How good can the 2023 Chiefs be? And what could a busted season look like?
In a few months, the Kansas City Chiefs will be in full swing defending theirs Super Bowl title. They are aiming to be the first back-to-back Super Bowl champions since New England Patriots won at the end of the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
The track record of teams after their championship season is not bad. The Chiefs went back to the Super Bowl in their last title defense; many champions make the playoffs at least the following season.
So what are the best and worst case scenarios for the Chiefs’ 2023 season? Are they capable of winning a second straight Super Bowl? Is there a reality where the AFC pushes the Chiefs out of the postseason? I envisioned the ceiling and floor for the coming season.
Best case scenario: Super Bowl LVIII Champions
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Shocking, I know. The best version of the Chiefs’ 2023 season would end with them hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at midfield of Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada, next February.
However, it would not end a perfect season.
Even if the Chiefs were to add to their firepower and sign free-agent wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, the AFC has too many good teams for Kansas City to roll through unscathed. Keep as Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengalsand Los Angeles Chargers everyone gets another chance to take down the king – as rising contenders like Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jetsand Miami Dolphins want their best for that week. A vengeful kingdom Philadelphia Eagles teams are also waiting from the NFC.
But we know this team doesn’t need to win every important game in the regular season to prove they’ll be ready for the playoffs. Even in the losses they take, it is the balance of the team that will impress. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes will once again torch NFL defenses, but he’ll do it using as many different pass catchers as he ever has. Tight end Travis Kelce still is capable of the 110 catches, 1,338 yards and 12 touchdowns that made him a first-team All-Pro in 2022 — but in 2023 he won’t reach those numbers, and that’s a good thing.
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That gives way to the emergence of wide receiver Skyy Moore as an all-around receiver who displays reliable hands, efficient routes and releases and an ability to maximize yards after the catch. His versatility allows other pieces to fall into place: wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who primarily works downfield, and Kadarius Toney making plays underneath.
It would also be Kelce’s companion at tight end, contributing to his lighter box score. Noah Gray has made strides over his two seasons, leading the coaches and Mahomes to trust him to do more of what Kelce does for the unit.
On defense, the unit’s best-case scenario centers around another dominant Defensive Player of the Year season from defensive tackle Chris Jones. It’s possible that defensive line coach Joe Cullen unlocked the elite all-around level of play from Jones last season and we can expect that to happen again at age 29.
On top of that, I think the defense needs remarkably impressive seasons from two people to best reach their ceiling: defensive end George Karlaftis and safety Justin Reid. Both project to lead their position space in snaps, and those positions could be the two important positions for a defense coached by Steve Spagnuolo.
Worst case scenario: Wild Card playoff spot
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Now let’s get pessimistic. The floor of the Chiefs season still involves the postseason, but it may not include winning the AFC West.
The Chargers have been a talented enough team to go toe-to-toe with the Chiefs over the past two years. The lost to Kansas City by a combined six points over the two games in 2022 and actually raised the Chiefs in 2021 at Arrowhead Stadium. Quarterback Justin Herbert will be another year developed, and the injury bug could always be on their side for once this year.
However, the Chargers can only win the division if the Chiefs slip up. In 2023, it could look like the offense does not progressing as we project it to. The running game and the threat of it became important to Kansas City’s offense last year, but the departures of left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and right tackle Andrew Wylie could affect that continuation. Right tackle Jawaan Taylor gets praise for his footwork in pass protection, but not as much as run blocking.
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That could allow the defense to lean back in coverage more — just as the unit has seen so much of the last two years. Mahomes has had wide receivers Tyreek Hill and JuJu Smith-Schuster to lean on outside of Kelce, but that option isn’t as clear in 2023. If Mahomes’ relationship with receivers like Valdes-Scantling and Moore doesn’t improve this year, it can lead to a stagnant offense.
It’s a similar theme for the defense, where the unit is made up of so many second-year players who look like a breakout candidate. In reality, any rookie who impressed us last season is unlikely to take a positive step in their sophomore campaign. There could be some severe growing pains, especially at the cornerback position.
Up front defensively, the floor is much lower than the ceiling is high on the range of results. The team relies primarily on first-round picks from this year and last year to be their most feared rushers off the edge. They then bet on the coaches developing free agent target Charles Omenihu into more than a situational inside rusher.
Assume rookie Felix Anudike-Uzomah looks like a rookie and Omenihu struggles to expand his game. If so, it puts pressure on Karlaftis to be a dynamic difference maker — even though he might be more of a solid, opportunistic rusher.