NFL Football is officially here! The regular season kicks off tonight with the Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers, with the rest of the league opening their respective seasons on Sunday.
Of course, we are mostly interested in the Jacksonville Jaguars around these parts. The Jaguars draw arguably the best team in the NFL to start the season in the Kansas City Chiefs. That means it’s time to go behind enemy lines and get an inside perspective on this week’s opponent.
I reached out to Pete Sweeney, editor and chief over at the most informative Kansas City Chiefs blog on the internet, Arrowhead Pride. To say that Pete has a lot of confidence in this year’s Chiefs team is an understatement. Let’s see what he had to say:
1. On a scale of one (lowest) to 10 (highest), how worried are you about the Chiefs opening the season in Jacksonville and why?
Pete: I’m at a one.
Kansas City Chiefs MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes has looked like he has managed to improve this offseason, and that is coming off a year in which he threw for 50 touchdowns and 5,000 yards. The Chiefs added more speed in the offseason by taking former Georgia wide receiver Mecole Hardman with their top pick. Last week, running back LeSean “Shady” McCoy was added to the mix.
The Chiefs’ secondary is somewhat of a concern — while their safeties are strong, there is not much depth behind starters left cornerback Charvarius Ward, right cornerback Bashaud Breeland and slot cornerback Kendall Fuller, but I think the offense will more than make up for any possible deficiency.
2. What are realistic expectations for Patrick Mahomes this season? Can he duplicate last year’s MVP performance (let’s hope so for my fantasy team).
Pete: Based on my looks at him during Chiefs training camp, Mahomes seems improved from last year. But the key here is those results may not be seen on the stat sheet.
Mahomes’ goal this offseason was to become smarter with the football by bettering his footwork and pocket presence. The team did not necessarily want to change Mahomes, but rather make him more efficient with improved decision-making as to when to go out of structure and when to stick to the script of a play. I also think improved defense overall may help put games away earlier, and Andy Reid could opt to drain clock by handing it to Damien Williams or Shady rather than pour it on like we saw last year.
Regardless, Mahomes should be right back in the MVP race.
3. Outside of Jalen Ramsey versus Tyreek Hill, which matchups are you most excited to see on Sunday?
Pete: With Jalen Ramsey occupied by Tyreek Hill, AJ Bouye vs. Sammy Watkins becomes a battle on my radar. Watkins, who has had to deal with injuries throughout his career, says he feels healthier than ever after changing his offseason regimen. Watkins, like many pass-catchers on the Chiefs roster, can be a dangerous player with any amount of space in front of him.
On the other side of the equation, I’m looking forward to seeing wide receiver Chris Conley against his old teammates. The Chiefs selected Conley in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He played for the Chiefs for four seasons before moving on to the Jaguars.
4. With the team recently signing LeSean McCoy, and with Damien Williams already expected to have a big role, what do you expect from the Chiefs’ backfield against the Jacksonville defense on Sunday?
Pete: From the way Andy Reid has spoken, LeSean McCoy might have some plays built in, but I don’t get the feeling Reid thinks he will be ready for a huge workload against Jacksonville. That might come Week 2 or Week 3. In my opinion, Damien Williams starts, and you see a mix of McCoy and Darwin Thompson behind him. I’m also curious what Reid hasn’t shown quite yet—two running backs on the field with the three speedy wide receivers (Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman) sounds like a nightmare to defend.
5. Kansas City used the offseason to retool the defense a bit. Are you expecting an improved unit on that side of the ball?
Pete: I do. The Chiefs led the league in yards per game (425.6) and points per game (35.3), yet still managed to drop four games last year. That was because of a defense ranked 31st (405.5) and 24th (26.3), respectively.
With that result came a defensive overhaul, with the Chiefs going after defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and his 4-3 (the true base is probably 4-2-5), as well as stars Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu is as important off the field as he is on the field; he’s said he came to Kansas City to be a leader as much as he is a playmaker. Next to Mathieu, rookie second-rounder Juan Thornhill has a nose for the ball. Defensive lineman Chris Jones, who finished third in the league in sacks, returns to the club on a contract year.
Last year, the Chiefs defense cost them key losses in both the regular season and the playoffs. I just can’t see that happening (as often) in 2019.
What are your expectations for the Chiefs as a team this year (record, division standing, chances at a playoff run, etc.)?
Don’t kill me here — I’m at 16-0 (for reference, last year I said 10-6). The Chiefs’ four losses last season were all within one score. Patrick Mahomes has improved, he has more weapons and the defense looks better than it did last year. Matt Moore or Chad Henne playing the last two games (Bears, Chargers) could spoil that thought.
Week 1 score prediction?
42-21 Chiefs. I think in later weeks (with tape), teams will have a better chance, but unfortunately, Andy Reid has had a whole offseason to design plays for what could be a Pro Bowl offense. The Jaguars sensed this, and that is why they added Chase Litton to the practice squad. I’m not sure it helps.
Thank you to Pete for his incredible analysis and thoughts on the matchup. Be sure to give him a follow on Twitter, and to keep up with all things Kansas City Chiefs leading up to Sunday, follow Arrowhead Pride as well.
Check out my crossover piece on Arrowhead Pride here.