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Kansas City may win the Super Bowl this year — but it needs to be careful that these three problems don’t rear their ugly heads.
The Kansas City Chiefs closed out their regular season with a convincing 31-13 win over their longtime divisional rival, the Las Vegas Raiders. The Chiefs finished their season with a 14-3 record, locking in the No. 1 seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye.
The Chiefs played one of their most complete games against the Raiders and seemed to finally click in all three phases of the game. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes looked comfortable on offense, taking the shots downfield and the checkdowns when nothing was there. The offense showed a balance between run and pass, with 26 rushing attempts and 26 pass attempts. 20 of those rushing attempts went to the running backs, and three of the four touchdowns scored were rushing touchdowns. Eight players caught passes, with tight end Travis Kelce leading the way with six.
The most important stat of the game is that the offense didn’t have any turnovers.
The Chiefs’ defense played very well. On 70 defensive snaps, they totaled 29 pressures. Those pressured included 6.0 sacks, seven quarterback hits and 16 hurries — according to Pro Football Focus. The most encouraging thing was that five of the sacks came from defensive linemen. The Chiefs held the Raiders to only 279 yards of total offense and forced two turnovers in the process.
Special teams turned in a good day, with punter Tommy Townsend continuing his Pro Bowl season, landing three of his four punts inside the 20-Yard line. The volatile season of placekicker Harrison Butker settled with him connecting on all four of his extra points and his lone field-goal attempt from 44 yards out. The Chiefs only had a shot at one return on a punt, but good news there, too: no muffs or fumbles.
The Raiders are not a playoff team, and they have had their share of struggles this year, but if the Chiefs can play a close to a complete game — as they did against the Raiders — they have a very good chance at returning to the Super Bowl. The concerns that arise are that we have not seen the Chiefs play complete games consistently this season — and because of those inconsistencies, the Chiefs could potentially lose quickly in the playoffs.
Let’s take a look at three things that could lead the Chiefs to an early exit in the playoffs:
1. The lack of running the football
Mahomes is arguably the best quarterback in the NFL and the front-runner to his second MVP award. However, the Chiefs are tough to beat when they have a more balanced attack to their offense. Out of 14 games the Chiefs won this season, seven of them were by 10 points or more.
Beating a team by two scores in the NFL should be considered a good win. When the Chiefs won by 10 or more, the run game was a consistent part of those efforts.
Six out of the seven times the Chiefs won by double digits, at least one running back had 10 or more carries. Five out of seven times the Chiefs won by double digits, the offense had over 100 yards rushing as a team, excluding runs from Mahomes. In the other 10 games in which the Chiefs went 7-3, all were decided by six points or less.
In seven out of those 10 one-score games, the Chiefs (excluding Mahomes rushing), did not have over 100 rushing yards as a team, and in six out of those 10 games, the Chiefs did not have any running backs with over 10 carries.
When the Chiefs’ offense is balanced, it keeps the opposing defenses off-kilter. Running Backs Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon must be a consistent part of the Chiefs’ offense to make a deep playoff run. The lack of them being a present force could lead to a closer game — or even worse, a loss.
2. The turnover bug
The Chiefs ended the season with a negative-3 turnover differential. There is no greater thing that can cost you a game in the NFL more than turnovers. The Mami Dolphins are the only playoff team with a worse turnover differential than the Chiefs — and the Dolphins only made the playoffs because of a New England Patriots loss in Week 18.
Turnovers have haunted the Chiefs all year.
Out of the 17 games played this season, the Chiefs have five games in which they had one turnover — and seven games where they turned the ball over two or more times. It is not the norm for a team to turn the ball over as much as the Chiefs have and finish with the record they have.
Turnovers are another reason the Chiefs played so many close games this season. The first games against the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders early in the season were the only one-score games the Chiefs played in which they did not have a turnover. The late-game excellence of Mahomes helped the Chiefs overcome many of their turnovers, but that is not what you want to count on in the playoffs.
Teams cannot consistently turn the ball over and expect to beat good teams. Clean games from the Chiefs can result in another Super Bowl appearance, while, if they continue to lose the turnover battle, the dream could fall short.
3. Special teams inconsistency
Special teams coordinator Dave Toub has an extraordinary track record.
2022 is only the second time the Chiefs have finished outside the top 10 in DVOA in Toub’s era. Our Rocky Magana recently wrote how Toub admitted the unit’s struggles this season but remains optimistic for the playoffs.
The primary struggles have come in the kicking game and punt returning.
Butker suffered a significant ankle injury in the first game of the season and never seemed to fully regain the confidence and stride that he had last year. He finished the season 18 of 24 on field goals. Four of Butker’s misses came from kicks of 50 yards or more, where he had normally been very reliable. He also has missed five extra points this season.
Before the season started, Toub named rookie wide receiver Skyy Moore the starting punt returner, even though that was something Moore had never done in his college career. The experiment was a total bust, as Moore had issues fielding the punts. Moore alone added to the Chiefs’ turnover issues with three fumbles lost by muffed punts.
As mentioned above, Butker had a good Week 18, kicking the ball despite being questionable with back spasms. You can’t leave points on the board in the playoffs, so every kick is important. Wide Receiver Kadarius Toney has taken over as the primary punt returner, and despite having a fumble in Week 17 against the Denver Broncos, he should clean up that position.
The Chiefs also have Mecole Hardman returning from injury if they need a reliable person back there.
The bottom line
The Chiefs are a good football team — their 14-3 record proves that. They have the coaches and players in place to make a deep run in the playoffs and potentially win another Super Bowl.
The Chiefs lost to the Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills this year. The Bengals and Colts were three-point losses, and the Chiefs lost to the Bills by four. The Chiefs had multiple turnovers and a missed field goal in each of those games. Against the Colts and Bills, they also fell short of 100 total rushing yards, with no double-digit carries for a running back.
If the Chiefs make those same mistakes in the playoffs, an early exit may be in store. But then again, when you have the greatest football player in the world at quarterback, he may be able to overcome and erase those mistakes.
It’s playoff time — win or go home.
Originally posted on Arrowhead Pride