October 5, 2021

The Chiefs Aren't the Kings of the AFC Anymore

The back-to-back AFC champions have stumbled to start the 2021 NFL season. 

The Chiefs, sitting at 2-2 and last place in the AFC West, are lucky to not be 1-3 or, heck, even winless following a slow start for Patrick Mahomes and the offense along with an absolutely dreadful defense. 

There's no need to worry about Kansas City's lethal offense, but the defense is costing them games and the right to call themselves the top team in the AFC. 

A month into the campaign, the Chiefs aren't the best squad in the AFC or their division. But is it time to start worrying about KC's playoff chances?  

AFC West Bloodbath

Since Patrick Mahomes took over for Alex Smith under center, the Chiefs haven't had much competition in the AFC West. 

Thanks to the ineptitude of the Chargers, Raiders and Broncos, the Chiefs practically won the AFC West by default, stacking up wins which helped Kansas City gain home-field advantage, which meant teams had to travel to Arrowhead Stadium in the winter. That's typically a losing proposition. 

But the AFC West has shown some serious signs of life in 2021. 

The Chargers, who already beat the Chiefs this season, appear to be the team to beat thanks to Justin Herbert's brilliance, an improved offensive line and a stingy defense that flies all over the field. 

The Raiders and Broncos aren't slouches, either. Las Vegas might be a little overrated, but their offense is still talented enough to win double-digit games this season, while Denver has an elite defense and a solid game-manager in Teddy Bridgewater. Injuries might ultimately derail their season, but the Chiefs aren't guaranteed to beat either of those squads twice.

That makes the Chiefs' road to the playoffs even tougher, especially with one of the worst defenses in the NFL. 

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad, Defense

The Chiefs rank 31st in opponents' points per game (31.2), 31st in yards allowed per game (437.8), last in yards allowed per play (6.9), and 31st in opponents' touchdowns per game (4.0).

Against the run, the Chiefs are allowing 146 yards per game and 5.4 yards per rush, both of which are near the bottom of the league. The pass defense is not much better, as they rank towards the bottom in all defensive categories.

That's... not great, Bob. 

The Chiefs haven't quite had the easiest schedule — facing off against the Browns, Ravens, Chargers and Eagles so far — but Kansas City's defense made each offense look like an unstoppable force. 

There is a good chance they face one or more of those three teams in the playoffs if they make it. They lost to the Ravens and Chargers, and the Browns had them on the ropes in Week 1. 

If Frank Clark and Chris Jones can't help turn around this porous defense then the Chiefs won't even sniff the Super Bowl. 

Are the Chiefs Still Contenders? 

Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce can cover up a lot of holes on a roster, but they will have to win shootout after shootout to make up for their sieve of a defense. However, there might not be an offense better equipped to handle that. 

They rank second in points per game (33.5), third in yards per game (427.5), and first in yards per play (6.9). The rushing attack hasn't emerged like Kansas City hoped it would following the offensive line makeover, but former first-rounder Clyde Edwards-Helaire has been much more efficient since his back-breaking fumble in Week 2 against the Ravens.

Don't count out CEH or the Chiefs' rushing game quite yet. They are eighth in yards per game (130.2), and fourth in yards per rush (5.1). Edwards-Helaire hasn't been the best back in his class — like everyone imagined — but he's certainly not a bust. The Chiefs will need to use him in the passing game more, though, if they want him to reach his full potential. 

The passing game, of course, is still extremely dangerous despite not having an established WR2 opposite of Hill. The signing of Josh Gordon could help take this offense to the next level if the former All-Pro still has some life in his legs. But even if he doesn't, Hill and Kelce are a massive headache for defenses. 

The Chiefs are still a contender as long as that trio is on the field, but the Bills and Chargers appear to be the better teams right now. 

But are they fixable? 

No, not really. 

This is the Chiefs' team. They aren't going to go out and find a pass rusher or corner who will make this defense markedly improved, so they will have to rely on the best QB in the NFL, which is a good problem to have. 

Kansas City's hope is for the defense to continue to gel and improve and hope that Clark and Jones can reignite the Chiefs' pass rush. 

The Chiefs will still make the playoffs, sure, but their reign as AFC champions is quickly coming to an end. 

Photo: Getty Images