The Kansas City Chiefs have dominated the AFC for the past few seasons. Hosting the AFC Championship game three years in a row, an NFL record, and going to back-to-back Super Bowls has been delightful to watch. Patrick Mahomes blossoming into the best quarterback in the NFL and still not even dipping into his prime years gives me chills. Their dominance of the AFC is nowhere near over. Here are five ways the Chiefs can continue to dominate the conference and get to their third-consecutive Super Bowl.
1. Patrick Mahomes stays healthy
This seems like an obvious answer, but keeping Patrick Mahomes healthy is the key to the entire operation. Looking back at the past few seasons, when Mahomes is healthy, the Chiefs look like a team that can run the table. When he’s been injured, they look more like a wild card team than an AFC Super Bowl contender. If Mahomes stays healthy (with no dislocated knee, turf toe, or concussions, just to name a few) for the entire season, the Chiefs should be looking at hosting a new NFL record fourth-straight AFC Championship game in January.
2. The new-look offensive line proves to be an upgrade
It shouldn’t be too difficult for this new group of players along the offensive line to be an upgrade compared to the 2020 squad. In fact, there could be new players starting across the board.
Here's who's in the mix across the line: Orlando Brown Jr. at left tackle, Joe Thuney at left guard, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (COVID opt-out in 2020) or rookie Trey Smith at right guard, Lucas Niang (rookie COVID opt-out in 2020) at right tackle, and rookie Creed Humphrey or Austin Blythe at center. That isn’t even mentioning the free-agent addition of Kyle Long, although he may miss the first part of the season due to an injury. Mike Remmers will be in the mix to start at right tackle and could be the only starter left from last season's team.
It will be important for the line to gel, and it is very possible this unit will only get stronger as the season goes along. If that is the case, Mahomes will get the protection he needs, keeping him clean in the pocket, and we could see an offensive explosion comparable to the record-setting 2018 Chiefs offense. That would likely lead to another AFC Championship.
3. The defensive line gets more pressure
The Frank Clark saga continues. Not just with his play on the field and if he can live up to his huge contract, but his off-field issues have moved to the front of everyone’s mind as well. If Clark is eligible to play and start the season, that would be helpful. Former Seattle Seahawks teammate Jarran Reed was signed by the Chiefs and gives them another big man in the middle of the line. Chris Jones is an All-Pro defensive tackle but will be playing more defensive end this season. It will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo utilizes Jones game-to-game and even play-to-play.
Also at defensive end, Taco Charlton and rookie Joshua Kaindoh will be looking to make some noise. Tershawn Wharton could add another element to the defensive front to mix in with Clark, Reed and Jones. This is a position group to watch. If they get after the quarterback and add the kind of pressure that is game-changing, that will make the rest of the defense's job a lot easier and can make other position groups look even better. If the Chiefs are a top-10 team in pressuring the quarterback, there is a good chance they’ll be hosting the AFC Championship again.
4. Second-year players make the second-year jump
There are plenty of articles on this website dedicated to the second-year jump of various players on the Chiefs, but this season there are a handful of guys that could make a big impact. Wharton was just mentioned with the defensive line. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire could make a big jump and increase his production. This wouldn't be surprising and would give the Chiefs offense another weapon. Linebacker Willie Gay Jr.'s role is expected to increase. Having an athletic linebacker in the mix should only help the defense continue to get better. Can cornerback L’Jarius Sneed capitalize on his fantastic rookie season? We will find out early and often as he is expected to be one of the starting cornerbacks on the outside. If all of these players show improvement and increase their production, the Chiefs will be in a great spot.
5. The kicking game re-establishes excellence
If the special teams unit, specifically the kicking game, can stay on-point, the Chiefs will go far. Hopefully the punting unit won't be needed often, but second-year punter Tommy Townsend has the leg to be one of the best in the NFL. Kicker Harrison Butker had a dip in production for a little bit last season but corrected the issues heading into the playoffs. When Butker is on, he is one of the best kickers in the NFL. Not worrying about extra points and having the ability to make field goals up to 60 yards out is a huge advantage for the Chiefs. If the team can get the most out of their kicking unit, they will be right back in the mix for another Super Bowl run.
These are just five keys to the Chiefs' continued dominance of the AFC. This checklist comes with no mention of Andy Reid, Tyrann Mathieu, Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce, who the Chiefs clearly expect the best from. The team has a lot of stars at the top but also has plenty of depth to continue playing at a high level from start to finish. The Chiefs are favored to not only get back to the Super Bowl but to win it in February 2022. These factors will play a major role in the team's success over the course of the season.