The Kansas City Chiefs and the quest for another Super Bowl ring

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" -Chinese proverb

Kansas City Chiefs v Los Angeles Chargers
Kansas City Chiefs v Los Angeles Chargers / Michael Owens/GettyImages

With the 2023 regular season in the rearview, the Kansas City Chiefs will turn their attention to Wild Card weekend, and beyond that, a second opportunity to defend their world title. The last time they were in this position, they fell short in an embarrassing loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV. The seeds are now set and the Chiefs will host the Miami Dolphins at Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday night. And so begins a second attempt to become just the eighth team in NFL history to repeat as world champions.

The path to securing a trip to Las Vegas will likely require the Chiefs to go through the three best teams on the AFC side of the draw. If the highest-seeded teams advance this weekend, Kansas City would have to go into Buffalo to punch their ticket to a sixth-straight AFC Championship Game. The Chiefs might also have to lock horns with the Baltimore Ravens to have a shot at hoisting another Lombardi trophy. It goes without saying, the road will be anything but easy for this football team to etch its name into the history books. Given the turbulent season the team has had in 2023, it's fair to wonder if this team has sufficient resources to pull it off.

Unfortunately for the Chiefs, it's not just the conference terrain they'll have to contend with in the quest for another ring. This postseason tournament tasks Kansas City with overcoming a recent slate of injuries and confronting the demons that plagued them throughout the regular season. In the run-up to their Week 18 finale in Los Angeles, the team has been injury-ravaged. Donovan Smith, Wanya Morris, Isiah Pacheco, Rashee Rice, L'Jarius Sneed, and Kadarius Toney have all either missed practices or spent a significant amount of time on the injury report. Recall, if you will, how a lack of depth—particularly along the offensive line—felled the Chiefs in 2020.

There's also the matter of the mistake-prone character Kansas City put on full display starting with their league-opening game with the Detroit Lions. For all of the talk about "figuring it out", the Chiefs carried that sloppy and undisciplined brand of football all the way through to the conclusion of the regular season. Those issues were almost exclusively warts the offense was responsible for, but they're sure to bring an early end to their playoff run now that it's tournament time. Drops, penalties, turnovers, and a single-elimination format don't mix well. I'm certain the championship-caliber Chiefs are capable of negotiating the AFC field and the best the NFC has to offer in the Super Bowl. The central question is: Which version of the Chiefs will show up for the playoffs?

For perhaps the first time entering the postseason with a Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs team, I'm not sure I have that answer. To their credit, they showed signs of life winning the final two games on the schedule, but overall this team still looks like a shell of its former self. Is this where the championship pedigree switches on and they rise above their own limitations, or is that an unreasonable expectation for a team consistently inconsistent in 2023?

The NFL has learned not to bet against head coach Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, but this feels different than years past when they were faced with adversity. There have been times this season when the obstacles have appeared insurmountable. Is the fear of an early exit sufficient to help them regain their edge?

Five days doesn't seem like enough time to sort through all of those questions. The bad news is that pressure bursts pipes; however, it can also make diamonds. The return of Mecole Hardman, who turned in a six-catch, 77-yard performance on Sunday against the Chargers is a positive sign. With significant snaps in the postseason, he may provide another viable option in this offense. If the Chiefs can tread water long enough, they might also see the return of running back Jerick McKinnon. With the Dolphins coming to town, I suspect the team will have all of the motivation necessary to play with high energy and effort (Tyreek Hill will see to that). It also helps that Kansas City matches up well with Miami.

I, for one, am excited to see just how resilient this Chiefs team can be under postseason lights. If Kansas City can find a way, this would be by far and away their most impressive playoff run. Few league pundits believe the team is capable of such. This team is no longer the betting favorite to win the Super Bowl. This will be an all-time gut check for the NFL's gold standard. Come late Sunday, we'll be one step closer to an understanding of this team's DNA and perhaps its ultimate postseason trajectory.