Patrick Mahomes could only watch and hope. He had already engineered what would go down as one of the most dramatic scoring drives in Kansas City Chiefs history, leading his offense on a five-play, 68-yard touchdown march in front of a raucous home crowd to take a 28-24 lead over the New England Patriots with 2:03 remaining in the fourth quarter in last January’s AFC Championship Game.
Now if only the defense could hold. Staring them down unflinchingly was Tom Brady, arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history. The Chiefs defense, which had been porous in allowing 6,488 yards by opposing offenses during the regular season, second most in the league, had been surprisingly stout against the Patriots in the second half, limiting them to only 10 points when Brady took the field trailing by four.
At that moment Mahomes sat helplessly as Brady surgically dissected the Chiefs in six plays, taking the Patriots 68 yards for a go ahead touchdown. After the Chiefs tied the game at 31 with eight seconds remaining, Brady would do it again in overtime, lifting the Pats to a 37-31 win in route to a 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl.
Redemption may be in Mahomes’s and the Chiefs future this season, as the franchise seeks its first Super Bowl title since 1970. As a second-year player, the 23-year-old son of former Mets pitcher, Pat Mahomes, threw for a remarkable 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns in piloting the turbo-charged Chiefs offense. While his and the Chiefs numbers—the Chiefs had an NFL best 6,810 total yards—may not be as gaudy, they should be just as unstoppable. It is their defense that will determine how far they go.
A complete overhaul of the defensive staff should decrease the level of stress experienced by head coach Andy Reid seeing his Super Bowl dreams fade with each snap of the ball to Brady late in the AFC chip. The unit will now be directed by Steve Spagnuolo, who was the defensive coordinator for the Giants when they defeated Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII in 2008.
Along with the Chiefs and Patriots, the Houston Texans, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns are teams that could emerge as the AFC champion.
The NFC has at least five teams that will begin the regular season, which starts tonight with the Chicago Bears hosting the Green Bay Packers, favorably eyeing a trip to Miami Gardens, Florida where Super Bowl LIV will be played in February. The Los Angeles Rams, Bears, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans are all viable choices. But it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks part of that mix late in the season.
The pick here for Super Bowl LIV is the Chiefs over the Bears.