OK, that probably won't happen, but there might be some Chiefs fans who want him back later this year and that's because there's definitely a possibility that things could get ugly for Patrick Mahomes. Heading into his first season as Kansas City's starting quarterback, Mahomes and the Chiefs will be facing the toughest schedule in the entire AFC this year.
With the regular season still almost three months away, you might be wondering how we already know that the Chiefs have the most difficult schedule in the AFC, and that's because we went ahead and devised a formula so we could rank all 32 schedules in the NFL.
Back in February, we ranked, but that's not exactly the most efficient way to rate schedule difficulty. To fix that, we've devised a formula that gives a more accurate look at what each team will be facing during the upcoming season and that formula doesn't like what the Chiefs are up against.
To devise our formula, we started by going through each individual game on each team's schedule and ranked it based on difficulty. After that, we also looked at Super Bowl odds. Since the oddsmakers in Las Vegas seem to know what they're doing, we incorporated their odds, which is a big reason why the Chiefs season could turn into a total nightmare for a team with a first-year starting quarterback.
For one, the Chiefs have to play both the Jaguars and Patriots this year (in consecutive weeks), which puts them at a slight disadvantage because no other team in AFC West will be playing either Jacksonville or New England.
One final thing we used to tabulate this formula is the first three games of the season. We weighted those three games slightly more than the other 13 games because they tend to be a good indication of how a team will play throughout the season. Basically, teams that go winless in their first three games almost never make the playoffs.
On the flip side of that, 3-0 usually means good things in the NFL: From 1990 to 2010, 75.9 percent of the teams that started 3-0 made the playoffs. Those odds drop to 54.9 percent for 2-1 teams and 23.3 percent for 1-2 teams.
You can look at last year's playoff field as proof of how important the first few games are: Of the 12 teams that made the postseason, only the Saints (1-2) didn't have a winning record through the first three weeks of the year. The other 11 teams either started the year 2-1 or 3-0.
This basically means that if your favorite team has a murderer's row in the first three weeks of the season, you should probably just give up on 2018 and start paying attention to 2019.
The reason we're not giving the final three games of the season more weight is because the final games don't always mean the same for everybody, especially when a team is resting its starters. The Saints went 0-3 in their final three games in 2009 and still won the Super Bowl. The Ravens went 1-2 in their final three in 2012 and also won the Super Bowl.
Factoring the first three games into our formula definitely doesn't favor the Chiefs, who open with two straight games on the road, before facing the 49ers.
Alright, that's enough rambling, let's get to these rankings.
Wait, one more thing, here's how things are going to work with our schedule rankings: On Tuesdays and Thursdays over the next three weeks, we'll be going division by division to rank every schedule in the NFL. After starting with the AFC East and AFC South last week -- which you can check out byand -- we'll be hitting the and the AFC West (right now) this week. Next week, you'll be getting the NFC East (June 26) and the NFC South (June 28).
Ranking the AFC West schedules
Schedule difficulty rating: 83.75
Easiest stretch: After 10 years away from coaching, it appears that the NFL has decided to go easy on Jon Gruden to start the season in his return to the sideline. The Raiders' easiest stretch of the year starts in Week 2 and goes through Week 4 with games at Denver, at Miami, and at home against Cleveland. Although two of those games are on the road, the Raiders will get to face two quarterbacks in who could struggle at the beginning of the season. In Denver, there's a good chance Case Keenum will still be trying to figure things out in Week 2. In Miami, Ryan Tannehill might still be a little rusty for the Dolphins in Week 3 after missing the entire 2017 season. If you include the Browns, the Raiders will be playing at least eight games this season against teams that will be starting a new quarterback in 2018 (Keenum x 2, Tannehill, Tyrod Taylor, Patrick Mahomes x 2, Andrew Luck).
Roughest stretch: The Raiders have the easiest schedule in the AFC West this year, which means they don't really have an ugliest stretch, but things could get a little dicey for them for three straight weeks starting with a trip to Baltimore in Week 12. The Raiders definitely haven't figured out jet lag, because they always seem to struggle when they fly across the country (They're 4-8 in the Eastern Time Zone over the past five years). After their game against the Ravens, the Raiders will come home for two straight games against playoff teams from 2017 (Chiefs, Steelers).
Weird scheduling note: The Raiders are scheduled to play three home games in primetime this year, which doesn't sound weird until you consider the fact that the last time the Raiders hosted three home primetime games came more than 20 years ago in 1996. The Jon Gruden effect is real, people.
3. Los Angeles Chargers
Schedule difficulty rating: 87.75
Easiest stretch: Playing the 49ers and Raiders in consecutive weeks might not sound like an easy stretch, but it will be a welcoming sight for the Chargers after what they have to deal with during the first three games of the season. Over the first three weeks, the Chargers face the Chiefs, Bills (away) and Rams (away), making them one of just three teams in the NFL this year that has to open the season against three teams that made the playoffs last season. After that gauntlet, the Chargers will return to Stubhub Field in Week 5 for a game against San Francisco followed by a Week 6 game against the Raiders. The Chargers also get the Browns in Week 7, but that didn't get included in their "easiest stretch" and you'll find out why below.
Roughest stretch: The Browns don't usually get included in any team's roughest stretch, but we're including them here, because the Chargers game against Cleveland begins a string of five straight weeks where L.A. won't get to play in L.A. Starting in Week 6, the Chargers will be flying around the world for four straight games. The journey will start in Cleveland, then move on to London for a game against the Titans, then back to L.A. for a bye, then to Seattle and then to Oakland. For a team that's gone 7-17 on the road over the past three seasons, that's not an ideal situation.
Weird scheduling note: At the rate things are going for the Chargers, Los Angeles is never going to feel like home. As you may have noticed last year, every home game seemed more like an away game because the opposing fans would take over.
This year, it's going to be tough to make fans in Los Angeles because the Chargers never play there. During the regular season, the Chargers will go nearly a month and a half without playing a game in L.A. (October 8-November 17).
Schedule difficulty rating: 91.75
Easiest stretch: Playing at home in December is a big advantage for most teams, but it's a huge advantage for the Broncos, who play in a city that has a winter climate that's roughly equal to the weather in Antarctica. The good news for the Broncos is that they get to play two of their final three games of the season at home (Cleveland, at Oakland, Los Angeles) and one of those games is against a Chargers team that will be coming from the sunny West Coast. Of course, the problem with the Broncos' easiest stretch is that it comes at the end of the season, which means it won't really help them if they're already eliminated from the playoff race.
Roughest stretch: Although most teams generally look forward to their bye week, the Broncos might not be so excited about it this year, and that's because they have a brutal four-game stretch after their Week 10 bye. Not only do they play three of four games on the road (at LA Chargers, Pittsburgh, at Cincinnati, at San Francisco), but they're only home game in that span is against the Steelers.
Weird scheduling note: The Broncos were on the losing end of two of the three biggest blowouts in Super Bowl history, which we're only mentioning, because they'll get a chance at revenge for both of those games this year. The Broncos open the season against the Seahawks, who thumped Denver 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII back in February 2014. In Week 14, the Broncos will play the 49ers in a rematch of Super Bowl XXIV, which San Francisco won 55-10, a score that still stands as the biggest blowout in Super Bowl history.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
Schedule difficulty rating: 102.75
Easiest stretch: If the Chiefs make it out of the first six weeks of the season alive, then they're finally going to get a break starting in Week 7 with three home games in four weeks (Cincinnati, Denver, at Cleveland, Arizona). That stretch includes three games against teams will be starting a new quarterbacks in 2018 (Broncos, Browns and Cardinals) and three home games against teams that went a combined 7-17 on the road last season. Basically, the Chiefs are really going to need to go 4-0 during this stretch because the six weeks before it could get ugly, which leads us directly to Kansas City's roughest stretch of the season.
Roughest stretch: We're going to find out pretty quickly if Andy Reid's decision to trade Alex Smith is going to be blow up in his face, and that's because new Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is basically going to be thrown to the wolves to start the 2018 season. Not only do the Chiefs have to play four of their first six games on the road -- at LA Chargers, at Pittsburgh, San Francisco, at Denver, Jacksonville, at New England -- but their two home games will come against the team that had the AFC's best defense in 2017 (Jaguars) and the NFL team that will be carrying over the longest winning streak into 2018 (49ers). As if that's not bad enough, the Chiefs also have to a Week 2 game at Heinz Field, where they've never won in franchise history. Oh, and they play both teams from the AFC Championship game in consecutive weeks (Jaguars in Week 5, at New England in Week 6). The Chiefs' opening six games are a big reason why they have the toughest schedule in the AFC this year, according to our formula. As a matter of fact, no other team in the conference has a schedule difficulty rating above 95.00.
Weird scheduling note: The 2018 season will mark the fourth straight year that the Chiefs have been given three of their final four games at home, and if the past three seasons are any indication, there's a good chance Kansas City will be able to take advantage of that. In 2015, the Chiefs closed the season with a 4-0 record. In 2016, the followed up with a 3-1 record over their final four games before going 4-0 again in 2017. Basically, even if the Chiefs get off to a nightmare start, which is completely possible, the team has a history of finishing strong, which could be enough to boost them into the playoffs. On the other hand, if they miss the playoffs, maybe Reid should actually look into getting Smith back.