Notes From A Crumbling NFL Empire: Part XII / NFL Best Bets: Week 17

Kansas City Chiefs 36, Pittsburgh Steelers 10

Photo courtesy of USA Today

It’s really fun being a Chiefs fan. I think that’s what everything football-related comes back to. Patrick Mahomes arrived as a starter in 2018 — just four seasons ago — and played the Steelers in Pittsburgh in Week 2 that year. He finished the game 23-28 with 326 yards and 6 touchdowns in a 42-37 win, which prompted me in September of 2018 to write a blog titled PATRICK MAHOMES AND THE PROMISED LAND:

The only downside to Mahomes’s perceived greatness — I have to keep stressing it’s only been two weeks — is that making the playoffs may no longer be good enough. In the business this is known as one of those “good problems.” Of course that means fuck all if Pat has to go through New England and Pittsburgh to make it to the Super Bowl, but the fact that it’s even on the table, as something the Chiefs could accomplish under ideal circumstances, has completely reinvigorated my love for the sport.

I still reference and have a lot of nostalgia for that 2018 season because it came at a time when everything still felt new. Mahomes made his first revolution around the AFC by facing its North division — teams like the Steelers, Ravens, Browns and Bengals — and ended up going a perfect 4-0 against them.

In just three years the AFC North has flipped almost completely. The Steelers, who in 2018 were still universally considered the second-best team in the AFC behind the Patriots, are now mediocre and Ben Roethlisberger is on his last gasp in the NFL. The Ravens, who in 2018 were just beginning their transition from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson, have suffered more injuries than any team in the league and have fallen back to the middle of the pack. The Browns, who were breaking in rookie QB Baker Mayfield, are now potentially on the verge of replacing him this offseason. And the lowly Bengals, who were still running out Andy Dalton every week, have gotten their prayers answered by way of Joe Burrow and are the odds-on favorite to win the division.

That’s the NFL for you. Transitions happen. Year-to-year roster turnover happens. Players get old, and players emerge. It’s truly a meritocracy where the good ones can perform exceptionally for one year, and the great ones last. You don’t get to decide when it’s over. The league will show you when it’s your time.

In the meantime, Patrick Mahomes has been the one constant in the league. In 2018 he went to the AFC Championship and lost to Tom Brady and the Patriots. In 2019 he won a Super Bowl. In 2020 he made a Super Bowl, and against lost to Tom Brady — this time playing for the Buccaneers. That’s right: in three Mahomes seasons the Chiefs have made the AFC Championship every year; they’ve gone to the Super Bowl the last two years; and the only QB who can say they’ve defeated him is the greatest of all-time.

There isn’t a lot to say about the Chiefs 36-10 victory against the Steelers on Sunday. Mahomes did his thing, the Chiefs defense did their thing, and it was never a contest. Even in spite of Travis Kelce being out with COVID, and Tyreek Hill catching just two passes for 19 yards — contrary to last week’s article about how those two players are stars of the show when the games matter the most — the Chiefs were able to pummel the Steelers in every aspect of the game.

What I really want to talk about is next week’s matchup against the Bengals. Even though the play on the field dictates that I should, I am not in the mood to get cocky about the Chiefs prospects versus Cincinnati.

Because Joe Burrow has the goods. The only proclamation I am willing to make in this blog is that Burrow is the best quarterback in the AFC not named Patrick Mahomes. Maybe that doesn’t mean anything now, given the Lamar Jackson’s and Josh Allen’s and Justin Herbert’s of the world. But I am here, and I am betting that if Mahomes has a serious rival, or contender within the conference, it’s Burrow.

Here’s why: Josh Allen and Justin Herbert have better arms than Burrow does. Lamar Jackson has far better legs and athletic ability. If we are running an NFL combine comparing skill traits, Burrow isn’t going to grade very well against those guys.

But it should say something that he plays for the fucking Bengals and he’s 9-6 and in position to win his division. He plays for the worst coach in the AFC North, has arguably the worst offensive line in the AFC North, and still. Here he is. Playing Patrick Mahomes as just a 4.5-point underdog on his home field on Sunday.

I think he has juice. That’s what it comes down to. You take a guy who doesn’t have the arm talent, who doesn’t have an organization putting him in the ideal place to succeed, who doesn’t make a ton of sexy plays. He just wins football games.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s going to matter a lot on Sunday. The Bengals are taking a huge step up in class playing a team like the Chiefs — the Super Bowl favorite — and they are probably outmatched at the line of scrimmage and certainly outmatched in the coaching department. It’s probably going to take a perfect game for them to win, especially considering that Kansas City has a chance to cement themselves as the number one seed in the AFC playoffs with a win.

There is also the idea that Patrick Mahomes usually takes it personally when he is playing a young, up and coming quarterback. We’ve seen it against Lamar, we’ve seen it against Josh Allen and Justin Herbert. Usually around the time Mahomes begins to sniff a little bit of competition between himself and a young quarterback he puts the hammer down to remind everybody he’s still The Guy.

For that reason, I picture the Chiefs winning on Sunday by a fairly comfortable margin. Maybe it’s 38-17, or perhaps it’s within one score. I don’t know for sure, but I feel confident that Kansas City is going to win.

With that being said, if there is a guy who can do it, I think it’s Joe Burrow. And the crazy thing is I won’t even be mad about it, because I like him a lot. I was a big believer when he came out of LSU, and I feel even stronger about him today. I don’t know why that is, I just appreciate the way he carries himself. And despite being dropped in a hopeless place like Cincinnati, he has made the best of his situation.

NFL Best Bets: Week 17

Last week against the spread: 1-3

2021 overall ATS: 31-32-1

1. Chicago Bears (-6) vs. New York Giants
2. Arizona Cardinals (+6) at Dallas Cowboys 
3. Miami Dolphins (+3.5) at Tennessee Titans
4. Kansas City Chiefs (-4) at Cincinnati Bengals 

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