It’s been a disappointing start to the season for the Kansas City Chiefs. Coming off back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, the team has passed through the first quarter of the season with a 2-3 record.
It’s unfamiliar territory for Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Since he’s taken over as starting quarterback for the franchise, the Chiefs have gotten out to hot starts in each season. Now they are facing some adversity and the next quarter of the season will likely determine if Kansas City can turn the ship around before it's too late.
There need to be adjustments across the board. Starting with coaching. Play the players who give you the best chance to win. Yes, I’m talking about giving fewer snaps to Daniel Sorensen and more snaps to Juan Thornhill. That is one way to help the team get better in the short-term internally.
The defense needs to step up, plain and simple. The defensive front needs to get nasty and get after the quarterback. The pass-rush hasn't made an impact through the first five games. The team will most likely get a healthy Frank Clark and Chris Jones together again eventually, but they need a full team effort.
The return of Willie Gay Jr. should help the linebackers. Gay got his first work of the season against the Buffalo Bills and his snap count should continue to increase until he’s an every-down player. He’s the most athletic player in the middle of the field for the Chiefs' defense, and his presence could help shift the unit in the right direction.
The offense needs to settle down. Heading into Week 6 they are tied with the Jacksonville Jaguars for most turnovers in the NFL. If the team wants to get back on track, they can’t let this continue. Mahomes needs to take what the defense gives him and not try to force passes.
If defenses are giving the Chiefs room to work in the middle, they have plenty of speed across the board to make that work with Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle and the newly added Josh Gordon. With running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire placed on IR this week (out for a minimum of three weeks), Jerrick McKinnon could be used in the intermediate passing game as well while Edwards-Helaire is out.
As fans, the expectations need to be reset, but not completely derailed. This team still has the talent to not only get back to the Super Bowl, but to win it all. Even still, there have been some early roadblocks to make it a more difficult path.
Losses to the Baltimore Ravens (leader of the pack in the AFC North), Los Angeles Chargers (leader of the pack in the AFC West), and Buffalo Bills (leader of the pack in the AFC East) could have implications for the top seed in the AFC. The Chiefs have a long way to go to get back to the top of the conference and will need some help along the way to beat these three teams to AFC's No. 1 seed and lone first-round bye. The chances of them all finishing with a worse record than the Chiefs is not very high. It’s likely the Chiefs will have to play on the road in the playoffs for the first time in the Mahomes era.
Even winning the AFC West will be a challenge. Pairing that loss to the Chargers with LA's 4-1 record makes things difficult. There is still a lot of season left, but it almost feels like the Chiefs need to sweep the rest of their games in the division (two games each against the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders and one more against the Chargers) if they want to get back to the top of the standings.
Barring injury, it seems like the Chargers are in charge of the division this season. The good news is the Chiefs should be in prime position to be the best wild card team in the AFC.
If the Chiefs don’t miraculously turn things around on defense, it’s hard to think of a path back to the Super Bowl other than through a wild card route. It’s not an impossible task, though it is a more difficult one. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl as a wild card team last season.
If you’re a team in the AFC that would be hosting Mahomes and the Chiefs in the postseason, that is a game you wouldn’t feel comfortable about at all, even if you’re a Ravens or Bills team that won the regular-season matchup. Mahomes and company would make life difficult for any opponent and would have what it takes to go on a run at any time.
Yes, we have been spoiled in Kansas City with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs dominating the AFC the last couple of seasons and owning the division even longer than that. Sometimes it’s good to eat some humble pie and reset expectations while still understanding the team’s goals to win another Super Bowl haven’t changed.