2020 NFL Team Previews: Kansas City Chiefs
2020 NFL Team Previews
By Professor MJ
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have been an exemplary franchise. They now boast seven straight winning seasons in a row, compiling an extraordinary 77-35 record (a 68.8% win percentage). This long-standing winning tradition culminated with a Super Bowl ring last year.
Kansas City underwent a little slump close to midseason by winning two of six games, while also having to deal with an injury to their star QB Patrick Mahomes. However, they closed out the year with six consecutive regular season victories, on top of the three postseason wins.
2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown
2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)
Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes has now thrown 76 TD passes versus just 17 interceptions in the past two seasons. He can also do damage with his legs when necessary and has shown extremely good accuracy when improvising. He’s a baller.
Chad Henne won the backup job over Matt Moore. Hopefully, the Chiefs won’t need Henne under center. The 35-year old signal caller has attempted five passes in the last five years! Throughout his career, he has thrown 58 TD passes compared to 63 picks. You don’t want him to be your starter.
2.2 Running Backs (RBs)
The Chiefs finished 23rd in rushing yards per game last year. They went with a committee approach with Damien Williams, LeSean McCoy, Darrel Williams and Darwin Thompson sharing time in the backfield.
McCoy won’t be back with the team after being a healthy scratch during the Super Bowl run. His 4.6 yards-per-carry average was best among the four guys in the team, but fumbles became an issue for him.
Damien Williams led the team in rushing attempts, and that’s the most likely scenario for 2020 as well. The former journeyman may not be a lead back, though. I’m not sure he can be counted on for the long-term.
Just like Damien, Darryl Williams was undrafted. He averaged 3.4 yards per carry in 2019 and he’s unlikely to explode.
Darwin Thompson was picked in the 6th round of the 2019 draft. He was productive at Utah State, but he got few touches last year.
The main candidate to potentially take Damien Williams’ job is first-round rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He basically started just one year at LSU, gaining 1,414 yards on the ground along with 16 touchdowns. He is extremely good catching passes out of the backfield; he caught 55 balls at LSU last year.
CEH has a low center of gravity and he has great balance. One of his main weaknesses pertains to pass protection.
2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)
K.C.’s top four wideouts are all returning in 2020.
Tyreek Hill’s number of receptions, receiving yards and TDs had increased in each of his first three seasons in the NFL, but they all took a dip in 2019. Granted, his season was plagued with injuries (clavicle and hamstring).
He may be the fastest player in the NFL and sometimes looks like a video game player. At 26 years old and after avoiding off-the-field issues, he seems prime for a great year in 2020.
Sammy Watkins has been injured fairly often in his career thus far. 2019 was the fifth straight year he couldn’t play all 16 games. He is still a talented receiver, even though he never lived up to his #4 overall pick status. He admitted in February being mentally, physically and spiritually drained. He hinted during Super Bowl year he might take the year off in 2020. After restructuring his contract, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen but it’s good to know if you are involved in fantasy football.
There was a lot of hype about second-round rookie Mecole Hardman during training camp last year. He had a decent year with a 26-538-6 stat line. He didn’t catch many balls because of the crowded receiving corps, but averaging 20.7 yards per catch was impressive!
Demarcus Robinson was headed to free agency, but was finally inked to a one-year deal with the Chiefs. He had career-highs in receptions (32), receiving yards (449) and TD receptions (4). He’s not a game breaker, but you could do worse as a #4 WR!
2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)
97 receptions as a tight end is quite a feat! And that was after catching 103 the year before. Travis Kelce has been extremely consistent and durable (he hasn’t missed a game because of an injury in six consecutive seasons!).
He will turn 31 years old during the Fall. He clearly hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, but this information is worth keeping in mind.
Backup TE Blake Bell was mainly used as a blocker in 2019. He left for Dallas. That opens the door for Deon Yelder, who is a totally unproven guy.
2.5 Offensive Line (OL)
This unit allowed the third-fewest sacks in the league last year. Most of the starters will be back in 2020.
When Mitch Morse left for Buffalo, Austin Reiter took over as the starting center last year. He started all 16 games and did a decent job, albeit not great (especially in run blocking where he struggled a bit).
The Chiefs have a pair of top tackles with Michell Schwartz and Eric Fisher. They graded as the 2nd and 31st-best tackles out 81 players last year. Both are around 30 years of age, so the team must start thinking about future replacements.
At right guard, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif has been with the team for five years. As a French Canadian, I am obviously rooting for him but I have to admit his grade have taken a hit in two straight years. After receiving marks around 70.0 in each of his first three years, he was tagged with a 63.3 grade in 2018 and 59.7 in 2019. He has also had to deal with injuries of late.
Cam Erving is gone after making eight spot starts when Eric Fisher went down. So is Stefen Wisniewski who is more of a backup.
The favorites to start at left guard are either Andrew Wylie (who started 11 games last year) or newly acquired Mike Remmers (an average offensive lineman).
2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE
The Chiefs have 10-of-11 starters returning, which is great news for a team that has scored the fifth-highest number of points in 2019. It’s an even more scary thought when you add the fact that continuity plays an even bigger role in this 2020 season where training camps may be shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The offseason moves weren’t significant. The team added Mike Remmers on the OL, while losing LeSean McCoy, Blake Bell, Cam Erving and Stefen Wisniewski.
It’s hard to predict an upgrade to a team that finished at the #5 spot a year ago. The room for improvement is smaller.
I’ve decided to go with a “stable” call. Sure, the weapons are there and the continuity is there. However, I’m worried about most of the offensive linemen being close to 30 years old and I’m wary of the plausible scenario described below.
What if the running game cannot get going all season long? That would put more pressure on Mahomes who may end up turning the ball over more often. I don’t know any defensive coordinator who will stay up all night long to game plan against Darwin Thompson and the two Williams. Thankfully, the team drafted Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round, which diminishes the possibility of a sputtering running offense.
Final call (2020 vs 2019):
Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade
3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown
3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)
Chris Jones is one of the top interior defenders in the league. He has average more than 10 sacks a season over his past three years. And he’s only 26 years old.
The bad news is he was franchise tagged and he may sit out OTAs and training camp. It’s certainly a situation to keep track of because the team needs him.
The other two guys on the interior of the line receiving the most snaps were Derrick Nnadi and Khalen Saunders. Neither received good marks from PFF, as they finished #85 and #102 out of 114 players, respectively. Saunders has a better shot to become a long-term solution than Nnadi. Let’s see how he does in his second year as a pro.
3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)
Some people viewed Frank Clark’s first season as a Chief as a bit of a disappointment. However, he still posted 8 sacks, one interception and three forced fumbles. That was down from his previous three years where he racked up between 9 and 13 sacks, but it wasn’t bad either. He battled through numerous injuries.
Seven-year veteran Alex Okafor graded very poorly last year despite five sacks. He was awful against the run, as shown by his 39.6 grade by PFF. He missed six games because of injuries.
Emmanuel Ogbah showed some promise in his fourth year in the league with 5.5 sacks in 10 games. The former second-round pick left for Miami, though.
Tanoh Kpassagnon had a career-best four sacks last year. His overall game was still subpar, as PFF rated him as the 102nd-best edge defender out of 107 guys.
3.3 Linebackers (LBs)
K.C.’s two main linebackers are Damien Wilson and Anthony Hitchens. They played 63%-64% of the snaps. And both were fairly ineffective in 2019.
Wilson was a backup in Dallas for four seasons. The Chiefs took a chance on him, but let’s face the reality: he’ll never be a top linebacker in this league.
Hitchens was also a former fourth-round pick selected by the Cowboys. He also spent the first four years in Dallas. His PFF grades improved in each of those years, but they took a huge hit as soon as he joined the Chiefs in 2018. He received a 38.2 mark in 2018 and 44.3 last year. He is atrocious defending the run.
The team didn’t have much depth behind Wilson and Hitchens so they had to stick with them. Ben Niemann is an undrafted guy that is completely unproven. As for Reggie Ragland, the former first-round pick taken by the Bills has never been more than a backup. He signed with the Lions during the offseason, so K.C.’s depth got even worse at this position.
In order to attempt to address the position, the team took Willie Gay late in the 2nd round of this year’s draft. He plays with sideline-to-sideline speed, which the Chiefs lacked last year.
Gay remains a big question mark, though. He started just one year at Mississippi State and he missed eight of those games due to academic cheating and fighting with his quarterback. He seems like a hit-or-miss prospect.
3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)
Charvarius Ward has been a surprisingly effective corner. The undrafted prospect out of Middle Tennessee State started all games last year and finished as the number 49 CB out of 112 players. His performance in 2020 is a question mark.
Every time I watched Bashaud Breeland play, he seemed to struggle. He didn’t pass my eye test for sure. At least he can be remembered for making an interception in the Super Bowl.
PFF seems to agree with me. His 55.2 grade put him in the #88 spot out of 112 cornerbacks. It took a few weeks to get the deal done, but Breeland was re-signed for 4.5 million dollars.
To me, Kendall Fuller had a better chance of becoming a regular starter than Breeland. Except his rookie season, Fuller received very respectable marks during the last three years. The problem is he is gone to Washington, so this is another position where the team lacks skills.
3.5 Safeties (S)
Tyrann Mathieu has been productive everywhere he’s gone. His first year as a Chief was no exception. He accumulated 75 tackles, two sacks, four interceptions and 12 pass defended. He ranked 16th out of 87 safeties in the league, according to the PFF grading system. He still has some good football left at 28 years of age.
Juan Thornhill stepped in and had an immediate impact as a rookie. The former Virginia Cavalier needs to improve his skills as a run defender, but he was great in coverage. He obtained the #27 spot in PFF rankings.
Daniel Sorensen also got significant playing time last year. He was below-average, and if you look at his PFF marks he’s had just one year throughout his career with a grade higher than 61.
2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE
Despite the lack of playmakers on defense, it’s stunning to find out the Chiefs allowed the 7th fewest points in the league in 2019. However, they finished 17th in terms of yards allowed per game.
The Chiefs did not acquire any players worth of note and saw a few backups leave to other teams. In other words, pretty much all starters are returning in 2020, which is a good thing for continuity purposes.
Still, I would be willing to bet a huge amount of money that the Chiefs won’t finish as high as last year in points allowed. Almost all guys from this unit are below-average at their respective positions, except Chris Jones and safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill (and perhaps Frank Clark). The other starters are fairly bad.
My prediction is they will finish below the 15th spot in points allowed, probably in the 17th-22nd range.
Final call (2020 vs 2019):
Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade
4. Regular Season Wins
According to sportsbooks, the Kansas City Chiefs are expected to win 11.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?
I'll answer this question via two different methods.
4.1 Professor MJ's Prediction
I won't go into the mathematical details, but here is a summary of my own personal pick (based on my analysis above and my estimated spreads for the Chiefs' 16 games):
Tip: Bet OVER 11.5 wins (slightly)
4.2 Based on BetOnline's Point Spreads
Here is the methodology I used here:
- Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
- Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
- Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
- Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
- Count the proportion of seasons where the Chiefs won more or less than 11.5 games.
Here are the results:
Tip: Bet OVER 11.5 wins
In summary, both analyses recommend betting the OVER. Don't go crazy on this play, though. Winning at least 12 games is a difficult feat to accomplish, no matter how great your team is. At best, I'll make a small bet on this pick. There are much better bargains available on other NFL teams.
Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Chiefs’ 16 regular season games:
- HOME: -11 vs ATL, -14.5 vs CAR, -11.5 vs DEN, -9.5 vs HOU, -11 vs LAC, -12.5 vs LV, -8.5 vs NE, -13 vs NYJ.
- ROAD: +2 @ BAL, -3 @ BUF, -5.5 @ DEN, -7 @ LAC, -6 @ LV, -7.5 @ MIA, +1.5 @ NO, 0 @ TB.
Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.
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