Tampa Bay BuccaneersThe Chiefs have made the AFC Championship Game every year since Patrick Mahomes became a starter but they'll have to navigate a division filled with opponents that loaded up during the 2022 offseasonScott Smith
As training camp approaches for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and with it the unofficial start to the season, we are taking a closer look at the opponents on the team's 2022 schedule. Next up is the New Kansas City Chiefs, who will come to Raymond James for a Week Four rematch of Super Bowl LV on Sunday, October 2. Unsurprisingly, that highly-anticipated Round Two will play before a national audience on NBC's Sunday Night Football.
For the fourth year in a row - or more to the point, for the fourth time in Patrick Mahomes' four seasons as the starting quarterback - the Chiefs made it to the AFC Championship Game in 2021. The only thing that stopped them from a third straight Super Bowl appearance was an overtime 27-24 loss to the upstart Bengals.
The Chiefs had gotten to the conference finals via another overtime game, a 42-36 thriller against the equally talented Bills in which Josh Allen never touched the ball in the extra period. Against Cincinnati, the Chiefs won the toss again in overtime but this time Vonn Bell intercepted a deflected deep pass and the Bengals' Joe Burrow did get a chance to upend the defending conference champs.
In the regular season, the Chiefs tied for the best record in the AFC at 12-5, shrugging off a slow start to win nine of their last 10. Kansas City's offense surprisingly scuffled a bit in the early going against a steady diet of two-deep coverage but Mahomes and company adjusted and still finished with the fourth-highest scoring total and third-best yardage mark. Mahomes averaged 284.6 passing yards per game and threw up 37 touchdowns against 11 interceptions and the Chiefs put together a strong rushing attack through the combined work of Darrel Williams, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Derrick Gore and Mahomes himself.
Kansas City's defense gave up a lot of yards, ranking 27th in yards allowed per game and 30th in yards allowed per carry, but still finished with the eighth-lowest points allowed total. Twenty-nine takeaways helped, although nine of their 15 interceptions were recorded by players who have since departed, including Tyrann Mathieu and his team-leading three. After initially experimenting with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Chris Jones on the edge, the Chiefs moved him back to the middle before midseason and his nine sacks sparked a bit of a defensive resurgence.
Kansas City continued to own a strong AFC West division, losing just once to the Chargers in Week Three, and the only team that beat the Chiefs after October was the Bengals, who also won a wild 34-31 outing in Week 17. The Chiefs then blew out the Steelers in the Wild Card round before their consecutive overtime games to round out the postseason.
The Chiefs needed some receiving help after one stunning trade we will discuss in the next section, and they addressed the issue by signing a pair of hyphenates: Green Bay's Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Pittsburgh's JuJu Smith-Schuster. Those two were then joined in Mahomes' new-look wideout crew by the excellently-named Skyy Moore, a speedy second-round pick out of Western Michigan. The backfield also got another player for its rotation in former Buccaneer back Ronald Jones.
Kansas City also lost a couple of key figures in their secondary but responded by signing Houston safety Justin Reid to a hefty contract and trading up in the first round to snag Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie. Thanks also to the trade we will mention shortly, the Chiefs ended up picking five players in the first 103 picks, also nabbing edge-rush help at number 30 with Purdue's George Karlaftis and bringing in a run-stopping linebacker in Wisconsin's Leo Chanel.
The trade noted above? Just a little thing sending ultra-explosive wide receiver Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins for four draft picks, one each in the first and second rounds and two in the fourth. Hill has been a Pro Bowl selection in all six of his NFL seasons, has been named first-team All-Pro three times and is coming off a career-high 111 catches in 2021. Depth receivers Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson also moved on in free agency.
In addition, the Chiefs let Mathieu walk in free agency and saw its top cornerback, Charvarius Ward, land a big deal in San Francisco. Outside linebacker Melvin Ingram joined Hill in Miami and defensive tackle Jarran Reed bolted for Green Bay.
What Else is New?
After the protection disaster that was Super Bowl LV, the Chiefs largely remade their offensive line in 2021, trading for left tackle Orlando Brown, signing left guard Joe Thuney and stealing Oklahoma center Creed Murphy in the second round of the draft. That rebuilding job could continue in 2022 if Kentucky tackle Darian Kinnard is the fifth-round steal some are claiming him to be. Kinnard could press Andrew Wylie at right tackle. Also, Brown got the franchise tag to make sure he stuck around for another season in Kansas City.
Mike Kafka, the Chiefs' quarterbacks coach and possibly OC heir apparent if Eric Bienemy were to land a head coaching gig, left the team to accelerate that career path. Kafka joined Brian Daboll's new Giants staff as the offensive coordinator.
The Chiefs' may have found part of their Tyreek Hill answer after the draft, when they made the surprisingly high-profile signing of Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross. Ross is talented but he slipped through the draft due to extensive medical concerns, including a congenital fusion in his spine.
How will the Chiefs replace Tyreek Hill's production?
Ross proving he's ready to play in the NFL and actually making a contribution would help, but 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 a one-for-one replacement for Hill because the former Chief star is a 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 still playing at a high level and Moore has vertical speed and the toughness to work in traffic. The Chiefs likely expect that Mahomes will be able to turn this group into a highly-productive passing attack, albeit one that looks a bit different than the last four years.
Did the rest of the AFC West close the gap on the Chiefs in the offseason?
While Hill was headed out of the division a couple of game-changing superstars were headed in. The Las Vegas Raiders added an extreme amount of juice to their passing game by reuniting former college teammates Derek Carr and Davante Adams, the latter of whom came over from Green Bay in a blockbuster trade. Meanwhile, Denver dramatically addressed their quarterback issue by trading for Seattle's Russell Wilson. Wilson joins forces with new Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett, who could rejuvenate the offense with his play-calling. The Los Angeles Chargers got into the trade act as well by landing Chicago edge rusher Khalil Mack. After signing a pair of much-needed big bodies for the middle in defensive tackles Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson, the Chargers have a formidable defensive front that also includes sack master Joey Bosa. With quarterback Justin Herbert swiftly ascending to superstar status while playing on an affordable rookie deal, Los Angeles is clearly loading up for a Super Bowl run. Kansas City has owned the AFC West - and particularly Denver - during the Mahomes era but will have a lot of competition in 2022.