From being down 24-0 in the first half of a playoff game to being the new favorite to win the Super Bowl, how fast fates can change in the NFL. Rather, how fast fates can change in the NFL when your team is quarterbacked by Patrick Mahomes, a quarterback so explosive he's capable of turning a 24-point deficit into a four-point lead all in the span of a single quarter, a player so historically great that he renders history insignificant. After scoring touchdowns on seven straight series to beat the Texans by 20 points despite at one point trailing by 24 points, the Chiefs are heading back to the AFC Championship game for the second straight season.
The circumstances are different this time around. This time, it feels as if destiny is on their side. Unlike last season, when the Chiefs were forced to take down the mighty Patriots (and were unable to do so), the Red Sea has parted for Kansas City. They only earned a first-round bye because the Patriots lost to the Dolphins in Week 17. They're only hosting the AFC Championship game because the 14-2 Ravens got blasted at home by the Titans. They're only in the conference championship round because a selfless fan, , decided to leave Sunday's game with the Chiefs trailing 21-0 in the first quarter.
The pieces have fallen into place. The Chiefs are only two wins away from Super Bowl. But they can't rely on simulations or destiny to finish the process.. According to simulations conducted by SportsLine's Stephen Oh, the Chiefs have a 42.5 percent chance of winning the
Here's what they need to do to get to and win the Super Bowl.
Andy Reid needs to be aggressive
Andy Reid is both the architect of the Chiefs' out-of-this-world offense and the Chiefs' potential downfall. In that sense, he's a bit of an enigma.
By my estimation, he's the league's best offensive coach and has been for some time. In his 21-season coaching career, split between Philadelphia and Kansas City, his offenses have finished top 10 in scoring 13 times. Before Mahomes came along, he elevated Alex Smith into an MVP candidate. As other trendy play-callers rise and fall like the sun -- we just watched Sean McVay struggle only one season after every team on the planet seemingly wanted to hire anyone who had a cup of coffee with him to capture his magic -- Reid's offenses are almost always among the best.
But Eagles way back in 2005, when he displayed a shocking lack of urgency as they tried to make up a two-score deficit in the fourth quarter. But it's his tendency to be conservative that might be more of a detriment to this version of the Chiefs considering Mahomes' ability to score touchdowns on every single play, no matter where the ball is located, negates Reid's clock-management issues. But Mahomes can't help it if his coach decides to punt on fourth-and-short and settle for field goals near the goal line., at least since his first and only Super Bowl appearance with the
Reid needs to get more aggressive. We saw his conservatism on display against the Texans. We also saw Reid's marginal improvement in this area.
Let's start with the good. In the third quarter, after the Chiefs had ripped off 41 unanswered to take a 41-24 lead, they allowed a touchdown that briefly brought the Texans back within striking range. Reid very easily could've tried to burn clock with his running game. Instead, he kept his foot on the gas. On the Chiefs' ensuing series, they threw the ball four times for 72 yards and a touchdown that put them back in front by 17 points. It's a mindset that Reid needs to carry over into the conference championship round. He needs to put the ball in Mahomes' hands as much as possible, because he gives the Chiefs the best chance to salt away the game -- not because he'll burn clock, but because he'll keep adding onto the Chiefs' lead with more points.
Now, the bad. In the early going, after the Texans took a 14-0 lead before the Chiefs could blink, Mahomes drove the offense down to the Texans' 45. After Demarcus Robinson dropped what would've been an easy third-down conversion, Reid opted to punt from on fourth-and-5 from the 45, even though he was trailing 14-0, even though he has Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. Sure enough, after the Chiefs punted, it took the Texans' only four plays to reach the 45-yard line.
Much later in the game, after the Chiefs had taken 48-31 lead in the fourth quarter, Reid settled for a field goal on fourth-and-2 from the Texans' six-yard line to turn a three-score game into a three-score game when he needed only two yards to pick up a first down or six yards to score a touchdown that would've turned a three-score game into a 24-point game (still, technically, a three-score lead, but the kind of three-score lead that requires the other team to convert three two-point conversions along the way). Kicking a field goal in that situation barely improved the Chiefs' chances of winning the game.
Mahomes wanted to go for it, but Reid called him off the field
In the context of the game alone, the decision hardly mattered. The Chiefs were in control. They weren't going to lose regardless of Reid's decision. But in a closer game, it's decisions like that that could lead to the Chiefs' downfall.
It already happened the last time the Chiefs faced the Titans. Which brings us to our second category.
Be more efficient in the red zone
The red zone was problematic for the Chiefs' offense in the regular season when they finished 20th in red-zone scoring percentage (touchdowns only) at 54 percent. That's not entirely on Reid, but his tendency to get conservative hurts his team in this area of the field. Too often, he settles for short field goals instead of letting his offense have an extra chance at breaching the goal line.
Take the Chiefs' Week 10 loss to the Titans. In that game, which the Titans miraculously won by three, the Chiefs kicked field goals on:
- Fourth-and-2 from the 12
- Fourth-and-3 from the 23
- Fourth-and-2 from the 25
Technically, only one of those field goals came inside the red zone, but the larger point stands: The Chiefs need to finish their drives in the end zone and to do that, Reid needs to stay aggressive by giving his quarterback the maximize number of chances to reach the end zone.
Here's where it's worth noting that against the Texans, the Chiefs scored touchdowns on seven of their eight red zone trips. The one time they didn't? Reid kicked a field goal on fourth-and-2 from the 6-yard line, as previously mentioned.
Let Mahomes be Mahomes
We're not going to devote much time to this section, because everybody on the planet already knows how special Mahomes is. I don't need to rattle off his numbers or provide evidence with film clips. He's the best quarterback in football and I'm not sure it's particularly close, even though it's Lamar Jackson who will almost certainly take home MVP honors. Mahomes' dominance is undeniable.
That's why it's imperative that Reid allows Mahomes to cook instead of relying on a running game that is far less efficient. The Chiefs had the second-best passing offense by DVOA in the regular season. Their running offense was 14th. Not to mention the undeniable fact that throwing the ball is always going to be a more efficient mode of transportation than running the ball.
The Chiefs have the most unstoppable weapon in football. For the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl, it's likely as simple letting Mahomes do what he almost always does. The Chiefs don't need to overcomplicate this. Let Mahomes be Mahomes and more often than not, the Chiefs will win, evidenced by their 26-8 record with Mahomes as their starting quarterback (including the playoffs). That's good enough for a winning percentage of 76.5. For the sake of comparison, the Patriots have a 76.8 winning percentage with Tom Brady at quarterback (again, including the postseason).
Cut the uncharacteristic mistakes
The Chiefs only fell into a 24-0 hole against the Texans because they made uncharacteristic mistakes in all three phases of the game.
On defense, they blew a coverage to gift the Texans a 54-yard touchdown at the onset of the game. It was uncharacteristic of a Chiefs pass defense that ranked sixth against the pass by DVOA and seventh in terms of limiting explosive passing plays, according to Sharp Football Stats.
The Chiefs finished the regular season with the league's second-best special teams by DVOA. But in the first quarter, the Chiefs allowed a blocked punt for a touchdown and muffed a punt at the 6-yard line, which turned into another Texans touchdown.
On the Chiefs' first three drives alone, their pass catchers dropped five passes. Travis Kelce dropped what would've been a third-down conversion. Robinson dropped what would've been another third-down conversion. Damien Williams dropped a pass coming out of the backfield (this was actually beneficial to the Chiefs because Williams likely would've lost yards on the play). Robinson dropped a slant that likely would've picked up a first down. On yet another third down, Tyreek Hill dropped a big play downfield when Texans safety Justin Reid jarred the ball loose (this drop can actually be credited to Reid for making a great play on the ball). Still, at that point in the game, it felt like the only thing that could stop the Chiefs' offense was the Chiefs' offense.
As Reid said after the game, all those mistakes were very unlike his team.
Those miscues didn't come back to bite the Chiefs against the Texans, but they can't make those mistakes against the Titans and 49ers/Packers and expect Mahomes to rescue them again
Stop the run
The Chiefs can't put themselves in a huge hole against the Titans because they'll likely get buried. The Titans, as we all know, can run the heck out of the football with Derrick Henry. And the Chiefs' defense is more susceptible against the run (29th by DVOA) than the pass (sixth by DVOA), even though they did improve in that area as the season wore on. The last time they saw each other, Henry rumbled for 188 yards and two touchdowns, averaging an incredible 8.2 yards per carry. Since that performance, .
Derrick Henry's last eight games:— Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) January 13, 2020
1,273 rushing yards
Henry has set a new all-time record for most rushing yards in any 8-game stretch in NFL history.
If the Chiefs survive against Henry and the Titans, they'll face either Aaron Jones and the Packers or the 49ers and their creative running scheme orchestrated by Kyle Shanahan. The Packers have the league's fourth-best running offense by DVOA. The 49ers' running game ranks 13th, but they're eighth in yards per carry (4.6) and second only to the Ravens in rushing yards (2,305), which is more about volume than efficiency.
The easiest way for the Chiefs to take away the opposing ground games? Get a lead and force those teams to throw the ball as they try to keep up with Mahomes.
They need Chris Jones to get healthy
Getting Chris Jones back would also help take away opposing ground games. The star defensive lineman missed the Chiefs' win over the Texans with a calf injury. He also
Jones isn't just a force against the run. He's also a dominant pass rusher. One year after he generated 15.5 sacks, he led the Chiefs in sacks in the regular season with nine despite featuring in only 13 games. He's arguably their best defensive player.
Getting Jones healthy is paramount to their chances of lifting the Lombardi Trophy next month. It's also the only thing on this list that is out of their control. They'll be forced to leave it up to fate.