The Kansas City Chiefs are dead last in the AFC West. Dead. Last. Granted, the model doesn't know that -- wins/losses are a horrible stat to predict the future, so there's no reason to feed it that information. The Chiefs are also third on our power rankings, it's somewhat ironic that we have the Chiefs ranked higher in the entire NFL than they are in their own division. I mention this for a few reasons: 1) I think it's funny that the Chiefs are in last and 2) to clear up any delusions that the model believes that the Chiefs are anything but one of the best teams in football. Since we recommended this, the line has since made a massive shift to 6.5. We typically post our recommendations on Tuesday, so here is yet another reminder to get your damn bets in early. Ok, onto the game.
The Chiefs on offense are as efficient as ever, ranking 2nd in EPA/play behind the Bucs. Their typical method of offensive domination has been relying on Pat Mahomes playing like a football God, but he hasn't lived up to that level. Mahomes ranks 16th in PFF grades, completing 69.2% of his passes (1.1% above expectation) and gaining 7.6 yards per attempt. The biggest difference in Mahomes's game compared to previous season is his lack of "big time throws," a stat from PFF that counts throws that are particularly impressive. Here's Mahomes's big time throw rate per season:
- 2018: 7.3%
- 2019: 5.4%
- 2020: 6.7%
- 2021: 2.1%
The lesson is simple, if you put Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Andy Reid together, greatness will ensue, even if one of them isn't performing at levels we'd expect. The Chiefs leading receivers by targets: Tyreek Hill (51), Travis Kelce (41), Mecole Hardman (29), and Byron Pringle (11). It's essentially the Hill and Kelce show without a viable 3rd option. Kansas City did bring in Josh Gordon, but he ran a route on just 5 of Mahomes's 70 drop backs last week, a sign that he isn't ready to be a full-time player. Hill is also dealing with a quad injury that forced him to miss practice on Wednesday and Thursday. He returned to practice Friday as limited and is officially questionable -- he's likely to play, but he'll be less than 100%. The offensive line is also one of the better units in football -- LG Joe Thuney did hurt his hand last week, but he practiced in full on Friday and is expected to play with a cast. Rookies Creed Humphrey (center) and Trey Smith (RG) have both been impressive, a welcome sign for Chiefs fans who still have painful memories of a defunct offensive line at last year's Super Bowl. Clyde Edwards-Helaire (knee) is officially on IR, leaving Darrel Williams to handle the bulk of the carries with Jerick McKinnon chipping in as the change of pace/receiving back.
The other reason for the Chiefs early season failure is their defense -- they're currently dead last in EPA/play and have surrendered point totals of 29, 36, 30, 30, and 38 to start the season. Defenses do regress, and it's almost certain that the Chiefs won't end the year as the worst in the league, but it's worth pointing out that they'll again be without DT Chris Jones (wrist). Jones is the only member of the Chiefs front 7 capable of generating pressure, and his absence was extremely notable during last week's game against the Bills. None of the projected starters along the defensive line has a PFF grade above 60, and Frank Clark simply hasn't been good since joining the Chiefs in 2019. At corner, Charvarius Ward is again out, he's missed every game since injuring his quad week 2, but both outside corners (Rashad Fenton and Mike Hughes) have both held their own. L'Jarius Sneed is manning the slot -- Sneed had an impressive rookie season, but he's allowing a sky high 152.8 QB rating when targeted and has a 43.2 coverage grade from PFF this season. Tyrann Mathieu is the final player of note - though he hasn't been an elite safety in quite some time, he's a versatile player who can contribute anywhere on the field.
With Ryan Fitzpatrick still on IR, Taylor Heinicke will once again get the start for the Football Team. Though Heinicke has put together a few decent starts, his season has been lackluster at best -- he's put up a 55 PFF grade while completing 64.2% of his passes (-0.6% below expectation) and gaining 7.6 yards per attempt. PFF has charted him with more turnover worthy plays (10) than big time throws (7), which paints a more accurate picture than his TD:IN ratio (8:5). The Football Team's leaders by targets: Terry McLaurin (49), Adam Humphries (19), JD McKissic (16), Dyami Brown (14), and Logan Thomas (14) -- aka, it's the Terry McLaurin show. We got some tough news on Friday when it was reported that McLaurin missed practice with a hamstring injury. Head Coach Ron Rivera said it was due to the hammy feeling "tight and sore," so we're hopeful it was just precautionary, and McLaurin will play, but it's concerning since this is a new injury. The offensive line doesn't have a weak link on it, not that the Chiefs have anybody that can rush the passer anyway. Rookie RT Sam Cosmi has arguably been the most impressive of the bunch, but he'll miss this week after injuring his ankle last week. Cornelius Lucas is expected to fill in, and I don't expect much of a drop in production -- Lucas has been a solid tackle each of the last two seasons and played well when Cosmi went down last week. Antonio Gibson will handle the bulk of the carries along with some designed runs for Heinicke.
Many remember the Football Team for having a dominant defense in 2020. This year they're sitting at 30th in EPA/play, a somewhat shockingly disastrous start. I say "somewhat" because their schedule has been brutal and EPA isn't opponent adjusted. Thus far, the Football Team has faced the Chargers, Bills, Saints, and now the Chiefs. Last year their defensive schedule was ranked 4th easiest by Football Outsiders, and is further proof that defensive statistics are largely driven by which offenses you're playing. That said, the pass rush is still one of the best in football -- they are the only team in the NFL to have 4 different players above 15 pressures this season (Chase Young 18, Daron Payne 18, Johnatahn Allen 18, Montez Sweat 16). Their issues are at linebackers and safety, none of the projected starters have a PFF grade above 50. At corner, Kendall Fuller and William Jackson are both solid, but Jackson has had issues with penalties, leading all corners in the NFL with 5.