Through three games, the only thing that’s really clear about the Kansas City Chiefs is the lack of certainty. Anything feels possible for this roster that’s either loaded with young talent or thin with plenty of holes. And if that spectrum leaves you a bit uncomfortable, join the crowd. It’s why the Chiefs are such a rollercoaster of emotion in 2021.
At this point, if you’ve been watching the Chiefs closely, you’ll know the circumstances of each and every game have been extreme. The Chiefs have looked excellent and pitiful at points in each game, and every contest has come down to one or two plays that made all the difference.
At this point, the Chiefs could be 3-0 and at the top of the AFC. They could also be 0-3, sinking to the bottom of every power ranking list. In between, the Chiefs are now 1-2 and no one is quite sure what to think.
The sky is still the limit, but the floor is lower than anyone realized for Chiefs.
To be clear, there’s no doubting their ceiling is the Super Bowl. With Patrick Mahomes at the helm and Andy Reid on the sidelines, the Chiefs will always be among the favorites to appear in and even win the Super Bowl on an annual basis. There’s a real window here for a dynasty with one win in their pocket and another appearance last winter.
The Chiefs not only have the elite talent it takes to create mismatches against even the most talented teams, but they also have the sort of organizational and leadership cultures that sustain success. Remember this is an experienced coaching staff and front office with multiple Super Bowl runs who have experienced surprisingly little turnover. NFL head coaches-in-waiting like Eric Bieniemy are still helping the Chiefs despite having a resume ready to run a team on their own.
Mahomes. Travis Kelce. Tyreek Hill. Chris Jones. Tyrann Mathieu. A rebuilt offensive line with three rookies looking solid so far. Even Frank Clark and Jarran Reed and Mecole Hardman and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. There’s a lot of talent here with more waiting in the wings, as the Chiefs have the NFL’s youngest starting lineups so far in 2021.
But then what are we to make of the constant mistakes made in a game like Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers? How many weeks in a row are we allowed to say, “If not for [insert referee call or penalty flag or specific play], then the Chiefs would have won?” At some point, the team has to win in real life and not just within the realm of possibility.
Even their lone win could be positioned the other way. Remember how close the Browns were to winning that one. What if the punter hadn’t gifted the Chiefs field position in the red zone on a fluke? What if the Browns hadn’t fallen apart? There were questionable calls in that one or key injured players missing. The Browns can play this same game, too, and picture the Chiefs as a winless franchise right now.
The Chiefs have a lot of talent, yes, but they’ve also looked horrible on defense. Opponents are scoring at will in the red zone (10 of 11 trips). They ran all over the Chiefs in the first two games, and Justin Herbert looked like an MVP through the air in Week 3. The upcoming schedule includes the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans, and now it also appears the AFC West won’t be the annual cakewalk we expect it to be.
Look, no one should be saying anything about a lost season at this point. There’s no reason to trade someone or for coaching heads to roll. We’re three games into a very, very long regular season now extended by a 17th game, so even a winless Chiefs team could hypothetically finish at 14-3.
It’s also true that we knew this would be the gauntlet ahead of time. The Cleveland Browns are a contender. The Baltimore Ravens are a contender. The Los Angeles Chargers are a contender. These teams have done what contenders do: contend. The Chiefs are getting the best that each team has to offer, and these are very, very talented teams.
At the same time, the Chiefs don’t exactly look like the sort of organizational superpower once referring to 20-0 with a serious tone. Mental mistakes are being made all over, including those by Mahomes. Assignments are missed on defense. Communication is poor and tackling is worse. The Chiefs clearly miss Frank Clark, Willie Gay, and others on defense.
Where will these Chiefs end up? The sky is still the limit, but the floor is much lower than anyone realized. These Chiefs could be everything or they could be nothing in 2021.