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After a Rough Start, a Complete Chiefs Team Has Arrived

The version of the Chiefs that many expected is here just in time for the playoffs.

In an article written before the season, I personally wrote about the state of the Kansas City Chiefs' roster. The sentence below was what closed the story.

“If some of these [young] players show growth this year, this could be the best Mahomes-led Chiefs team yet.”

Over the first eight weeks of the season, that hope seemed far, far out of reach.

The Chiefs' defense was historically bad. Their offense could not help but drop and turn over the football. Patrick Mahomes seemed visibly shaken at times during games. It was, frankly, a mess.

However, the defense started to turn it around and play better due to improved health, the role change of Daniel Sorensen and Juan Thornhill at safety and the addition of defensive end Melvin Ingram. Then, the offense finally seemed to have found its footing again when Mahomes sealed the game against the Green Bay Packers with a classic Mahomes throw.

The following week, the Chiefs talked about regaining their swagger, and here the team sits in Week 17 — two wins away from taking the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

In other words, after a roundabout and frustrating first half of the season, this could be the best Mahomes-led Chiefs team yet.

It is incredible that the current Chiefs are sitting here now with two top-10 units when both the offense and defense have looked putrid at times this year. With that said, that's a testament to Mahomes, Andy Reid, Steve Spagnuolo and, really, every player on the team. This season definitely challenged the Chiefs mentally more than possibly any other season with Mahomes at quarterback.

In talking about the best Mahomes-led Chiefs team, one stands above the rest: the 2019 team. The 2018 and 2020 Chiefs teams do not compare to the current or 2019 Chiefs simply due to the defense. Per DVOA, the 2018 defense ranked 26th in the league and the 2020 defense ranked 22nd in the league. The 2019 Chiefs' defense ranked 14th in the NFL. The current defense ranks 16th in the NFL.

Frankly, the 2021 Chiefs defense and their ranking are a tad more impressive due to how big of a hole they dug themselves into at the beginning of the year. Through Week 6 of 2019, the Chiefs' defense ranked (again, via DVOA) 20th. It was not good, nor was it bad. The Chiefs' defense improved as the season went along and turned in some impressive performances in the playoffs to lead them to a Super Bowl.

Through six weeks this year, the Chiefs' defense was 31st in the league. The fact the Chiefs' defense is 16th right now is nothing short of incredible.

The offense has finally turned around, also. Even with the rough start, the Chiefs' offense is one of the best in the league, if not the best.

Even with the midseason struggles and turnover issues, the Chiefs' offense is still tops in the league at making sure drives are productive.

If we compare this year’s Chiefs offense to the 2019 team, they compare pretty well. In 2021, the Chiefs have scored 2.78 points per drive — compared to 2019’s 2.70 points per drive. The current offense also compares favorably in yards per drive, gaining 42 yards per drive compared to 39 in 2019. All of these numbers were top-two in the league for each season.

Basically, all of the numbers tell us this Chiefs team has reached the level of a team that won the Super Bowl. This isn't a crazy realization, but the reasons for optimism heading into the season are now coming true. 

The rebuilt offensive line was a question mark, but the talent on it was very promising. Now the Chiefs' interior offensive line is one of the best in the league with two rookies. Multiple outlets rate the offensive line in the top 10 among offensive lines, with rookie Creed Humphrey leading the way. Unlike last year where it felt like the Chiefs' offensive line was held together by duct tape and Eric Fisher’s Achilles tendon, this unit is deep and strong.

The Chiefs' defense is probably the deepest it has been under Spagnuolo, largely thanks to Brett Veach. The defensive line has rounded out nicely with Ingram, the young linebackers Willie Gay Jr. and Nick Bolton are playing well in the middle of the defense, and the secondary continues to punch above its draft weight with L’Jarius Sneed leading the way. For the first time since Derrick Johnson was on the team, the Chiefs feel like they have serious talent at all three levels on defense.

The only question mark for the Chiefs, and the major difference between this year and 2019, is at wide receiver. Sammy Watkins was massive for the Chiefs in the postseason that year and it's hard to imagine Byron Pringle will match what a healthy Watkins gave in that postseason run. This difference, however, is probably made up in the small improvements across the team.

It's Super Bowl or bust once again for the Chiefs. In a weak year in the AFC, it honestly feels like anything short of a third straight Super Bowl appearance would be a massive disappointment. That idea two months ago was pie-in-the-sky thinking, but the Chiefs have somehow made it back to those expectations.

This complete Chiefs team has the capacity to go all the way, once again.

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