By Max Lowson, Sports Radio 810 contributor
The Chiefs will enter the 2021 season as odds-on favorites to win Super Bowl LVI. Their current roster is perhaps the best version of these Chiefs that we have seen in the Patrick Mahomes era. With a revamped offensive line, an improved defensive front-7 and talent at every skill position, Kansas City is ready to reclaim the NFL throne.
Chiefs Kingdom can expect a tremendously successful regular season record, as well as brilliant individual statistical seasons from the superstars: Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahomes, all who consistently deliver at a First-Team All-Pro level.
In this article, I will be predicting the leader in every major statistical category for this upcoming season. I will also be predicting the Chiefs regular season record and their level of success in the postseason.
Mahomes 2021 Performance
While the Chiefs are talented across the board, they would not be a top team in the NFL without the presence of Mahomes; the team goes as Mahomes does. At just 25 years old and three seasons as a starting quarterback, Mahomes is already the consensus best QB in the game and thereby the most valuable commodity in all of football.
Over his first three seasons as a starting QB, Mahomes has passed for an average total of 4,623 yards while starting an average of 15 games. Assuming health, I believe Mahomes will pass for approximately 5,050 yards in 2021, falling just short of his 2018 MVP season total of 5,097. Mahomes passed for 4,740 yards in 15 games last season, however the additional 17th game to the regular season across the NFL will allow Patrick to eclipse the 5,000 mark this year.
In his 2018 season, Mahomes passed for 50 touchdowns, tying Brady for the second greatest single-season mark in NFL history. He has fallen short of the 40-touchdown mark the previous two seasons, however I project him to throw 44 touchdowns this season, an average of 2.53 per game. I estimate Mahomes will throw five interceptions on the season, tying his career low 2019 mark and giving him a TD/INT ratio of 8.8. I believe these numbers, and his overall impact on winning, will win Mahomes his 2nd league MVP award in 2021.
Receiving Touchdown Leader
I anticipate Hill to edge out Kelce for the most receiving yards and touchdowns in the 2021 season. After a career high 15 receiving touchdowns last season, I anticipate a 13 TD, 1,300 yard receiving year for Hill. I believe Tyreek’s 13 TDs would be the most scored for any position on the team, and his 1,300 yards would lead the team in total yards. While Hill is currently in the heart of his physical prime, I anticipate a slight decrease in touchdowns with an emerging Mecole Hardman as a #2 wide receiver options. An overall production of 13 TD and 1,300 yards is still certainly an elite season for an all-world wide-out, worthy of a First-Team All-Pro selection.
Hill averaged nine targets per game in the 2020 season. Expect this number to be closer to eight attempts per game, with Hardman’s targets increasing from 3.8 to near five per game. Mecole’s targets jumped by 50% from his first to his second season, and another increase in usage can be expected entering his third year. While Tyreek will surely be the #1 receiver option, Hardman will be open more often with so much defensive attention being given to Kelce and Hill.
Rushing Touchdown Leader
Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon will each score 4 touchdowns to lead the Chiefs in rushing scores for the 2021 season. I predict Edwards-Helaire will rush for four touchdowns and also contribute with two receiving scores, while McKinnon will total one receiving TD. I expect Edwards-Helaire, McKinnon and Williams to all receive a healthy balance of Mahomes’s handoffs. Edwards-Helaire and McKinnon will be used more on early down runs. Williams has earned the trust of the Chiefs coaching staff in high-leverage moments, consistently converting on late down, short-yardage situations. I therefore believe the bulk of his work will be concentrated on situations like these.
Edwards-Helaire will likely be used more often in the pass game, given his outspoken commitment to improving in that area during this off-season and Andy Reid’s intention to more frequently utilize that dimension of his game. Last season, Edwards-Helaire totaled 1,100 yards from scrimmage; 803 of which were rushing yards, and 297 receiving yards. I believe Edwards-Helaire’s passing totals will near 400 this season, while his rushing yards will be in the 700-800 range. McKinnon will total around 450 rushing yards on the season, making Edwards-Helaire the leading rusher for Kansas City in the 2021 season.
While this may come as a surprise to many, I anticipate L’Jarius Sneed to lead the Chiefs in interceptions this season with six. Although the 2020 First-Team All-Pro Tyrann Mathieu would be the safer pick, I project a major jump for Sneed in his second season.
I truly believe that Sneed has the potential to be a world class corner in the NFL, and he will demonstrate that to the masses this year. In his first season, Sneed has shown us that he is already adept in many aspects of the game. He is most comfortable in press man coverage, as he is aggressive at the line of scrimmage and has a natural feel and anticipation for plays. He is also very decisive, has a quick reaction time, has good ball skills and is capable of returning INTs given his speed. He is flexible positionally and has taken snaps last season at both corner and safety.
As for this season, I believe the veteran presence of Tyrann Mathieu continuing to mentor Sneed in the secondary will improve Sneed’s overall discipline and football IQ. I expect him to improve on the few blemishes to his game last season — primarily his lack of discipline in committing penalties and opening up his hip too early in coverage — and continue to excel in the strong areas of his game that he showed us in his rookie campaign.
In 2020, Sneed made 41 combined tackles (31 solo, 10 assisted), had three interceptions and made two sacks. I expect around 50 combined tackles, six interceptions and two-to-three sacks for Sneed this upcoming season. At 24 years old, Sneed has all the tools necessary to be a great NFL corner and a difference-maker on the defensive side of the ball. If Charvarius Ward and Thornhill can continue to improve in their young careers, the Chiefs will have a strong secondary going forward.
Between Frank Clark, Chris Jones and Jarren Reed, the Chiefs have three offensive linemen capable of getting to the quarterback on any given play. The two-time Pro-Bowler Chris Jones led Kansas City in sacks last season with 7.5; Frank Clark fell just behind Jones at six total sacks. For this upcoming season, I believe Jones will once again lead the Chiefs in total sacks at 8.5. It will take some time for Jarran Reed to get acclimated to KC’s system, given that he has played his entire career in Seattle. I do believe that Reed will excel in the latter half of the season at getting to the quarterback, and he will finish 2nd on the team in sacks with seven.
How Far Will They Go?
The Chiefs will play nine home games and eight road games in 2021. They will play the entire AFC North and NFC East, twice against each team in their division and games against Buffalo, Tennessee and Green Bay. They open the season on September 12th at home against Cleveland. I predict a Week One upset and a loss for the Chiefs in their season opener; however, I believe they will go 15-1 from that point on and finish the season with an NFL-leading 15-2. The only other game I believe they will drop is Week Five against Buffalo. This would mean they end their season with 12 straight victories and carry tremendous momentum into the playoffs.
The Chiefs will play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LVI for an epic Mahomes vs. Brady rematch. In February’s Super Bowl, the Chiefs offensive line was depleted due to missing two All-Pro tackles including former #1 overall pick Eric Fisher. Unlike last season, however, the Chiefs have revamped their offensive line with fresh personnel to help counter the league’s best Tampa Bay pass rush. I expect a close game between Kansas City and Tampa Bay, but a Chiefs victory to bring them their second title in three years. All of these projections are, of course, injury permitting; but if they can keep their nucleus healthy, this team is more than capable of a 15-2 season mark and a world championship.