With another Super Bowl appearance comes another huge target in the ensuing season, but who should be feared the most? Which teams should Kansas City worry about?
The ’21-’22 NFL season is slowly but surely approaching and some rookie minicamps have already begun with the rest of the NFL slated to start by the end of this weekend. This means fans will finally be able to get a look at some of the fresh talent around the league and see who could be Super Bowl contenders versus who could be a few seasons away.
With that being said, there will definitely be some true competitors vying for the AFC crown this season, some more threatening than others, even before their rookies and some undrafted free agents take the practice field and show what they are made of this week.
The Chiefs’ will once again have one of, if not the, largest bounties on their head in the NFL this upcoming season due to their 14-2 regular-season record last season, their three straight AFC Championship appearances (all at Arrowhead, might I add), and their two straight Super Bowl bids.
If Kansas City wants to get back to the Super Bowl for a third straight season, they are going to have to prepare for the best of the best, and if Head Coach Andy Reid wants to hold the Lamar Hunt trophy once again he is going to have to scrupulously prepare for a few specific teams in the AFC…
The first team that the Chiefs should not underestimate this season is the Tennessee Titans, whose 11-5 record last season won them the AFC South. But, as seen throughout the regular season, their defense was not up to snuff in the playoffs, which earned them an early exit from the Wild Card round thanks to the Baltimore Ravens, another team to worry about.
Currently, the Titans’ over/under on total wins stand at 9.5 games, tied for 6th according to Vegas Insider, which they could easily demolish if their defense is even slightly better than they were for the majority of last season.
The Titans’ front office obviously knew that poor defense was what kept them from reaching their second-straight AFC Championship game last season, which is why they added the likes of Steelers’ LB Bud Dupree and Saints’ CB Janoris Jenkins in free agency before adding more talented depth to their defense with five of their eight draft picks.
If their first-round pick (#22 overall) CB Caleb Farley is as good as he was at Virginia Tech before his back injury, and consequential surgery, then the Titans have their lockdown corners in Farley and Jenkins for at least the next few years–not to mention recent addition CB Kevin Johnson from Cleveland–which absolutely replaces and upgrades the starting positions left by CBs Adoree Jackson and Malcolm Butler.
Also, they have revamped their defensive front pretty well. Starting with young talents, like 3rd-rd pick LB Monty Rice and 4th-rd pick DE Rashad Weaver, as well as with experienced veterans like Dupree and Denico Autry to help mold and teach the future of the Titans pass rush.
If fourth-year HC Mike Vrabel can regain his top-five defense from the 2018-19 season while also staying true to his clock-controlling, run-heavy offense at the same level they have been since the addition of QB Ryan Tannehill, then the Titans will be an unstoppable force that KC will likely have to face again in the playoffs, possibly even in the AFC Championship again.
Another team that is likely going to challenge the Chiefs for AFC royalty and beat their predicted win total (10.5), is the Buffalo Bills, who the Chiefs had to face twice last season.
Last season, the Chiefs beat the Bills twice. The first win was a 26-17 victory in Buffalo in week 6, and the second win came at Arrowhead in the AFC Championship game. That 38-24 win sent the Chiefs to their seconds straight Super Bowl.
The Bills are not only just as loaded on offense as they were last season, but now they have revenge on their mind, a stronger defense, and a more competitive division than they did in the ’20-’21 season which will likely prepare them more for the playoffs.
The Bills’ red zone defense was one of the worst in the NFL last season, ranking 28th in red zone TDs allowed, but the good news for them is they did not lose many defensive big names to free agency, other than DL Quinton Jefferson and S Dean Marlowe–both of whom did not start more than four games last season.
In fact, the Bills lost more on the offensive side of the ball than almost every other team in the NFL playoffs last season, with the biggest holes appearing on their offensive line and in the TE room.
Hopefully, their three O-line picks in the draft (OT Spencer Brown, OT Tommy Doyle, G Jack Anderson) are ready to step up and contribute. If Buffalo wants to stay relevant and stay in Super Bowl contention, they will have to give QB Josh Allen the same type of time in the pocket that they did last season to find WRs Cole Beasley and Stefon Diggs.
If Allen can stay protected, and their WR core–which added Emmanuel Sanders and lost injury-prone John Brown in free agency–can perform at the same level they did last season then their offense will still be as lethal, if not more lethal, for opposing defenses this season…including the Chiefs.
And while the Baltimore Ravens seem to be the collective choice by analysts and amateurs alike to knock the Chiefs off the AFC throne this season, I wanted to point out another team that some may not see as a viable threat but could easily surprise everybody in the NFL this season: the New England Patriots.
That’s right. The Chiefs’ (and pretty much every other AFC team’s) arch-nemesis for the past two decades did some serious rebuilding this offseason and spent more cash in free agency than any other NFL team ever, which is very uncharacteristic of HC Bill Belichick.
It was obvious from the first day of free agency that Belichick did not appreciate his team finishing below .500 since his first season as head coach (2000) and it showed by his massive spending on free agents like TE Hunter Henry, WR Kendrick Bourne, TE Jonnu Smith, WR Nelson Agholor, and LB Kyle Van Noy.
Not only did he find some of the best players at their positions, but he doubled down on QB Cam Newton. It is because of that decision that the Patriots are even on this list.
Obviously, Newton did not impress many people last season, going 7-8 as New England’s first QB (not named Tom Brady) to start at least 15 games since Matt Cassell did so back in ’08. But Newton’s 2-1 start showed promise, especially considering he was only two yards away from going 3-0 before contracting COVID-19 and missing the 4th-week matchup against KC last season.
That promise turned sour after their bye week, as the Patriots lost three straight before barely defeating the then-winless New York Jets with a 51-yd field goal as time expired. These uncharacteristic performances by the Patriots could be attributed to countless reasonings, like their league-high eight opt-outs or their obvious lack of receiving talent.
Now that Newton has legitimate weapons he can very easily begin to thrive and possibly show flashes of his MVP season.
Newton also has a new offensive line that has been remodeled with additions like OT Trent Brown and OL Will Sherman in the draft (pick #197), not to mention the return of their golden goose from the 6th round of last year’s draft: OL Mike Onwenu.
Currently, the odds for New England rest at 9 wins, something very reachable for this season’s Patriots compared to the dismantled, revolving door of a team that Belichick and a sickly, 32-year old Cam Newton somehow dragged to 7 wins last season.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below or through my Twitter @SportsGuyShawnO and be sure to check out Shawn’s Staturdays and future articles on Arrowhead Live!