Shawn’s Staturdays: How does the AFC North stack up against the Chiefs ahead of their 2021 matchups?

The Chiefs upcoming season features plenty of great matchups, four of which coming against the AFC North at opposite ends of the season, how should the Chiefs prepare for these games ,and more importantly, what do the other stats say the games will look like?

The Chiefs schedule has been inspected, examined, and scrutinized a hundred times over by every member of #ChiefsKingdom for weeks now and there are definitely some trap games, some possible playoff-implicating games, and some weeks that originally look easy have started to appear tougher than predicted.

A very particular series of games have started to gain traction as the most anticipated and interesting matchups of the whole 2021 season: the four teams making up the AFC North against the reigning AFC champions–the Kansas City Chiefs.

The AFC North consists of the Cleveland Browns, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens, and the Cincinnati Bengals. The division went 38-25 in the regular season and sent more teams (3) to the playoffs than any other division in the league.

The Chiefs play two of these teams to start out the season: Cleveland (Week 1, 3:30 PM) and Baltimore (Week 2, SNF) which will be the marquee matchups to present Kansas City’s newly-produced offensive line.

With the Cleveland game being the Chiefs’ home opener, not to mention the first time that Arrowhead will be completely full since the golden days of pre-COVID, there is already a highly-anticipated playoff rematch from last season.

The Chiefs are 14-11-2 against the Browns in their 50-year history, with the last four games going Kansas City’s way by an average of 7.7 points, but this was largely during the Browns pathetic seasons where they were shuffling through QBs and coaches like they were decks of cards.

The matchup was surprisingly not chosen to be a primetime-slated game even though the past three games between Mahomes and Baker Mayfield–going back to their college days–have been show stopping, air-raid football games that you can’t take your eyes off of for one second for fear of missing something spectacular.

Let’s not forget the major offensive performances from their matchup in college when Mayfield headed Oklahoma to a 66-59 victory over Mahomes and Texas Tech; Mayfield throwing 545 yds & seven TDs while Mahomes threw 734 (!) yds and five TDs is all that the media blabbers about leading up to their current meetings for a reason.

The second week matchup in Baltimore will be a major test of the Chiefs’ reconstructed defense, which will apparently sport Chris Jones as an edge rusher more often, and will also be the fourth game between Lamar Jackson and his “kryptonite” who is 3-0 against the 2016 Heisman winner.

Chiefs are 7-4 against the Ravens since they moved from Indianapolis to Baltimore with the last four games being victories for KC by an average of 10.5 points, although the 2015 win is an outlier considering Jackson was a freshman at Louisville at the time and the Ravens were being quarterbacked by (*checks notes*)Jimmy Clausen.

Both of these games could very easily be coin flip games where whoever has the ball last will come out on top, meaning the Chiefs need to tread carefully and not get too cocky before the regular season really begins to play out.

With these tough games spearheading the season the Chiefs could possibly start off the season looking at 0-2 if Reid, Spagnuolo and Bieniemy don’t attack the two AFC North rivals with the right play designs and same lethal precision that KC has shown they can consistently bring to every game.

Fast forward all the way to weeks 16 & 17 when the Chiefs play the Steelers in Arrowhead (12/26 @ 3:30 PM) and the Bengals in Cincinnati the following week (1/2 @ 12 PM).

The Steelers look to be in their final year or two with Big Ben Roethlisberger under center, especially with how much he deteriorated the last half of the 2020 season after starting off hot (11-0), not to mention the terrible first round of the playoffs where he threw four TDs and four INTs while being blown out by Cleveland.

For the longest time the 2x Super Bowl champion Roethlisberger had Kansas City’s number (6-1 vs KC before Mahomes) and always seemed to put on a clinic whenever Chiefs week came around, like 2016’s Week 4 matchup when he threw for five TDs in a 43-14 rout of the Alex Smith-led Chiefs.

The good news? Mahomes is 1-0 against Roethlisberger, making him 7-2 in his career against KC, and his career has seemed to tail off in a way that makes the Steelers look somewhat weaker as a whole.

In their only previous matchup (Week 2 of Mahomes’ first year as a starter–2018) Roethlisberger threw the ball 60 times (!) with 39 being caught for 452 yards and 3 TDs with zero interceptions. That’s not a terrible stat sheet, but also not enough to get past Mahomes and his SIX touchdowns on just 23 completions.

Hopefully Mahomes can radiate that same energy during this season’s matchup because it will likely be Roethlisberger’s last time in Arrowhead, at least as a Steeler…

As far as the Bengals go, the game is going to be interesting because at that point in the season, the Chiefs are most likely going to have their playoff spot solidified and that means last year’s #1 overall pick, Joe Burrow, might be playing the Chiefs’ 2nd-stringers.

But, for argument’s sake, let’s look at the game as if Mahomes and the starting set of Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire are all active and playing 60 minutes.

Burrow looked like he was the right choice before severely injuring his leg in Week 11 against Washington, so it’ll be interesting to see how he has progressed up to Week 17’s game in Cincy.

If he can find a way to beat Spagnuolo’s defense then the Bengals will continue their winning habit against KC; currently Cincy is 15-14 against the Chiefs since their first game back in 1968 with coach Reid being 1-1 against them since he arrived at Arrowhead.

If him and Ja’Marr Chase are as deadly as they were at LSU then this could be as explosive of an offense as there is in the NFL, especially if Joe Mixon is healthy and playing with the same vigor that he showed in his second season when he put up 1464 yards from scrimmage (1168 of them being rush yds) and 9 total TDs.

The Bengals defense was not great last season, ranking dead last in sacks (17) and was one of the worst against the rush (29th in yds allowed on the ground), so if their additions on defense like DE Trey Hendrickson (4 yrs/$60m), CB Chidobe Awuzie (3 yrs/$22m), and DT Larry Ogunjobi (1 yr/$6.2m) work out they could be looking at a potential low-seeded playoff entry.

All of this means that the Chiefs might actually have a challenge on their hands if they have not secured their spot in the playoffs by Week 17, both on offense and defense.

With all this information here are some stat predictions for each game and why:

  • Week 1 (vs. Browns): Chiefs 37 – Browns 31
    Mahomes: 28/37, 380 yds, 3 TDs (1 rushing)
    Mayfield: 31/48, 411 yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT
    Edwards-Helaire: 23 attempts, 106 yds, 2 TDs

    The Chiefs will get off to a hot start before cooling down late in the game, Mahomes will let the running game take over after building a lead but Mayfield and the dual-threat backfield that he has will make for more checkdowns that accumulate big yards.
  • Week 2 (@ Ravens): Chiefs 41 – Ravens 31
    Mahomes: 32/39, 415 yds, 4 TDs, 1 INT
    Jackson: 18/29, 240 yds, 120 rush yds, 4 TDs, 1 INT (2 rush)
    Hill: 12 catches, 231 yds, 2 TDs (1 backflip)

    Mahomes style against the Ravens has seemed to always be more pass-heavy, mainly due to the large defensive line that always has honed in on him in previous matchups. This particular time he’s going to find Hill often, much like the first game against Tampa Bay last season, and he’s going to help the Chiefs put Jackson in a predicament where he has to play from behind–something he does not do well.
  • Week 16 (vs. Steelers): Chiefs 28 – Steelers 24
    Mahomes: 21/30, 320 yds, 2 TDs, (sacked 3x)
    Roethlisberger: 34/45, 379 yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
    Edwards-Helaire: 29 attempts, 135 yds; 12 receptions, 95 yds, 1 TD

    The Steelers defense may have lost Bud Dupree and Tyson Alualu but their league-high 56 sacks last year were initiated by the intense pressure from T.J. Watt, who did not leave, and with that information Reid and Mahomes will likely come up with a plan to get the ball out quickly and as efficiently as possible.
  • Week 17 (@ Bengals): Chiefs 24 – Bengals 21
    Mahomes: 20/34, 230 yds, 2 TDs, (left third quarter to rest for playoffs)
    Burrow: 25/31, 325 yds, 3 TDs,
    Kelce: 8 receptions, 98 yds, 1 TD

    With the Chiefs in the lead Mahomes will be taken out and replaced by Chad Henne to help him rest for the playoffs, that or he will be taken out after breaking some sort of record that he already owns. Burrow will play lights out football, connecting on 80% of his passes against the Chiefs’ secondary that will be funneling out bench players by the beginning of the 4th quarter but he will still get them within a field goal without the ability to finish the game due to Henne and the 2nd-stringers ability to keep the ball on the ground to control the clock.

These are just a few stats that I think will be easily attainable for the Chiefs if they play to their highest potential, also their opponents are hypothetically playing their best players and to their best potential as well.

Even if the scores are different, or the Chiefs lose a game or two instead of going 4-0, the stats will likely resemble what I presented above based on previous games against these teams and the stats that Mahomes and Reid’s offenses have put up against them.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comment section below or through my Twitter @SportsGuyShawnO and be sure to check out other Shawn’s Staturdays, as well as other free articles that are posted daily on Arrowhead Live!