The Road To Glory: Part II

Kansas City Chiefs 27, Los Angeles Chargers 24

Photo courtesy of USA Today

What are the chances that the AFC West is the most overrated division in the NFL? Coming into the season it was hands down the most hyped foursome in football, what with Justin Herbert being ordained as a top-5 quarterback, Russell Wilson restoring credibility to the Broncos, Davante Adams giving the Raiders an unparalleled receiving corps, and the Chiefs, you know, still being the Chiefs. On paper it looked like a gauntlet.

It’s only been two weeks, but some of us would argue that we are living in an NFL groundhog day where all four teams are exactly what they always have been. The Broncos, who lost to the Seahawks to open the year and scored 16 points in a win over the Texans in Week 2, have been one of the most underwhelming teams in the league. The Chargers, who squeaked by the Raiders in Week 1 and blew a game they mostly controlled against the Chiefs in Week 2, are still playing Chargers football. And the Raiders blew a 20-0 lead to the hapless Cardinals and are now 0-2.

In other words, by mere process of elimination the Kansas City Chiefs are again favorites to win the West.

I dislike one-sentence paragraphs as much as the next person so please forgive me for that, it just needed to be said. The Chiefs had to occupy space apart from the other three teams in the division because that’s where they’ve sat for the last six years. Separated from the pack.

One of my main themes from chronicling the Chiefs last season was the idea that one way or another the season would come down to the same handful of teams it always does. I had Tom Brady and the Bucs in mind, of course. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, obviously. Aaron Rodgers. Josh Allen. The 49ers. You get the point.

While it was a minor upset that the Rams and Bengals ended up meeting in the Super Bowl to some degree proved me wrong, but it didn’t invalidate my general message. After all, few people would argue that the Bills and Chiefs were probably the best two teams in the NFL in 2021. They just had the misfortune of playing one another as early as the AFC Divisional Round.

As we fast forward to the first couple weeks of the 2022 season I am once again reminded how little all the offseason noise actually counts for. During the doldrums of the spring and summer months, it can be difficult not to get herded in with the masses and start believing that the precious groupthink may be on to something. This year perhaps more than any other in recent memory I began to convince myself that the Chiefs were going to take a step back and possibly submit to one of the other teams in the division.

And that was justifiable thought, for a time anyway. It seemed imposing when the Chargers signed the best cornerback, J.C. Jackson, in free agency and traded for edge rusher Khalil Mack. It seemed impressive when the Raiders acquired Davante Adams in a trade with the Packers to team up with tight end Darren Waller and slot receiver Hunter Renfrow. And of course the Broncos netting Russell Wilson — one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL over the last decade — to what appeared to be a roster that was ready to win right now.

In the meantime the Chiefs went the other way. While the other three teams in the West loaded up to make a run, Kansas City traded away their most talented offensive weapon, Tyreek Hill, for draft picks. Put another way: Everyone else made moves to win right now, and the Chiefs made their big move to win in the future.

The cocaine high of the Chargers, Raiders and Broncos has already worn off. And in retrospect, where once the Chiefs seemed like their hands were tied in the Tyreek deal now it appears as if the organization knew exactly where they were at the time. More than any other professional sport I believe the NFL rewards contrarians. When everyone is passing, that’s the best time to run. When everyone is playing a conservative defense, that’s the best time to be aggressive.

After just two weeks (and two wins), it’s obnoxiously premature to suggest that the season’s over and we can all move on with our lives. This season will be filled with adversity for the Chiefs — same as any other year — but I think it’s important to remember that we’ve been here before. The Chiefs win games they are supposed to lose, and the Chargers lose games they are supposed to win.

That’s exactly what happened on Thursday Night Football in a game that Los Angeles clearly outplayed and out-gained Kansas City for most of evening. The contest truly hinged on two plays, the first being a 40-yard strike from Patrick Mahomes to wide receiver Justin Watson on a 3rd-and-10, trailing 17-7, and the second a 99-yard pick six by rookie 7th round pick Jaylen Watson to make the score 24-17.

Aside from that it wasn’t a pretty game. The Chiefs were kept alive by a strong defensive performance, namely by Chris Jones (who collected two more sacks). The offense didn’t move the ball with much consistency for the majority of the night, but again Mahomes made the big plays when he had to. That’s where most of these blogs ultimately arrive, that the Chiefs have the best quarterback in the NFL and the other team doesn’t.

After their mini-bye having played on Thursday, Kansas City travels to Indianapolis to play an angry 0-1-1 Colts team that is fresh off getting shut out 24-0 against the Jaguars in Week 2. I can’t say I’m exactly intimidated by the prospect of facing Matt Ryan at this stage of his career — and the fact that the Chiefs are 7-point road favorites against a team expected to win the AFC South tells you all you need to know — but we also won’t forget that this is the NFL and anything can happen. Right around the time you start feeling good about things is when reality gives you a wakeup call.