unexpected by nearly everyone outside of Tennessee, and it slammed open the door for the Chiefs to host the AFC Championship against an arguably less-dynamic team than the Ravens. The Ravens have talent across the board. The confidence fills the room in every meeting, interview, and social media encounter. They have a game-changing QB1 under center in Lamar Jackson, who just earned league MVP.  They return many of the surrounding pieces to bring the physicality to the field. If any team is capable, and perhaps predicted to upset the Chiefs in 2020, it has to be the Ravens. Though early, Jackson’s career record as a starter is 19-3 with a winning percentage of .864. However, he’s 0-2 versus Mahomes, and I’d like to see that trend continue. Perhaps an unpopular opinion, but the home-field advantage could be the difference between the two. (Chiefs @ Ravens in 2020)

Los Angeles Chargers (AFC West) – Division rivals are always tough when they see each other twice per season. As these games approach, the common adage is, “Throw the records out the window.” The Chargers lost their 16-year QB1 in Philip Rivers, who is now an Indianapolis Colt. As a Charger, Rivers threw for 59,271 yards, 397 TD’s, 198 INT’s, and a passer rating of 95.1 in 228 games. Whether you appreciate his competitive spirit or not, he began his career with a 13-4 record versus the Chiefs. But it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, and he finished his Chargers career with a 14-15 record against the red, white, and gold. At the present time, the new QB1 is likely Tyrod Taylor. The Chargers have talent on both sides of the ball and will be very competitive, but I do not think it’s enough to stop the Chiefs from earning their fifth-straight division title. (Home and away in 2020)

MEDIUM

Buffalo Bills (AFC East) – The Bills were a bit of a surprise last season after a 10-6 regular season and postseason appearance. A team that started 6-2 during the first 9 weeks also appeared to labor through the 24th-ranked strength of schedule. A lower-ranking offensive unit and high-ranking defensive unit has seen some quality additions to both sides through free agency. Entering his third season with 6 comebacks and 8 game-winning drives, (QB) Josh Allen has the dual-threat capabilities to create very competitive contests. The Bills, ranked #9 in some early preseason polls, are well coached and may have the upper hand in the division with Brady’s departure from New England. (Chiefs @ Bills in 2020)

Denver Broncos (AFC West) – Another division rival, but the Broncos have a QB1 on his way in rather than walking out. There’s a fair amount of optimism in Bronco Country that Drew Lock can get this team back into the playoff conversation. Coming off an injury, Lock was inserted into the starting lineup for the final five games last season and finished 4-1 in that span. That one loss? It was a snowy day in Kansas City, 24 degrees, and less-than-ideal conditions for a young signal-caller. It resulted in a rough afternoon for Lock, who ended the day 18-40 for 208 yards, 1 INT, and was sacked twice. His 50.8 passer rating during that contest was quickly justified by fans due to the weather and field conditions, but I’ll remind everyone that in those same conditions, our very own Patrick Mahomes was 27-34 for 340 yards, 2 TD’s, 1 INT, and a passer rating of 115.7. The Broncos have added (G) Graham Glasgow (RB) Melvin Gordon in free agency, which will certainly add depth and punch to the ground game, but I don’t see the Broncos as anything more than moderately-competitive this upcoming season. (Home and away in 2020)

Las Vegas Raiders (AFC West) – The final division rival, the Raiders appear to be a significant question mark entering the season. Even with their new home and fancy new stadium, one could argue that the Raiders have made some head-scratching moves during the free agency period. With many new faces brought in and over $90M spent early on, the Raiders may now be facing a quarterback controversy between Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota. Mariota has stated in early interviews that he is Derek Carr’s backup, but some predict Mariota will take over as QB1 and give the Raiders the best chance to make a run for the post season. New town, new stadium, many new faces, and a potential QB controversy doesn’t have the feel of a team that will topple the Chiefs along the way, but the Raiders/Chiefs rivalry is always a good one. (Home and away in 2020)

New England Patriots (AFC East) – Who are the Patriots minus Tom Brady? Everyone inside and outside of the Boston area is waiting to see. Jarrett Stidham and Cody Kessler are currently on the roster, and I believe the edge goes to Stidham. He has thrown just 94 passes in his young career, but some appreciated what they observed from him during his 2019 preseason debut. Regardless of who takes the first-team snaps, the Patriots are still coached by future HOF candidate, Bill Belichick. If anyone can answer the questions and prove doubters wrong, Belichick has the ability. The Patriots also return a dominant defense that ranked 1st in many categories last season. With a few names added and a few names lost in free agency, we should still expect the Patriots to be competitive in 2020. Further, there may be a little revenge factor after the Chiefs walked out of Foxboro in Week 14 with a 7-point victory. (Patriots @ Chiefs in 2020)

MILD

Tennessee Titans (AFC South) – The Titans surprised many in the football world in 2019 by stealing postseason road victories from New England and Baltimore. Their identity was quite clear with (RB) Derrick Henry while (QB) Ryan Tannehill’s output certainly exceeded the expectations of many. They recently extended Tannehill and used the franchise tag on Henry, so one can expect more of the same from Tennessee. However, the Titans also suffered some defensive attrition in losing (DT) Jurrell Casey and (CB) Logan Ryan in free agency. They added (DE) Vic Beasley Jr. to the squad, though his production has been inconsistent the past few seasons and his potential contributions are unknown at best. Whether they carry momentum from last season or not, they will not sneak up on any teams this year. (Titans not scheduled in 2020 regular season)

Houston Texans (AFC South) – What is going on in Houston? It’s no secret that Texans fans are still fuming about the trade involving (WR) DeAndre Hopkins. For all we know, players might be, too. Generally speaking, one would not usually expect a team to trade away a franchise-leading WR when their franchise QB is entering his fourth season. Will Fuller, the new #1 WR, has had an injury-riddled career thus far, playing in just 41 games the past four seasons combined. The Texans ranked in the lower-third of the league defensively in 2019, and they’ve had a quiet free agency regarding both sides of the ball. They currently do not have a 1st-round draft pick in 2020, so they are going to need to hit on their remaining picks (8) to keep a competitive team around Deshaun Watson. (Texans @ Chiefs in 2020)

Indianapolis Colts (AFC South) – Given the Philip Rivers signing, the Colts appear to be done with the Jacoby Brissett experiment. The Colts underachieved in 2019, posting a 7-9 record with middle-of-the-pack offensive and defensive ranked units. Yes, they beat our beloved Chiefs in Week 5 with the strong running of Marlon Mack behind an extraordinary offensive line, but it’s fair to say that both teams’ identities traveled different paths as the season progressed. The Colts recently splashed in free agency in the trade acquiring DeForest Buckner. They gave up their 1st-round pick (13th) in the deal, but they still maintain two 2nd-round picks and may be expected to use one on a QB who can learn from Rivers this upcoming season. (Colts not scheduled in 2020 regular season)

Sleeper Rivals:

Pittsburgh Steelers (not scheduled in 2020 regular season)

Miami Dolphins (Chiefs @ Dolphins in 2020)

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