Sooner than you realize, training camp will be upon us. That means predictions galore. But who does Vegas give the early edge to finish on top at Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles?
It’s still early, but right now many top online sportsbooks are favoring the reigning AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs at +475 (via PointsBet).
This should come as no surprise after the success Patrick Mahomes’ crew has had in recent years. Of course, in 2020, the Chiefs won their first Super Bowl since 1970.
After handling the Bills in the AFC Championship, KC looked poised to go back-to-back. However, Tom Brady’s Buccaneers had other plans, and the Chief’s repeat aspirations were crushed in a 31-9 shellacking.
The Super Bowl Hangover
The dreaded Super Bowl Hangover has derailed many-a-team. Not all units are built to deal with the grind of making a long postseason run and the adversity of coming up short in the big game. Plus, rosters and coaching staffs will often get pillaged by teams looking to replicate the runner-up’s success.
Since 2010, only the 2018 Patriots have returned to the big game the season after losing.
However, Vegas clearly believes this Chiefs team can be the exception to that rule.
So why are the Chiefs projected to win it all again in 2021?
Let’s start on Head Coach Andy Reid’s favorite side of the ball.
The Chiefs’ offense led the NFL in yards per game in the 2020 regular season, yet the big storyline coming out of Super Bowl LV was Patrick Mahomes running for his life the entire game. Shaq Barrett, JPP, and crew were in the backfield all night and made it impossible for the Chiefs’ usually unstoppable offense to get in any semblance of a rhythm.
Injuries to longtime starting tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz took their toll, and it was obvious that GM Brett Veach needed to get some protection to keep his MVP quarterback upright.
He did just that over the offseason. This year, you can expect an almost entirely new group on the O-Line. With the status of Fisher and Schwartz’s availability for the 2021 season up in the air, they were cut and a full-on rebuild of the line began.
Veach signed longtime Patriots’ guard Joe Thuney to a 5 year, $80 million deal, traded a 1st Round pick to Baltimore in exchange for tackle Orlando Brown Jr., and spent a 2nd Round pick on Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey. They even coaxed former Bear Kyle Long out of retirement to chase a ring.
The hope is that Patrick Mahomes will once again have time to operate and perform at the record-shattering pace he has become known for. In his first three seasons as QB1, Mahomes has won an MVP, 2 Conference Championships, and a Super Bowl. Not too shabby. Mahomes’ eye-catching stats and mind-blowing highlights blow up NFL Twitter just about every Sunday, and there’s no reason to think that he won’t be able to keep up his torrid pace this year with the retooled offensive line.
But a quarterback is only as good as his weapons, right? Good thing Mahomes has some of the best in the game. At tight end, perennial All-Pro and future Hall-of-Famer Travis Kelce is the best safety blanket a quarterback could hope for. Kelce will be 32 in October, so he may start to lose a step soon, but after setting career highs in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns in 2020, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt until we start to see some slippage.
Out wide, Kansas City has plenty of firepower too. Tyreek Hill is one of the best deep-ball threats in NFL history. With 15 touchdowns last year, the West Alabama product can strike fear into the heart of any defensive back. Hill’s supporting cast will undoubtedly miss the contributions of Sammy Watkins, who departed to Baltimore over the offseason. However, Demarcus Robinson is a solid supporting wide receiver and Mecole Hardman has shown so much potential in his first two seasons that he might just be in line for a breakout campaign.
In the backfield, second-year player Clyde Edwards-Helaire looks slated to begin the season as starter. Edwards-Helaire had a very solid rookie campaign. Unfortunately, late-season injuries cost him some valuable playoff time. In the postseason, Darrel Williams stepped up to fill the void. These two should be the featured players in Reid’s backfield this season.
As a team known for their offense, it’s not surprising that the other side of the ball doesn’t get as much focus, but Kansas City has some impact players on defense as well.
When talking about the Chief’s defense, you have to mention the Honey Badger first. Perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Tyrann Mathieu is a one-man wrecking crew at safety. He is one of the most dominant defensive players of his generation and can cover up a lot of a unit’s weaknesses.
The defensive line is anchored by tackle Chris Jones. Jones is one of the league’s premier defensive linemen and a two-time All-Pro. Supporting Jones is Pro Bowl edge rusher Frank Clark and tackle Jarran Reed. These three should spend plenty of time in the opposing backfield and make life difficult for opposing QBs.
The linebacker and cornerback positions are a bit dicier. Anthony Hitchens has been a solid middle linebacker over his career, but these are definitely weak spots on an otherwise stacked roster.
The Chiefs have avoided some of the major pitfalls of Super Bowl losers in previous years. The coaching staff remains relatively intact and the roster has arguably gotten even better.
At the end of the day, Patrick Mahomes is a generational talent at quarterback. As long as he has his elite weapons, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, and offensive guru Andy Reid steering the ship, Kansas City will have favorable odds to win it all just about every season.
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