Kansas City Chiefs 44, San Francisco 49ers 23
I’ll keep it real: I didn’t really expect the Chiefs to win this game. Chalk it up to my general pessimism on a week-to-week basis, the fact that on paper they had a historically grueling schedule to start the year, the idea of a letdown (which could totally just be a myth that I bought into as a little kid) after having played the Bills last week, or the reality that their bye week was upcoming. Whichever way you slice it up, it felt like a bad spot.
As it turned out, the game was no contest. Coming into it the 3-3 San Francisco 49ers — who I would argue is the second-best team in the NFC — had perhaps the best defensive unit in football, and they ended up surrendering over 500 yards (and over 400 through the air) of total offense to a Kansas City team that played like they are beginning to understand the roles of their skill position players.
After putting themselves in a fairly common 10-0 hole early on in the game, Patrick Mahomes put on a show. Juju Smith-Schuster (7 catches for 124 yards) and Marquez Valdes-Scantling (3 catches for 111 yards) became the first Chiefs’ wide receiver duo to gain over 100 yards in the same game in more than 20 years, and Travis Kelce did his thing and caught 6 passes for 98 yards of his own. Fourth-year receiver Mecole Hardman added the exclamation point by becoming the first receiver in the history of the NFL to record two rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown in the same game.
So year, it was a show. After leading 14-13 at halftime, Kansas City’s offense had the 49ers in a blender for most of the second half, outscoring them in vintage Chiefs’ fashion 30-10. The only credible threats in the second half came on two separate third downs — a 3rd-and-20 in the third quarter and a 3rd-and-11 in the 4th — but those were quickly erased by a 34-yard screen pass to Jerick McKinnon and a 57-yard bomb to MVS, respectively. The Chiefs went on to score touchdowns shortly after each occasion.
I might have a higher opinion than most, but the 49ers are really fucking good. Even though they are only 3-4 right now, they just acquired one of the best running backs in the NFL (Christian McCaffrey), and boast, when healthy, one of the best defensive lines in the league. They just happened to run into Kansas City on a week where the Chiefs decided to bring their A-game.
This is something Kansas City has done quite often against NFC opponents in 2022. Below is a list of the final score in each of the Chiefs’ seven games this season, and I think you’ll be able to notice the difference in competition:
NFC Cardinals: 44-21 (Win) Buccaneers: 41-31 (Win) 49ers: 44-23 (Win) AFC Chargers: 27-24 (Win) Colts: 20-17 (Loss) Raiders: 30-29 (Win) Bills: 24-20 (Loss)
It’s true, in three games against the NFC the Chiefs have gone 3-0 and outscored opponents 129-75 (+54 points), good for a composite score of 43-25. In four games against the AFC the Chiefs have gone 2-2 and have been outscored 97-94 (-3), which comes out to a composite of 24.3-23.5.
There are three reasonable conclusions we can draw from these numbers, and the first two should be fairly obvious. (1) No, Kansas City will not continue averaging over 40 points per game against NFC teams, and (2) yes, it’s a safe to assume the Chiefs will score more than 23 points per game against AFC teams. Give me the under and give me the over on those two propositions all day long.
(3) I think it’s also safe to say that teams who are not accustomed to playing the Chiefs are going to have a harder time playing them. This goes for the entirety of the NFC — since oftentimes they only play ever four years — but we should also remember this when it comes to AFC opponents down the line such as the Jaguars and Texans. The more familiar teams are, the tighter the games tend to be. This obviously goes for divisional opponents, and teams like Buffalo, who are going to be in first place every year.
Anyway, with a bye week coming up I won’t have to write about the Chiefs for week. But I think a lot of good has shown itself up to this point, and I believe there is much to be optimistic about. The offense continues to grow, and the defense is unquestionably stronger than it has been the last two years. Before the season I argued that there is a good chance this is the best defensive unit of the Patrick Mahomes era, and the further we go on the more I am convinced that this is going a lot more like the 2019 Super Bowl season than 2020 or 2021.