Are the Chiefs no longer Super Bowl contenders?

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The Kansas City Chiefs have endured a difficult start to the 2021 season in their bid to return to the Super Bowl for the third season in a row. Andy Reid’s men were beaten by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV, suffering a humbling 31-9 defeat at Raymond James Stadium.

The pundits believed that the Chiefs would have little issue making another charge towards the playoffs and Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium. However, Kansas City dropped three out of their opening five games to leave them off the pace in the AFC Conference, including defeats to the Los Angeles Chargers and the Buffalo Bills, who hammered the Chiefs on home soil.

Patrick Mahomes and his electric offense have tormented the league since he became the starter in the 2018 campaign. However, four seasons into his run, Mahomes is now starting to show signs that he is fallible with the ball in his hands. The 26-year-old is not the problem in Kansas City and the majority of franchises in the NFL would snap their hands off to have him as their starting quarterback.

Mahomes and the Chiefs are now learning the difficulties in sustaining success in the NFL, highlighting the incredible 20-year run Bill Belichick and Tom Brady enjoyed in New England. Reid and his team are equally talented and are backed as one of the for the Super at +700, but the cracks are beginning to emerge that could derail a potential dynasty at Arrowhead Stadium.

Depth

When Mahomes replaced Alex Smith as the starter in 2018, the Chiefs were well entrenched as one of the top five offenses in the NFL, but the quarterback took their performances to new heights. He enhanced the skills of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, who were already outstanding players in their own right, but combined with Mahomes, they blossomed into perennial All-Pros. Behind them, Sammy Watkins and Chris Conley provided great depth, with Watkins offering a top-tier level of talent when healthy.

The Chiefs also boasted a solid complement of running backs and an excellent offensive line. They fell narrowly short in the 2018 campaign, losing to the Patriots in the AFC Championship, but after a minor retooling, the same roster returned in 2019 and stormed their way to the Super Bowl. The Chiefs specialized in their comebacks in the post-season and reeled off a sublime fourth-quarter effort to defeat the San Francisco 49ers.

Kansas City appeared to be on their way to back-to-back titles, but a weakness in their armor was exposed by the Buccaneers, who dominated their offensive line and Mahomes to hold the Chiefs to only nine points in the Super Bowl. It was a glaring weakness caused by injuries and form that the Bucs capitalized on to snatch away the crown.

The Chiefs attempted to address those issues in the off-season and paid a heavy price for Orlando Brown and Joe Thuney to shore up the line. In doing so they committed resources away from the receiving corps, which has come back to haunt them at the start of the term. Hill and Kelce have remained on form, but the wear on their bodies is beginning to take its toll. The options behind them have not stepped up consistently, which is placing them under too much pressure to be perfect.

Can Their Problems Be Rectified?

The offense is not the main problem in Kansas City. The defense is giving up a record amount of yards per play after five games of the campaign. Teams are always going to get yards against the Chiefs, but the defense did a solid job in the past of at least putting them under enough pressure to keep points off the board.

Turnovers and sacks were their best weapon to stop their rivals, but this has not been the case in the 2021 campaign. They’ve invested heavily in key players such as Chris Jones, Tyrann Mathieu, Frank Clark, Anthony Hitchens, and Jarran Reed. It has left a void of talent elsewhere on the defense, which is haunting Reid and the front office. Unless defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo can conjure magic once more, the Chiefs are heading towards a season of mediocrity.

The offense should hold up its end of the bargain even if they lack the depth required. Mahomes, Hill, and Kelce can singlehandedly drag the team into the post-season if necessary. However, at some point, they will need another player to come to the fore.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire was supposed to be a Pro Bowl caliber after being drafted in the first round of 2020, but he has been inconsistent and has made key mistakes. Mecole Hardman has struggled to fit into a slot role, while there are a dearth of options behind him, forcing a move for Josh Gordon, who has been in and out of the league over the last decade due to suspension.

The Chiefs should be able to push for a playoff place and may even win the AFC West for the six-straight season, but they appear far from a Super Bowl winner.