The Kansas City Chiefs are the NFL’s most mysterious contender

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 20: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs looks on before the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots at Arrowhead Stadium on January 20, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 20: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs looks on before the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots at Arrowhead Stadium on January 20, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

While they’re not the biggest question mark in the NFL, the Kansas City Chiefs hold the distinction of being the most mysterious contender for sure.

Every year in the NFL, there are returning playoff teams who fall by the wayside and basement-dwellers who turn things around. It’s the result of the league’s overall parity, a gift to fans of losing teams who dream of turning the corner rather quickly. This year, there are a handful of teams predicted to be great who will fail to live up to expectations and vice versa.

The Kansas City Chiefs are unlikely to be one of those teams. Ever since Andy Reid arrived in town in 2013, the Chiefs have done nothing but win. They’ve made the playoffs in five of the last six seasons and that was mostly before the reigning Most Valuable Player arrived. With three straight conference titles coming on the heels of three consecutive second place finishes in the AFC West, it’s a bit silly to project the Chiefs to suddenly fall far from the heights they’ve already achieved.

Yet for stability and success built over the last six years, it’s hard to picture a more mysterious team than the Chiefs. Perhaps we could refer to them as the league’s most mysterious contender.

The Chiefs certainly have some obvious question marks, but I’m not really referring to those. After all, it’s no secret that Tyreek Hill’s future is a mystery. Will he be with the team? If so, will he be able to play? If so, how many games will he suit up for in 2019?

From there, questions abound about the defense front to back. It’s impossible for a team to rid itself of (up to) eight starters on one side of the ball and not face questions. The Chiefs swapped pass rushers Justin Houston and Dee Ford for Frank Clark. They brought in a new starting safety tandem in Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill. Alex Okafor, Bashaud Breeland, Damien Wilson, and Darron Lee are all potential new starters in the base defense.

Beyond those obvious talking points, however, the Chiefs were already set on being a mysterious team. Some of us have already been talking about the fact that the Chiefs seem due for regression—at least historically speaking. It makes sense to poke and prod at the numbers from last year; with a new quarterback at the helm, the Chiefs were suddenly setting franchise records left and right. Hill set the mark for most receiving yards in a season. Travis Kelce broke the receptions record (and the NFL’s mark for yards by a tight end).

Before Mahomes was christened as the starter, the Chiefs offense fluctuated between 353 to 430 points scored—enough points that the team could win 9-12 games against some of the toughest schedules in that five-year span. Last year, the Chiefs scored 565 points—which is over half of the total points scored during Scott Pioli’s four-year tenure as general manager (1083 points). It’s excessive. It’s insane. That sort of total can’t be the new normal—or can it?

The same thing can be said of the defense—although not in a positive way. Yes there are questions about the personnel, but that comes on the heels of wondering how a team could allow 421 points scored after allowing a previous high of 339 in five previous seasons of Bob Sutton’s leadership. The Chiefs went from allowing 19.0 points per game over a five-year span to 26.3 last year—a jump of more than a touchdown. Again, those numbers are excessive, even insane.

Here’s the thing about last year’s Chiefs. The defense endured a horrific meltdown and Andy Reid’s team still set a franchise high for point differential during his tenure (and the 7th highest point-differential total in franchise history) with +144.

The thing about these numbers is that “incredible” is not the right word. They’re actually mysterious. It’s like reading data points that are impossible to read. The Chiefs last season were an outlier of a team on both offense and defense—so good and so bad. Imagine dating someone who is, in so many ways, the ideal partner, so much so that you pinch yourself to even believe the whole thing is real. Yet that same person also has a certain number of idiosyncrasies or habits that are so vile and vulgar that you can’t believe it all co-exists within the same body.

That’s the Chiefs at this point. They’ve proven themselves to be so historically powerful on offense that they can swallow a truly pitiful defense and come out strong on the other side. That said, questions need to be asked about the entire thing. Was everything an outlier? Is this the new normal? Is the defensive makeover complete? Can they be this good again? Can they be that bad again?

There’s zero reason to be concerned about the Chiefs suddenly plummeting to the bottom of the AFC West, but among NFL contenders, there’s no team that brings more quizzical looks than Kansas City. The Mahomes era started out in such a way that the numbers cannot be trusted—or at least not without further numbers that tell this new story. It’s exciting. It’s maddening. It’s also the current fog about the NFL’s most mysterious contender.