Now that the NFL schedules have been out for a while, it’s a good opportunity to do some deep-tissue analysis of the Chiefs’ schedule to find out if the football gods blessed them with a lineup gracious enough to follow through with a solid title defense.
We’ll break this down into four quarters over the coming weeks.
THE GAUNTLET: TEXANS, @CHARGERS, @RAVENS, PATRIOTS
What’s to like in these matchups:
Bill O’Brien was responsible for probably one of the most puzzling offseason moves of the year, trading away WR1 DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona for RB David Johnson and some draft capital. David Johnson is, at this point, pretty far off from his breakout season thanks to injuries and poor offensive talent all around him (kinda hard to be good when everyone around you stinks). Watson is still going to be as deadly as ever even without Nuk, so this is going to be the first big test for the retooled Chiefs secondary. On the flip side of the ball, the Texans are in a little bit of a reload mode. 2020 draft picks Ross Blacklock (TCU) and Jonathan Greenard (Florida) are interesting defensive pieces that could beef up their pass rush, but whether or not they’ll be around on day one as instant defense remains to be seen. The Texans really didn’t pounce on the opportunity while the Chiefs spent most of the offseason crunching numbers with their cap space, plus it’s the first game of the season at home on trophy night so you best believe the Chiefs are going to come out swinging for the fences.
The first away game (well, “away” game if you count Melvin Gordon’s experiences) goes to LA for the Chargers. Phillip Rivers has moved on to greener, more climate-controlled pastures, which leaves a vacuum open for either seasoned vet Tyrod Taylor (who played for head coach Anthony Lynn back when he was the Bills head coach in 2016) or first round draft pick out of Oregon Justin Herbert. Both of these quarterbacks are much more mobile than Rivers was, which could open the door for Lynn to deploy some more creative plays. The left side of the line is still an intense liability though, one the Chargers haven’t adequately addressed this offseason. If you’re the Chiefs, you’re going to want to keep Taylor and/or Herbert honest on the ground. On defense, the Chargers added Kenneth Murray out of Oklahoma who can play like a bat out of hell even if he isn’t the best decision maker. This could be the game where having someone like Clyde Edwards-Helaire really alleviates the pressure the Chargers have been putting on the Chiefs on defense the past couple of years.
On paper and in practice, the Ravens were the most well-rounded team in the NFL last year. They somehow managed to get stronger with offseason acquisitions like DE Calais Campbell via trade, draft picks like LB Patrick Queen (LSU), DT Jason Madibuke (Texas A&M), as well as star running back (from The Ohio State University) JK Dobbins as a little bit of Mark Ingram insurance. Of course, they still have the reigning league MVP in Lamar Jackson, who can best be described as “unguardable” by most NFL defenses. This marks the third time the two teams have met since Mahomes and Jackson both took charge under center, with the Chiefs coming out on top by the skins of their teeth both times. In those games, the Chiefs had the luxury of playing at home in a regular game environment. Under the lights at M&T Bank Stadium is going to require the Chiefs kick it into another gear if they want to dodge their first loss of the season.
Finally, you have the alpha dogs of the AFC for the past 20 years, the New England Patriots. Much like the Chargers, not much has changed on the defensive side of the ball with Bill Belichick still being one of the top defensive minds in the league. On offense it’s a different story, one where you have QB intrigue with Auburn alum Jarrett Stidham. While he’s not a rookie, he is still pretty much an unknown quantity in year two, and doesn’t have much to show for what precious few snaps he’s taken so far. This is going to be one of the biggest tests he faces so far. Will he have the juice for it? Does N’Keal Harry still even exist? These are the questions the Patriots have to ask themselves coming into this game as they try to figure out what offense they have outside of James White, Julian Edelman every so often and maybe Sony Michel. This could be a really weird game that may not hit the over.