For most teams, the preseason doesn’t mean all too much. It gives teams time to evaluate young players, and lets veterans get ready for the grind of a long season. However, when your quarterback makes a 20-0 prediction in the offseason, suddenly, your preseason carries a little more weight than in years past.
That is exactly what happened for the Kansas City Chiefs, as Patrick Mahomes made going 20-0 a goal for the team this year. “Every single year I come into it, I’m trying to win every single game,” he said. “I’m trying to go 20-0, 19-0, whatever it is. It’s been really hard to do — that’s why it’s only been done really one time — but at the same time, you’re trying to go in with that mentality that you’re going to win every single day. So when you get to those game days, you have the best chance to win every single game.”
20-0 is a daunting proposal when it comes from anyone, but when it comes from a league MVP and the quarterback of a team that is eyeing a third straight Super Bowl appearance? Well, you have to think they just might do it.
That being said, what questions and answers have come from the 2021 preseason, and what do they mean for Mahomes’ 20-0 prediction?
On the offensive side of the ball, there has been much talk made about the pass catchers around Tyreek Hill. Whether a wide receiver will step up behind him and take pressure off Hill and Travis Kelce could play a big role in the team’s pursuit of 20-0. Kansas City saw quality play from Byron Pringle in the preseason, with seven catches and 84 yards in the three games.
Marcus Kemp, Daurice Fountain, and Mecole Hardman also stepped up throughout the preseason. Hardman seems to be the best bet moving forward because he is slotted as the No. 2 wide receiver on the depth chart. While the team touts a strong supporting cast, a true WR2 must separate from the pack for this team to have continued success.
Another question that seems to have persisted throughout last season and into this offseason is can the Chiefs defend against the pass? Stemming from uneven play at cornerback, Pro Football Focus ranked Kansas City as the No. 18 secondary in the NFL. PFF ranked the Chiefs secondary No. 10 to finish the year last season, which means the failure to re-sign Bashaud Breeland hurt them. It also means the trade for Mike Hughes in the secondary didn’t move the needle much.
The Chiefs seem to have settled on a much younger secondary, one of the greenest in the NFL. This younger unit has performed well in the preseason, holding the Arizona Cardinals, Minnesota Vikings, and San Fransisco 49ers quarterbacks to 59/99 on passing attempts for 730 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions across the three preseason games. Throughout the preseason, this unit allowed 243.3 yards per game, well on par for their average of 231.8 passing yards per game a season ago. While the youth of the position group comes with tremendous upside, as we’ve seen, there is a question of whether that will mean productive play on par for a team hoping for a third straight Super Bowl trip.
As the 2021 season comes into view, the biggest question surrounding Kansas City is their offensive line. The Chiefs seem to have answered the question regarding their offensive line and made this writer a believer in these changes. This offseason, Brett Veach’s top priority was improving an O-line that couldn’t protect Mahomes in the Super Bowl. With the trade for Orlando Brown Jr., and the signing of Joe Thuney in addition to bringing Kyle Long out of retirement, the Chiefs have made great strides around their front five.
After getting a draft pick out of an undrafted free agent in Yasir Durant, Kansas City’s front office has shown their confidence in the current rotation of linemen. Even with Kyle Long on IR, and the lack of playing time last year from Lucas Niang and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who both opted out of the 2020 season, Kansas City has one of the deepest O-line rotations in the entire NFL.
Even Mahomes himself lauded the improved position group after their final preseason game against the Vikings, “I think they’ve had an amazing preseason,” Mahomes said, “I haven’t got hit a lot; I don’t really think I got touched today. I think that just speaks to them and how they’ve been playing. They’ve done a great job and gotten better every week, so I’m excited for the season.”
Of all the questions entering this offseason, the offensive line loomed most large. In their positional grades entering 2021, PFF ranked the Chiefs as the No. 7 offensive line in the NFL. The front office went out and made the uncertainties around the offensive line seem insignificant, and they have an offensive line with one of the highest ceilings in the entire NFL entering the 2021 season.
As the Chiefs enter this new year, there are many broader questions about what will come from a shorter preseason and the beginning of the 17-game era. Going 20-0 only seems more daunting given the uncertainty of a longer season, the long-term effects on a team after consecutive trips to the game’s biggest stage, and the burnout that comes with sustained success. Whether they can go 20-0 is a worthwhile goal, of course. However, the greater goal of this season is a third straight trip to the Super Bowl and bringing a third championship to Kansas City.