Chiefs have changed since 2014 drubbing of Patriots


Chiefs have changed since 2014 drubbing of Patriots

There will be comparisons. Oh, there will be comparisons. And video montages. And headlines resurrected.

But is this year's Chiefs team, the one that will arrive at Gillette Stadium for a Divisional Round matchup on Jan. 16, similar to the one that beat up on the Patriots in Week 4 of last season?

It was a defining loss for last year's Super Bowl champions. For some of the players, it was the most embarrassing loss of their professional careers, their warts exposed on Monday Night Football in front of a national audience. 

Much has changed since that 41-14 drubbing, though. The Patriots settled on an offensive line that worked well together and went on to win 10 of their next 11, earning the top seed in the AFC and setting them up for their postseason run. The Chiefs finished 9-7 and out of the playoff picture. 

This season, the Chiefs and Patriots are two teams that wrapped things up headed in opposite directions. Kansas City won its last 10 regular-season games, while New England lost four of their final six.

After the Bengals fell to the Steelers on Saturday night, the both sides know there is a rematch of sorts in the works for next Saturday. Let the comparisons begin, but this Chiefs team, in many ways, looks different than the one that the Patriots saw 16 months ago. 

Kansas City is still rolling with Alex Smith at quarterback with a system overseen by head coach Andy Reid, but the team's skill positions have undergone significant turnover. Receiver Dwayne Bowe is out after an abysmal 2014 campaign, and he was replaced in free agency by No. 1 wideout Jeremy Maclin. Though Maclin proved to be a tough cover and a dependable outside-the-numbers threat with Smith delivering the football, he suffered a knee injury on Saturday that could thrust rookie wideout Chris Conley into a more significant role. Tight end Travis Kelce, who caught eight passes for 128 yards in Kansas City's Wild Card win on Saturday, would be the Chiefs top option in the passing game if Maclin is limited or out. He caught eight passes for 93 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots in their meeting last season while matched up primarily with New England safeties. At running back, Jamaal Charles suffered a torn ACL during the regular season that pressed Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware into the spotlight. West (3.9 yards per carry) has been the more frequently-used back in Charles' absence, but it's Ware (5.3 yards per carry) who has been the more efficient runner. Neither has the playmaking ability possessed by Charles, but both hold onto the football. They've combined to fumble just once in 256 total carries this season. Scheme-wise, the Chiefs are still a grind-it-out offense that doesn't rely on deep shots to pick up chunks of yardage at a time, but the receivers and backs they'll chip away with are a different-looking group than the one that gashed Matt Patricia's defense a year ago.

The Chiefs were one of the toughest teams to score on last season, and while some of their personnel has changed, they remain very stingy. Last year they finished second in the league in terms of points allowed per game (17.6), and this year they are third in that category (17.9). In the secondary is where things have changed the most as compared to last year's Week 4 win over the Patriots. Kansas City's first-round pick Marcus Peters has been one of the most productive corners in the NFL this season with nine interceptions and 17 passes defensed. When targeted, he has allowed a quarterback rating of 67.7, according to Pro Football Focus. That's the eighth-best mark in the league among corners who have played at least 50 percent of their team's snaps, placing him ahead of players like Seattle's Richard Sherman and Denver's Aqib Talib. Safety Eric Berry missed last year's meeting with the Patriots due to an injured ankle, and he was treated for Hodgkin lymphoma beginning late last season, but he quickly re-established himself as one of the best in the league at his position this year. He played in 1,052 snaps this season and has been named a First-Team All-Pro. Pass-rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston dominated a shoddy Patriots offensive line at different points in their meeting last year -- Hali's third-quarter strip-sack of Tom Brady helped put the game away -- but both have been hampered by injuries of late. Hali is dealing with injuries to his thumb and knee that limited him to 15 snaps in Saturday's Wild Card game. Houston suffered a knee injury on Nov. 29 and returned to action on Saturday, playing in 44 of a possible 64 snaps and registering a quarterback hit and two quarterback hurries. The Chiefs are stout on the interior with big bodies Dontari Poe and Jaye Howard serving as disruptive forces. Howard has become much more of a factor as a pass-rusher this season with six sacks and 29 hurries after recording two sacks and 11 hurries last season. 

Cam Newton, Julian Edelman joke about Patriots' playbook on Instagram

Cam Newton, Julian Edelman joke about Patriots' playbook on Instagram

Before Cam Newton suits up for the New England Patriots, he has some homework to do. And he's already opened his textbook.

The veteran quarterback, who reportedly signed a one-year contract with New England in late June, shared a photo Tuesday via Instagram of himself with a cup of coffee and what appears to be the Patriots' playbook.

"This s--- calculus!!" Newton joked.

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The Patriots have a notoriously complex playbook, and it appears Newton is finding that out after nine seasons in Carolina.

Our Tom E. Curran reported there's "no concern" in New England that Newton won't master his new offense, though, and the 31-year-old QB already digging into his playbook helps explain that confidence.

Newton also tagged Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, the team's longest-tenured offensive player (not counting special teamer Matthew Slater). Edelman responded on Instagram with his own acknowledgment that figuring out New England's playbook is like decoding a tricky math problem.

If Newton can return to full health after undergoing offseason foot surgery and pick up the offense quickly, that should add up to a successful season for the three-time Pro Bowler and 2015 NFL MVP.

Patrick Mahomes contract will be an albatross for dynasty-chasing Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes contract will be an albatross for dynasty-chasing Chiefs

“We’re chasing a dynasty.”

That’s how Patrick Mahomes closed his ode of gratitude after signing the richest contract in pro sports history.

Of course you are, Patrick. You and everyone else.

But are you chasing “a” dynasty? Do you just want to be mentioned along with the Packers, Steelers, Niners, Cowboys and Patriots, the only dynasties of the Super Bowl era?

Or are you using chasing as in following? As in the dynasty that came immediately before you? Specifically, New England. The only dynasty of the salary cap era.

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Because if you’re chasing the Patriots, modeling yourself after the Patriots, thinking you and the Chiefs might be the Patriots and go to four Super Bowls in one decade and five in the next, you and your team just made a fundamental mistake. You went “pig at the trough.”

That phrase is one I heard from key folks in the Patriots organization several times in the early 2000s. Tom Brady? Not a pig at the trough when it came to contract time. Peyton Manning? Pig at the trough.

What difference does it make?

Without a piggish quarterback, you can still go 11-5 because there’s talent all over the roster. The Patriots did that in 2008. But when you have to feed and feed and feed that position? The roster gets so thin elsewhere that – without the quarterback – a team might go, say, 2-14 after nine straight seasons of double-digit wins as the Colts did in 2011 without Manning.

This isn’t to say that the Chiefs did the wrong thing in signing Mahomes. Business-wise, they win. And Mahomes wins as well. But lack of funds because of fat cap hits will inevitably make the on-field product suffer and make the chase for a dynasty that much harder.

You can’t blame the Hunt family.

Mahomes is the most important and impactful player in the NFL.

What he authored in the 2019 playoffs is unprecedented - erasing a 24-0 deficit and winning 51-31 in the Divisional Playoffs, going on a 35-7 run in the AFCCG to erase a 10-point deficit then score 21 unanswered in the fourth to erase another 10-point deficit in the Super Bowl. All that coming after the AFCCG nut punch from the Patriots at Kansas City when Mahomes did all he could in the second half to resuscitate KC but came up short because the Chiefs defense sucked.

Having Mahomes sewn up for a dozen years makes their already-skyrocketing asset that much more valuable.  

Consider this: According to Forbes, the Chiefs were the 28th most valuable franchise in the NFL with a total value of $986 million in 2011. By 2018, they were 24th in the league worth $2.1 billion and last September they were still 24th worth $2.3 billion. That will likely rise to nearly $3 billion when Forbes' new list comes out given the Super Bowl win and the presence of Mahomes, which will bring in way more revenue over the next 12 years than the $503 million they pay him.

The Chiefs made the deal as easy-to-swallow as they could in the first two years. Plus, the so-called “guarantee mechanisms” give the Chiefs an escape hatch they can use basically every year.

As for Mahomes, what’s he going to do, turn down a half-billion? Take the money and run, especially since the NFL could be approaching a bit of a recession.

The cap is going down in 2021 because local revenues are going to suffer with the pandemic. The changing media landscape, the financial fallout networks may experience because of COVID-19 and the fact this season may not deliver the same product the networks signed up for all may serve to diminish the next TV deal. The wrangling over how to deal with the drops has just begun.

So the deal is good for the Hunts and it's good for Mahomes.

But the cap hits begin getting big in 2022 ($31.5 million) and they are around $40 million for the next five seasons after that before ballooning to $60 million. If the NFL spreads out the revenue loss and cap decline it’s going to realize this season over a three-year period to soften the blow, the cap is not going to rise at the anticipated level.

And that’s not that good for the football team. Right now, defensive end Chris Jones is playing on a $16 million franchise tag and is pissed about it. Travis Kelce will make about $9 million the next two years as the best tight end in football. The Chiefs have six players this year with cap hits over $15 million. They can do that because Mahomes is a bargain with a $5.3 million cap hit.

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“If the Kansas City Chiefs can keep all the players together, we’re going to be a dynasty,” Chiefs receiver Sammy Watkins said on Tuesday. Yeah, well, about that.

It’s virtually impossible to keep all the players together when A) one guy is making a huge percentage of the cap and B) your team starts getting pilfered because it plays well every year.

There will be pooh-poohing about Mahomes’ cap percentage and insistence on TV and gambling money rolling into the coffers. Again, post-pandemic, I don’t see the cap rebounding that quickly.

And if the cap gets to $225 million by the time Mahomes starts seeing his $40 million hits beginning in 2023? That’s 17.7 percent of the cap.

Tom Brady’s highest cap percentage in the past decade was 12.2 percent in 2018. His average cap hit since 2011 was 9.8 percent.

Brady’s willingness to take less for so long enabled the Patriots to pay Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, Stephon Gilmore, Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Donta’ Hightower really well (ever notice how many of the fat deals are on defense for Bill Belichick?). And it also allowed them to make sure the so-called middle class was squared away too.

By the end of it, when Belichick blanched at every Brady request to give him a bump, it was obvious the head coach was dying to be unburdened of a big-ticket quarterback.

We’ve gone over this at length already this offseason. And the benefit of Brady allowing himself to be lowballed was annually highlighted at Super Bowl time by national media.

People (Mike Felger) want to pretend the cap isn’t real. It is. You can ignore it. You can delay it. But eventually bills come due as they have for the Patriots this year.

New England’s stay in cap hell should be short. Meanwhile, a team like the Ravens who will now have Lamar Jackson using the Mahomes contract as a comp? Hell is on the horizon. Same for the Cowboys and Dak Prescott. Teams like the Rams, Raiders, and Eagles are already in hell now or approaching it next year having paid maybe really good but maybe not first-round picks like Jared Goff, Derek Carr and Carson Wentz huge amounts.

Mahomes is a unicorn. We can all agree on that. But his contract is going to be an albatross.