Can the Kansas City Chiefs still contend in 2017?

SAN DIEGO, CA - JANUARY 01: Demarcus Robinson
SAN DIEGO, CA - JANUARY 01: Demarcus Robinson /
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With the dust settled from Jeremy Maclin’s release, how do the Chiefs maintain their title expectations moving forward?

Jeremy Maclin is now a Baltimore Raven, and the knee-jerk reaction is the Kansas City Chiefs are no longer serious about Super Bowl LII, right? Andy Reid disagrees.

"“We have enough talent right here to do what we need to do,” Reid said. “Plus, we have a great locker room.”"

So there’s no white flag waving. And why should there be? The roster is still talented, we haven’t seen them play, and there are plenty of tickets to sell. As a fan though, it’s hard to take Reid seriously. You just cut your top wideout in a system where your quarterback (presumably) needs a ton of weapons to succeed.

If anybody knows this team’s potential in this system though, it’s Reid. There’s still a chance, right? Humor me.

Last year without Maclin the Chiefs went 4-1 – against Jacksonville, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Denver (in Denver) and Atlanta. The Jacksonville game counts here because Maclin got hurt early on one target and did not return. Those wins were not possible without great defensive play, but the offense played an important role also.

During that span, in order, your receiving leaders were: Travis Kelce (58 yards), Tyreek Hill (89 yards), Kelce (108), Kelce (101) and Kelce (140). Kelce led the team in receiving yards in nine games, followed by Maclin (4), Spencer Ware (2), Tyreek Hill (1) and Charcandrick West (1).

With that, there is a little more ease that this team can contend without Maclin, but certain things still have to happen to make up for his loss.

The remaining receivers must step up

Behind Kelce, already the top target, guys will be challenged everywhere. Hill, who was the team’s second leading receiver last year, will get the first crack at Maclin’s old spot and an uptick in playing time (he played 200 less snaps than Maclin last season).

Chris Conley’s third season will be interesting. In 2016, he matched Maclin’s “down-year” production in nearly 200 more snaps. De’Anthony Thomas, Albert Wilson and Demarcus Robinson will have to make up the rest of the production. Anything Jehu Chesson (or others) contributes is a bonus.

The run game has to improve

Spencer Ware returns with rookie running back Kareem Hunt, whom the team traded up for in the draft. Expect the RBs to play a more impactful role this year.

Quarterback Play

I’ve always felt Alex Smith plays his best ball when his back’s against the wall, and if this season isn’t the epitome of that for him, I don’t know what is.

The defense must improve

It’s crazy to say out loud, but the Kansas City defense ranked 24th in the league in total yards allowed, and 26th against the run. If they play the same and don’t at least come close to leading the league in takeaways again, it’ll be difficult to watch.

Coaching

Reid says the Chiefs have enough talent to do what they need to do, which I take as a nod to his system. The athletes are talented for sure, but he feels he can scheme them into the right spots on the field for Smith to find and exploit.

At the end of the day, the Chiefs have to play well enough to beat Tom Brady and New England, and they’ll have up to two chances to show us. For now though, let’s just enjoy the fact that there’s plenty of room for optimism.