Kansas City is the team to beat in the AFC. They’ve got the most talented QB in the NFL in Patrick Mahomes, one of the best collection of skill players in the game around him, and one of the premier offensive minds football has even known leading the way in HC Andy Reid. As long as they have that combination, they’re going to be the favorites to win the conference year in and year out. In last season’s Super Bowl, Tampa Bay showed that there are some cracks in KC’s armor. Teams notice those cracks, and when teams notice, they take shots at the top spot. In this article, we’re going to take a look at which teams are best equipped to take on KC, rank them, and look at why they have a chance at taking the top spot in the AFC.
There are a couple of teams that are close, but not quite ready to challenge Kansas City for the crown. The Las Vegas Raiders are a divisional rival who have always played Kansas City tight, but they can never seal the deal and pull out the win against KC. Factor in the Raiders roster getting worse this offseason, and they’re not close enough to be considered a true challenger. They’re really more of just a speed bump at this point.
The Indianapolis Colts are another team that is close to being a legitimate threat to Kansas City. They have one of the more complete rosters in the NFL. The only real hole on their roster is at QB, which just so happens to be the most important position on the field. They’ve pinned their hopes on Carson Wentz being the guy there. The thing about Wentz is that he’s bad. As long as he’s running the ship in Indy, they’ll never be real contenders in the AFC.
5. Los Angels Chargers
No really, hear me out here. In years past, the Chargers have been lauded as the next best thing in the AFC. For years Phillip Rivers and Anthony Lynn were always projected as AFC contenders, only to turn around and lay an egg during the season. So you ask, what’s changed? The main thing in my eyes is Justin Herbert. He is LEGIT. I’m a fan of their new coaching staff, and their roster is riddled with talent throughout. Add in their familiarity with Kansas City as division rivals, and I think they are primed to at least take a couple of shots at KC this season.
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4. Cleveland Browns
The roster construction in Cleveland has been fantastic over the last few years. They’ve put superstars all over their roster. From Odell Beckham Jr. and Nick Chubb on offense to my pick to win DPOY in Myles Garrett on defense, they’ve got some of the best players at their positions everywhere. Second-year head coach Kevin Stefanski has built an offense that plays well to Baker Mayfield’s strengths. Things are truly looking up in Cleveland for the first time in decades.
My only cause for concern with them is also what I love most about their roster. They’re built to control the tempo of the game. Pound the rock with Nick Chubb, hit some play action behind the defense, control the clock, rinse, repeat. Kansas City is too explosive for that to be how you try to win the game. Baker has got to take the next step, and show he knows how to win games coming from behind against elite offenses. If he can do that consistently this season, I think Cleveland has a legitimate shot at being able to take down KC.
3. Buffalo Bills
I’ll preface this by saying 1-3 are all interchangeable, as the three of them are all legitimate Super Bowl contenders. At three I’ve got Buffalo, but they’re no slouch. I absolutely loved what Buffalo did in 2020. I was one of the biggest Josh Allen skeptics around, and he shut me right up last season. He is one of the best QB’s in the league going into 2021, and with OC Brian Daboll coming back, I don’t see them slowing down.
Speaking of slowing down, that brings me to what I’m most worried about with them. Tampa Bay was able to disrupt Kansas City so well in the Super Bowl last year with an elite pass rush. Mahomes never had time to breathe, and it was really the key to Tampa winning. I don’t think Buffalo has the pass rush to have that kind of impact, but I do like a lot of their pieces defensively, I really do. I’m just worried that without that top-tier edge presence, they won’t have enough defensively to slow KC down.
2. Baltimore Ravens
Patrick Mahomes is hands down the most exciting young QB in the game right now. But let’s not forget about Lamar Jackson in Baltimore. Jackson is the most electric QB with the ball in his hands that the game has seen since Michael Vick. Baltimore has been one of the top offenses in football since Jackson took over, and I see no reason why that doesn’t continue in 2021. And with Wink Martindale running the defense for another season, there’s nothing to worry about on that side of the ball either.
What worries me most about Baltimore isn’t anything on the field. It’s the seemingly mental block they have against KC. The Ravens haven’t beaten the Chiefs since 2012, with their meeting last season being a 34-20 KC win. Until Baltimore shows they can actually beat KC, they won’t be considered in the same stratosphere. But on paper, there’s no reason why 2021 couldn’t be the year they finally get the KC monkey off of their back.
1. Tennessee Titans
I know, I know, you all are probably going to call me a homer for this pick, but hear me out. Since 2016, the Titans are 3-1 against Kansas City. Their offense is a remarkable mixture of ground and pound and explosiveness. The Titans are coming off of a year where they finished 3rd in yards and added JULIO FREAKING JONES to that already talented offense. The fireworks on that side of the ball are going to be on par with what KC puts up in 2021.
The biggest worry for the 2021 Titans is their porous defense. They finished near the bottom in every major statistical category in 2020. It’s not unlikely that they regress back to the middle of the pack in 2021, but that’s not going to be enough to keep pace with KC. In order for the Titans to take a step forward and really compete for the AFC this year, they’ll need to take a major step forward offensively.
Some final thoughts…
It’s hard to say that one of these teams are truly going to best the Chiefs this year. They remain one of the best offenses in football going into 2021. Every team listed has a handful of reasons why they could be the team to beat this year. They also have plenty of reasons to be skeptical as well. But hey, it’s football. We could revisit this article in three months, and none of these teams are even in the race. While that’s unlikely, the NFL can be that volatile year to year. The only thing certain is that as long as Patrick Mahomes is suiting up for KC, teams are going to continue to be swinging up at them.
Pissed that your team isn’t listed? Wanna let me know why your team should be on here? Or just want to see my other ridiculous takes? Follow me on Twitter at @j_noah53 and give me a shout!