In Week Four, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will return to the Sunday Night Football stage to host the Kansas City Chiefs in a rematch of Super Bowl LV. In this marquee matchup, contenders representing both the NFC and AFC will go head-to-head in thrilling fashion.
The Kansas City Chiefs won a division title for the sixth consecutive season in 2021, sending the rest of the AFC West into a frenzy of splash free agent signings to try and keep pace with the crown jewel. The Chiefs gained cap space this offseason by dealing Tyreek Hill to Miami, collecting draft selections in 2022 and 2023 to spend on cap-friendly young talent. Despite the usual implication of the aforementioned moves, this is certainly not a rebuild for the Chiefs, with a generational player in Patrick Mahomes at the helm and future Hall of Famer Andy Reid wearing the headset on the sideline. In recent years, the road to the Super Bowl runs through Arrowhead Stadium and opposing teams will seek to dethrone Kansas City in 2022.
The Chiefs hosted the last four AFC Championship Games and are presumed to be in the thick of the title run again in 2022. Last season, Kansas City concluded the year with a 12-5 record and although the club was seemingly written off during a midseason struggle, the Chiefs found their footing once again to finish atop the AFC West. Following a loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week Seven, the Chiefs fell below .500 with a 3-4 record, raising endless criticism and speculation. Despite early losses to the Ravens, Chargers, Bills and Titans, the Chiefs took advantage of a soft mid-season schedule, including the Packers without Aaron Rodgers in Week Nine, and went on to win eight-straight games after the eye-opening loss to Tennessee. A trade for Melvin Ingram provided a lackluster pass rush with a catalyst to spark the defense, turning Steve Spagnuolo's unit around by the end of the year.
The Chiefs bypassed the Steelers in the Wild Card Round prior to the historic battle between Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills in the Divisional Round that captivated the nation. With 13 seconds to go in regulation, the Chiefs ran two plays from scrimmage and had enough remaining time on the clock to kick a field goal to send the game into overtime. Kansas City won the coin toss, elected to receive and Mahomes went to work. He was masterful, throwing six passes on the drive, and all six were completed. Along with two short runs from Clyde Edwards-Helaire, it took the Chiefs eight plays to reach the end zone, punching their ticket to another AFC Championship Game. For the Chiefs, an ensuing second-half demise against the Cincinnati Bengals ended their season and cost them a trip to the Super Bowl.
Mahomes' presence puts the Chiefs in the hierarchy conversation. He completed a career-best 66.3 percent of his passes for 4,839 yards, 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2021. Mahomes' 284.6 passing yards per game last season ranked fifth in the NFL. He remains an exceptional quarterback with poise in the pocket and the ability to make any off-platform throw from every arm angle. Kansas City traded away Hill, but they still have All-Pro Travis Kelce, one of the most productive tight ends in NFL history and Mahomes' go-to target over the middle of the field. Mecole Hardman Jr. also returned, to lead a revamped receiving corp. To replace Hill's production, the Chiefs added two veteran receivers in former Packers' deep threat Marquez Valdes-Scantling and former Steeler JuJu Smith-Schuster, who will play in the slot. Second-round pick Skyy Moore adds to the mix, a route-running technician from Western Michigan. Edwards-Helaire provides upside as a dynamic pass-catcher out of the backfield.
On the opposite side of the ball, Kansas City's defense ranked fifth in the league with 26.4 percent pressure rate, but that only translated to 31 sacks (fourth fewest in the NFL). After disregarding the initial experiment of Chris Jones at defensive end, the Chiefs traded for Ingram, who helped the defense rebound down the stretch. The club reworked Frank Clark's deal and picked up Purdue defensive end George Karlaftis, a powerful edge rusher, to provide a spark. The Chiefs' lost key playmakers on all three levels: Melvin Ingram up front, Anthony Hitchens in the middle and Tyrann Mathieu and Charvarius Ward in the secondary. As an ensuing result, the Chiefs added young talent to solidify the unit in 2022. Jones and Derrick Nnadi will anchor the middle and Nick Bolton will slide into the middle linebacker spot with Willie Gay Jr. merging at weakside linebacker (Gay is currently serving a four-game suspension). On the back end, L'Jarius Sneed returns in the slot, whole former Texans' safety Justin Reid was signed to replace Mathieu alongside free safety Juan Thornhill. The Chiefs used their first-round pick on cornerback Trent McDuffie, a sure-tackling phenom from Washington, though McDuffie is currently on injured reserve.
The Chiefs are 2-1 coming into Sunday's matchup, following wins over the Cardinals and Chargers, with a loss in Week Three against the Colts. In Week Two against Los Angeles, the Chiefs' offense took advantage of the underneath-intermediate area of the field and utilized misdirection, along with a perimeter attack to stretch C-Gap assignments. Cornerback Jaylen Watson intercepted Justin Herbert and returned it 99-yards for the game-changing score.
In the clash with Indianapolis, the Colts' defense stifled Patrick Mahomes and cast, allowing only a field goal and two touchdowns following turnovers in Colts' territory. The Colts' offense took advantage of the Chiefs' miscues and Matt Ryan methodically led the team down the field on the final drive, culminating in a Jelani Woods 12-yard touchdown with 24 seconds left for a comeback victory.
Chiefs' Difference Makers
The Chiefs have a plethora of star-studded names on both sides of the football. Many could have landed on this compilation list, but these few stand out. Keep your eyes on these four who could help swing the game in Kansas City's favor on Sunday night:
QB Patrick Mahomes
With Patrick Mahomes, the play is never over. He is a magician, making sensational throws from every arm angle whether a crossbody, no look, or side-arm toss. Mahomes is innovative in changing the narrative of what is possible in regard to separating the lower body from the upper body on off-platform throws. His 26 career 300-yard games are the most in Chiefs' history and tie Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner (26) for the most games of at least 300 passing yards in a player's first four seasons in league annals. He is an escape artist, infuriating defenses with his ability to extend plays outside of the pocket. Mahomes has the capability to take over a game and will pose a challenging feat for the Bucs' defense on Sunday. Patience will be key against a quarterback of Mahomes' caliber and his elusiveness to evade pressures on blitzes. He is a rare talent, creating a litmus test for Tod Bowles' defense.
TE Travis Kelce
Travis Kelce - arguably the top tight end in the game of football – is a nightmare mismatch for defenses. Kelce is brilliant against off-coverage, making defenders bite with his nuanced route-running ability and lethal double moves. Kelce consistently finds separation for Mahomes, with underrated speed and elite ball skills. He runs a chip-and-release to perfection and has changed the narrative surrounding tight ends in the game of football. In 2020, Kelce concluded the year ranked second in receiving yards (1,416) in the NFL…as a tight end, a record-setting mark in the NFL for the position. For additional context, from 2016-2021, Kelce eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving marker every year. He is the centerpiece of the Chiefs' offense with his yards-after-catch ability and the Buccaneers will have to make him a focal point. In the defensive meeting room, you can bet No. 87's name will be circled. The game-wrecker presents an intriguing and always-entertaining battle with Bucs' linebacker Lavonte David, who just so happens to be a stellar coverage player and tight end eraser.
DT Chris Jones
Chiefs' defensive tackle Chris Jones is as good as the come when creating penetration from the three-technique spot. With rare power, Jones overwhelms and out-leverages his opposition. He is a menace in the A-gap, with the hands and speed to shoot past blockers. Jones' first step and explosion wreak havoc on offensive game plans. With Tampa Bay's rebuilt offensive line in the interior, Kansas City will certainly try to exploit the middle with Jones. He is the anchor of the interior and a player that consistently demands double teams – the ultimate tell of a difference-maker. Keeping Tom Brady upright in the pocket and mitigating the Chiefs' front will be crucial to the outcome of the ballgame.
NB L'Jarius Sneed
L'Jarius Sneed has a knack for getting his hands on the football. He is dominant near the line of scrimmage, whether disrupting a ball carrier in his tracks or getting to the quarterback on a corner blitz. Against the Colts, Sneed racked up seven tackles, a sack, and a fumble recovery. He is the cornerstone of the Chiefs' secondary and has blazing speed, evidenced by a 4.37 40-yard dash time that wowed onlookers at the 2020 NFL Combine. He has all of the trait's defensive coordinators covet: physicality, ball skills, coverage ability against slot receivers and the ability to diagnose route combinations. With the departure of both Ward and Mathieu, Sneed will be heavily relied upon on the back end.
Here are some ways in which the Chiefs have excelled in 2022:
- 2, or the number of times that Patrick Mahomes has been sacked in 2022, ties with the Jacksonville Jaguars for the league best. Mahomes has a way of somehow eluding sacks and extending plays by using his legs for additional time to scan the field. Teams rarely blitz Mahomes anymore, and for good reason; he is proficient against it.
- 8/1. Mahomes (eight pass TDs, one interception) is the only quarterback with eight-plus passes and one or fewer interceptions this season. He ranks in the top three in touchdown-interception ratio, elevating the Chiefs' high-powered offense.
- 15. The Chiefs are tied with the Saints and Lions for first place in the league with 15 big plays (plays of 20-plus yards). Kansas City is averaging 37.0 yards off big plays, including 13 explosive pass plays. Whether yards-after-catch gained or Mahomes slinging the ball downfield, the Chiefs stretch the field.
- 17. The Chiefs are tied with the Bills for the most points scored (17) in the first possession of the second half. Kansas City is able to adjust, coming out firing on all cylinders after halftime.
Negative factors hindering the outcome of ballgames for the Chiefs, most notable in 2022:
- Teams have been effective against Kansas City inside the red zone. On third-down conversion attempts inside the red zone, the Chiefs (0-6) are tied with the Giants (0-3) for no completions. Short-yardage situations are critical to put six points on the scoreboard, contributing to the outcome of a game.
- Overall, the Chiefs' defense is allowing other teams to have success in the red zone (52 percent success rate) coming in at 25th in the NFL and the unit has the worst ranked run defense, likely creating opportunities on the ground for Leonard Fournette in Week Four.
New Faces in 2022
S Justin Reid
Kansas City lost a couple of key figures in their secondary but responded by signing Houston safety Justin Reid to a lofty contract. Reid adds a younger presence to the back end and showcased star potential as a four-year starter for the Texans. He will now look to bring that to the Chiefs, a perennial AFC powerhouse. In 2021, Reid amassed 66 tackles, four passes defensed and two interceptions for Houston. Overall, Reid recorded 304 tackles, 23 passes defensed, 11 tackles-for-loss, seven interceptions, six quarterback hits and two forced fumbles during his tenure with the Texans. His athleticism provides versatility for the Chiefs to use him at free safety, in the box, along the line of scrimmage and out wide at cornerback. He will primarily be used at strong safety but presents a promising upside.
DE George Karlaftis
Thanks to the trade mentioned below, the Chiefs ended up picking five players in the first 103 picks, snagging edge-rush help at No. 30 with Purdue's George Karlaftis. With a vast array of pass rush moves, explosion out of his stance, agility and active hands, Karlaftis has the potential to reinvigorate the Chiefs' defensive line in 2022. He adds much-needed intensity to the line and can help against the run.
WRs JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Skyy Moore
The Chiefs needed to bolster the receiving room after the stunning trade of Tyreek Hill to Miami and they addressed the issue by signing a pair of veterans: Green Bay's Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Pittsburgh's JuJu Smith-Schuster. Those two were then joined in Mahomes' new-look wideout bunch by Skyy Moore, a speedy second-round pick out of Western Michigan. The bulk of Hill's targets should go to the trio of Valdes-Scantling, Smith-Schuster and Moore. Kansas City won't be expecting any of those players to be an immediate replacement for Hill because of his unique talent. But, Valdes-Scantling has deep-ball skills, Smith-Schuster is a high-volume pass-catcher who was a Pro Bowler when Ben Roethlisberger was in his prime and Moore has vertical speed and the ability to make contested catches. The Chiefs expect that Mahomes will be able to turn this group into a highly-productive aerial attack, albeit one that looks different.