The Kansas City Chiefs made a statement with their win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, and now the New England Patriots get their shot.
Kansas City hasn’t won or partaken in a Super Bowl since Jan. 1970. The United States had just conquered the moon, Vietnam was still raging and Richard Nixon was comprising an Enemies List.
In other words, the Chiefs have been a perennial have-not club, despite tradition, history and a kick-ass fanbase. It’s almost always been style without substance, a quarterback deficiency, a missed kick and a well-placed kick to the proverbial groin.
Now, suddenly, Kansas City has found a savior from a most unlikely place, and the rest of the team is rallying to support the cause.
On Sunday, the Chiefs didn’t play a flawless game against the Jaguars. They committed 11 penalties, including five personal fouls. Chris Jones and Dee Ford were ejected, and Patrick Mahomes threw a pair of interceptions. None of it mattered.
Kansas City throttled Blake Bortles and relentlessly attacked Jacksonville’s top-ranked defense, walking away with a 30-14 win that wasn’t nearly as close as the score. The Chiefs have typically had to play perfect football to beat the league’s top teams over the year, something you need when the quarterback matchup is tipping the other direction.
With Mahomes and an embarrassment of riches around him, Kansas City can avoid the occasional dumb penalty, the random turnover and the errant pass on 2nd and 7. The defense doesn’t need to be great, it needs to be middling and opportunistic, something it was against Jacksonville with four interceptions and a fumble recovery.
At 5-0, the Chiefs appear the unarguable favorite in the AFC, steamrolling toward a splendid January.
Enter the Patriots.
New England now gets a crack at the Chiefs, with Kansas City coming to Foxborough for a Sunday night tilt that will be all the rage for the next week. Tom Brady has a host of weapons in Rob Gronkowski, Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman and Sony Michel all looking to put some dents into the Kansas City machine. Conversely, Mahomes is getting his first taste of Bill Belichick’s genius, even if The Hoodie is playing chess with a bunch of pawns and the random knight thrown in.
New England’s defensive personnel is severely lacking, something the Chiefs can and will undoubtedly exploit with Andy Reid’s madman schemes. If they can find enough offense to counterbalance Brady’s Bunch, Kansas City will own a stranglehold on the AFC, with a three-game lead on New England, and a minimum of a two-game advantage over the Los Angeles Chargers, Baltimore Ravens and Jaguars. Only the Cincinnati Bengals could be within a game, and they host the explosive Pittsburgh Steelers.
However, should the Patriots reassert themselves as the team to beat for what feels like the 38th straight season, New England would only be a game off Kansas City’s pace with a favorable schedule and a tiebreaker in the back pocket.
In other words, this Sunday could well determine where the road to the Super Bowl goes through for the AFC.
Top 10 teams already looking towards the 2019 NFL Draft
1. San Francisco 49ers
2. Arizona Cardinals
3. New York Giants
4. Oakland Raiders
5. Buffalo Bills
6. Denver Broncos
7. Indianapolis Colts
8. Seattle Seahawks
9. Atlanta Falcons
10. New York Jets
“Graham put the whole team on his back. Well, his toe.”
– Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on Graham Gano’s game-winning 63-yard field goal
The Panthers are 3-1, sitting tied for first place in the NFC South. Carolina was about to lose at home to the floundering Giants, only to be saved by an improbable 63-yard boot from Graham Gano in a season where no kicker can be trusted from any distance.
For Carolina, that game might end up being the difference between a division title and a wild card berth, or a wild card spot and missing the playoffs entirely. A huge kick from a ridiculous distance.
Matt Verderame and Josh Hill bring you a new episode of Stacking The Box every Sunday night! Subscribe on iTunes and leave a rating! Also, the guys join Mark Carman and Ashley Young on Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. ET for their 30-minute video show on FanSided’s Facebook Live page.
Despite being undefeated going into the game, the Miami Dolphins were only a one-point favorite over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII. Miami covered, capping a perfect season with a 14-7 victory.
Info learned this week
1. Vikings hold off Eagles to get back on track
The Minnesota Vikings were one of the preseason favorites for NFC representative in Super Bowl LIII. After beating the 49ers in Week 1, all seemed right. Then, for three weeks, the Vikings looked lost at sea, tying the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in a controversy-filled contest before being blown out by the Bills and beaten by the Los Angeles Rams in Week 4.
Finally, and just in time, the Vikings picked themselves off the proverbial deck to win on the road over the Philadelphia Eagles, earning a 23-21 win at Lincoln Financial Field.
Kirk Cousins was great, going 30-of-37 for 307 yards and a touchdown without a turnover. Adam Thielen notched his fifth straight 100-yard receiving game to start the season as well, something never done before in NFL history. Factor in a Linval Joseph scoop-and-score, and Minnesota is 2-2-1 and tied with Green Bay for second in the NFC North.
As for Philadelphia, the Eagles are lucky to be in the NFC East. Still, at 2-3, the slow start is becoming increasingly worrisome. Carson Wentz is playing well in his comeback from a torn ACL, but the sloppy play has persisted on both sides. It needs to change if the Eagles want to avoid playing in the Wild Card round.
2. Packers continue to kick the can against Lions
The Green Bay Packers have real problems. For starers, the Packers were beaten soundly by the Detroit Lions, thanks to horrid kicking and turnovers galore. Green Bay gave the ball away three times, while Mason Crosby missed four field goals and an extra point, dropping it to 2-2-1 on the campaign.
It’s been an ugly season to this point for the Packers, who last week dealt with back-and-forth from Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy in the media. Now, Green Bay trails the Chicago Bears by a game in the NFC North, a team showing some serious defensive chops.
In the NFC this season, getting off to a slow start is going to ensure either missing the playoffs, or hitting the road for a long stretch of time.
3. AFC North looking more intriguing by the second
The Cleveland Browns won again, the Pittsburgh Steelers finally rolled, and the Cincinnati Bengals are quietly steaming ahead. With Cleveland beating the Baltimore Ravens and the Steelers crushing the Falcons, the AFC North tightened further below the 4-1 Bengals, who rallied from 17 points down to topple the Miami Dolphins.
Cincinnati is a full game ahead of Baltimore, but the Ravens are only a half-game in front of the Browns and Steelers, in that order. Next week, the Bengals welcome Pittsburgh into the Queen City, while Baltimore takes on Tennessee at Nissan Stadium. As for Cleveland, its home to the Los Angeles Chargers, who looked good in their beating of the Raiders on Sunday afternoon.
With 11 weeks to go, anybody could emerge to the penthouse in the NFL’s most intriguing divisional race.
4. Cowboys, Texans both need new coaches
The main takeaway from the Houston Texans somehow beating the Dallas Cowboys by a 19-16 count on Sunday night? Both teams would be well-advised to get new representation on the sidelines. Both Dallas and Houston could have won the game at various points if not for the decisions of Bill O’Brien and Jason Garrett.
Garrett had the worst decision of all, electing to punt in overtime on a 4th and 1 from the Houston 42-yard line. If you can’t gain three feet with Ezekiel Elliott behind that offensive line, it’s time to pack it in. Meanwhile, O’Brien was little better, consistently botching red zone scenarios to keep the game close in the first place.
Houston won, but until these teams move on from their coaches, it’s always going to be a struggle.
5. Saints, Redskins try to continue promising starts
The New Orleans Saints are hoping to see a record fall and a win go in the left-hand column. The Washington Redskins are hoping to pull off a sizable upset and continue their assault on the NFC East.
Drew Brees only needs 201 yards to surpass Peyton Manning for all-time passing yardage, something that is almost certain to happen at home in primetime. New Orleans has been privileged to see one of the greats for 13 seasons, and he’ll get quite the hand when the moment comes.
As for Washington, the Redskins are hoping to finally get some respect from the nation. Alex Smith and Co. are 2-1 and leading their division, but many are expecting a ho-hum season with an afterthought finish. Beating the Saints in their house would go a long way towards changing that line of thinking.
Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, there have been seven instances of two quarterbacks being taken with the first two picks in the NFL Draft:
1971 – Archie Manning and Jim Plunkett
1993 – Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer
1998 – Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf
1999 – Tim Couch and Donovan McNabb
2012 – Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck
2015 – Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota
2016 – Jared Goff and Carson Wentz
While it’s still early, the duo in 2015 might be proving to be the first with dual busts. Mariota has been oft-injured and when healthy, underwhelming. The Tennessee Titans lost to the Bills on Sunday, and Mariota was terrible, hitting 129 yards and an interception on 26 attempts. In 46 career regular-season games, the Heisman Trophy winner has six 300-yard efforts in an age that minimizes that accomplishment to the hilt.
Meanwhile, Winston has been a disaster off the field and horribly inconsistent on it. In his four-year career, the former No. 1 overall pick has 31 fumbles (17 lost) and 46 interceptions, all without a playoff appearance. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers need more, much more, from their franchise player.
The Rams stayed undefeated on Sunday, defeating the Seahawks, 33-31 at CenturyLink Field. Unfortunately, it came at a cost. Cooper Kupp and Brandin Cooks were both lost in the second half to concussions, and while both could conceivably play in Denver next weekend, the Rams have to be concerned moving forward.
One concussion makes you more susceptible to the next, and for Cooks, this is his second since the start of Super Bowl LII. Should Kupp or Cooks miss significant time either now or down the road, it would spell trouble for an offense that appears limitless when healthy.
For now, Los Angeles is cruising to the NFC West crown at 5-0, holding a three-game lead over the Seahawks and four-game edges on the 49ers and Cardinals. The real prize is home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs, something that feels almost guaranteed if the Rams can stay healthy.