With another Super Bowl appearance, the Kansas City Chiefs have yet another large target on their back, and due to their strength of schedule being ranked 11th, people seem to think KC is getting off easy…I’m here to tell you that they are not
Before the NFL released the 2021 regular season schedule two weeks ago there were already doubts about the Chiefs’ competition strength this upcoming season thanks to the pitiful showing by the NFC East last season, and the inability of the AFC North to beat Kansas City last season, but when the actual schedules were released the NFL world went silent as it was revealed that they have the 11th toughest schedule based off of last season’s records.
And while the coaches and front office of teams do not typically comment on their strength of schedule outside the cliché comments like “tough opponent next week” or “we have to be prepared for a tough task against __________” the fans of teams certainly do.
The Chiefs will have to face the AFC North, a division with three separate teams in the playoffs last season, and the NFC East, a division that honestly should’ve forfeited their chance at a playoff game due to the disparity amongst all four franchises, this upcoming season and on top of that they have the best team in the AFC East–the Buffalo Bills–who they beat twice last season.
Sure, the NFC East division seems like it should be an easy four victories for the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid but that’s where you would be wrong, the division has gotten stronger and more unified in their separate identities that they are trying to instill into the culture:
- The Cowboys solidified their QB situation and have possibly the best weapons in the entire NFC with Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Ezekial Elliot. Their defense progression under new DC Dan Quinn is the only question mark when it comes to the Cowboys.
- The Giants have added multiple great pass-catchers to go along with a healthy Saquon Barkley, likely giving him less responsibility on the team thanks to Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney arriving at the Meadowlands.
- The Eagles are seemingly all-in on Jalen Hurts and added an old friend in Devonta Smith to help him settle into the starting role that he has proved he can fill under pressure–just look at Alabama and Oklahoma–but it will be their defense that has to step up more if they want Hurts to have a successful year as a full-time starter.
- And the Washington Football Team still has the commanding, young dominance on defense that helped them reach the playoffs and almost knock off the Super Bowl champions Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not only that they added new veteran leadership at QB in Ryan Fitzpatrick, a guy who has been proven to win games–especially big ones–but never enough to get into the playoffs, could this be the year that the narrative around “Fitzmagic” finally changes?
Suddenly the NFC East looks competent and somewhat dangerous, something none of the four teams appeared to be last season when the Chiefs would have likely demolished them whenever and wherever the game would have happened. That could lead to some close games against Kansas City and whether Chiefs fans want to admit it or not they should be a little scared that Mahomes and Reid might drop a game or two against the worst division in the league for the past two seasons.
On top of the lowly NFC East revamping and adding serious weapons before their respective matchups with KC, there has also been plenty of facelifts done across the AFC North, a division that the Chiefs have to play against this upcoming season as well, which make North’s contention for the AFC crown even more noticeable.
The four teams all attacked their weak spots from last season pretty accurately and to the best of their abilities, outside a few questionable decisions (i.e. Cincinnati picking a WR over an offensive lineman), but the scariest part about the AFC North’s future is just how complete every team seems to be now and their confidence moving forward shows it.
What do I mean? I’ll take it step by step…
- The Pittsburgh Steelers started 11-0 last season (even though many of those games were against some of the easiest, weakest NFL teams last season), and that was with a recently-injured, 39-year old Ben Roethlisberger and without a serious running game. They have now filled that RB1 spot with the best back in the draft, Najee Harris, and added replacement pieces to their already stellar defense that ranked 1st in the league in total sacks (56) and interceptions (18). The Steelers will likely be tired by the time they face the Chiefs on December 26th, but that does not mean they should be underestimated, and by then, the AFC North could still be up for grabs much like it was last season after Pittsburgh’s fall from grace.
- The Browns will be the ultimate test for the Chiefs’ new offensive line, and they will have to pass that test early with Cleveland coming to Arrowhead in Week 1, ready to avenge their playoff loss against Chad Henne and Tyreek Hill at the end of regulation. That defensive line that gave the Chiefs some problems in the playoffs has also added some big names like Jadeveon Clowney and Takkarist McKinley to the list which makes their defense one of the biggest and baddest to watch this upcoming season. This Browns game might be one of the most competitive Week 1 matchup in recent memory for the Chiefs, and if they’re not careful, they could start the season 0-1 for the first time since 2014.
- The Baltimore Ravens vs the Chiefs has been the marquee matchup between the two divisions since Lamar Jackson and Mahomes were drafted and this season is no different. Jackson may have finally gotten his illustrious first playoff win, but he’s still looking for that first win against the Ravens’ “kryptonite”, and this season, it could come on the heels of the Chiefs’ early adjustments with their new offensive line and a defense that has many pieces coming back from injury (Deandre Baker, Taco Charlton, Rashad Fenton). The Week 2 matchup between these two AFC powerhouses is sure to be just as entertaining as the previous three games but the Chiefs will have to pull out all the stops to keep Jackson and Coach Harbaugh from finally putting down Kansas City.
- And who could forget the Cincinnati Bengals? The Bengals were the only team in the division to miss the playoffs last season, but for obvious reasons. They were still growing their #1 overall pick into his absolute best before he suffered his season-ending ACL and MCL tears. Since then they have added heavily to their arsenal, as well as let go of longtime weapons like Giovani Bernard and A.J. Green, through the draft and free agency.
- They helped their offensive line out by drafting Clemson star Jackson Carman and signing free-agent veteran Riley Reiff to help keep Burrow off the injury report, and if they can do so, they could make a run for AFC North champions. Do not sleep on the Bengals this season, they have the firepower to surprise people, and if they can remain healthy at the skill positions, there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t shock the world and beat KC in Week 17 even with Chiefs’ starters on the field.
Add these eight teams to the collection of superlative opponents that the Chiefs have to face this season and Kansas City is easily playing one of, if not the, toughest schedules in the whole league, regardless of previous records or last year’s statistics.
“Any given Sunday” is the saying that rings through the NFL almost every single week because of ‘trap’ games or matchups that seemed favorable for some but end up turning ugly in one way or another by the end of the day. Those days are not far behind the Chiefs, and to think that because they’re favored in 16 of the 17 games (Baltimore being the outlier) that they will have an easy time this season is simply not realistic, especially with how humongous of a target Mahomes and the Chiefs squad have on their head, thanks to their back-to-back Super Bowl appearances.
Teams like Green Bay, Buffalo, and Tennessee are additionally slated to play KC, and will not only bring their A-games, but they will also come into the matchups with the support of the rest of the AFC behind them, hoping someone else could be holding the Lamar Hunt trophy at the end of the season.