Chiefs’ storm brewing for Super Bowl run, Kenny Pickett and more

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)
Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports) /

The confluence of Andy Reid’s late-season dominance, record against the AFC West, and Kansas City’s defense playing its best football might power a Super Bowl run.

There’s trouble brewing over the NFL playoff picture, but it’s a perfect storm for the resurgent Kansas City Chiefs.

After opening the season 3-4, the calendar turned to November and suddenly the Chiefs are playing their best football of the season. The defense is peaking at the right time. The offense is in stride.  And after dispatching the division rival and AFC West-leading Las Vegas Raiders with ease, 41-14, K.C. just might be the team to beat in the AFC.

A run like this would come as a surprise to most clubs in the league. It shouldn’t be for the back-to-back AFC defending champs.

Especially, because November is Andy Reid season.

Dating back to 2000 during Reid’s second season as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, history is on his side. He’s 55-31-1 in the month of November, including owning a 22-9 mark in the month since arriving in Arrowhead back in 2013.

“With Andy Reid, it isn’t about a dictatorship, but it’s very much about the machine is running,” former Chiefs defensive end Mike DeVito tells FanSided. “And the machine is running on full-speed. There’s nothing shaking the train. We’re moving, and we’re moving towards getting better.”

That machine has helped Reid and his teams produce 13 Novembers with one loss or fewer in his 22 seasons as a head coach.

“The thing about Andy Reid is, he’s always the same,” DeVito says. “Because of that, there are not these huge fluctuations within his teams emotionally, either … He holds fixed to what he knows. He knows how to win. He knows how to systematically put the plan in place so that you are going to win.

“In November, when a lot of other teams are starting to relax a little bit, we’re at the same pace, mindset, and focus as we were when we started training camp.”

Reid’s perennial November success isn’t the only trend working in Kansas City’s favor as the stretch run looms.

Patrick Mahomes is 17-3 all-time against the AFC West, including Sunday night’s victory. The Chiefs still have two games remaining against the wildly inconsistent Denver Broncos, a rematch with Justin Herbert’s Los Angeles Chargers with revenge at stake, and get to play host to the Raiders in Arrowhead on Dec. 12.

“You go back to OTAs, when you get in that last week of OTAs, we’re already scouting the AFC West,” DeVito says. “When you’re talking about Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid, and these brilliant football minds, when their focus is primarily on you … when you’re primary and everyone else is secondary, you do not want to be in those crosshairs.”

Despite their struggles, Kansas City is on a three-game winning streak and sitting atop of the AFC West, and currently the No. 4 seed in the AFC playoffs.

“If you look at the way Patrick Mahomes goes about his business,” DeVito explains. “You have this guy who has every reason to kick his feet up, relax, but he’s the kind of guy who goes in and acts like he’s an undrafted free agent. Those are your Hall of Famers. The guys who have all the talent in the world, the consistent Pro Bowlers and All-Pros but work like they’re trying to make the team, those are your Darrelle Revis’, your Tom Bradys, your Peyton Mannings, and that’s what Patrick Mahomes has.”

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that Mahomes is playing his best football. In two games this month,  he’s tossed seven touchdowns against one interception.

What is surprising is Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, which thanks to some key changes, is finding its teeth again.

Spagnuolo, who has coached in three Super Bowls and won two as a defensive coordinator, made adjustments that has made an impact on a defense that was facing a crisis situation just a month ago.

In the secondary, Spagnuolo gave underachieving cornerback Mike Hughes the hook, replacing him with Rashad Fenton, who has gone on to become Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 rated player at the position league-wide with an 87.6 overall grade to go with his 23 tackles and an interception.

Following an ill-advised experiment with Chris Jones at defensive end, the 27-year-old has found his footing and momentum back at home inside, producing three sacks, 33 pressures and an 83.4 pass-rush grade from Pro Football Focus.

Then there’s the young linebacking duo of Nick Bolton and Willie Gay. The former was named October’s Defensive Rookie of the Month, while Gay has been terrific after missing the first month with a toe injury.

The Chiefs, by virtue of Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, plus a litany of weapons on offense and a defense with playmakers at all three levels, were always going to be in the mix in the AFC. It also helps that the other contenders bought them time to figure out the kinks before the second half stretch.

Buffalo looks to be the favorite in the AFC, but how can that be true after losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers? Tennessee lost to the Jets short-term and lost Derrick Henry and Julio Jones for the long haul. Cincinnati collapsed and Baltimore is wildly inconsistent as well.

Kansas City is once again playing its best football at the most important juncture of the season. The Chiefs are hitting their stride during the perfect time of year.

Their time of the year.

“Andy Reid always stresses that you have to worry about whatever is next on the schedule,” DeVito says. “You can’t worry about the playoffs, or what’s happening in two weeks.

“If Breakfast is next, you’re going to eat breakfast better than your competition is going to eat breakfast. If the weight room is next, we do that at a championship-level. We’re doing that better than anyone does. We’re going to study in the film-room longer and harder than anyone else is doing it. You keep doing that, and that’s how you can be consistently great in this league.”

Kenny Pickett, Sam Howell shine as league watches draft’s top QBs

The NFL’s power-brokers descended on Heinz Field in Pittsburgh last Thursday night, including 38 executives, scouts, and five general managers, for one of the premier quarterback showcases we have seen in recent memory.

University of Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett and North Carolina’s Sam Howell squared off in an electrifying audition to take a leap towards cementing their position as the top two quarterbacks in next spring’s NFL Draft class.

After completing 23-of-43 passes for 346 yards with three touchdowns to one interception, in a thrilling 30-23 Pitt overtime win, Pickett just might be lapping Howell as the rest of the field for as this class’s top passer.

“His mental toughness, his ability to see the field, and make quick decisions and process information quickly,” TEST Football Academy QB coach Tony Racioppi tells FanSided are Pickett’s best attributes. “He’s kind of been the perfect storm of someone who was a late bloomer, he’s grown into this over 6-foot-3 and 225-pound quarterback, and when he first got to Pitt he faced high expectations but he struggled, worked through it, and persevered.”

Racioppi has a longstanding relationship with Pickett, trains him, and this winter will help prepare the senior to walk across the stage and into the spotlight as the face of an NFL franchise.

This season has been the finest of Pickett’s career. He’s passed for 3,517 yards with 32 touchdowns to four interceptions.

But, most importantly to his future prospects, he’s leading a Pitt offense that serves as much as an NFL proving ground as it does a playbook for success on Saturdays.

“When I talk to scouts now, the concepts that they run at Pitt and the routes they run at Pitt at the depths they run them at Pitt, are literally what you see on Sundays,” Racioppi explains. “From an evaluation standpoint, it’s apples-to-apples.

“You see him changing protections. You see him in the shotgun and under center. You see him taking NFL drops and throwing NFL balls … You see him do that over and over again over the past two years, with so much film of it out there, you’re going to get an NFL kid who’s ready to start immediately as he possibly can be.”

If every scout, executive, and Eagles GM Howie Roseman, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert, Raiders GM Mike Mayock, Vikings GM Rick Spielman, and Broncos GM George Paton flocked to Pittsburgh to get an up-close and personal view of Pickett, all but one of them are going to be disappointed come April.

But, Howell is an elite quarterback prospect in his own right, opened the season as the consensus top passer in this class, and has all of the tools to give himself as good a chance as anyone has of developing into an NFL franchise quarterback.

At 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, Howell has completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 2,704 yards with 22 touchdowns to eight interceptions, despite a supporting cast in the Tarheels’ offense that has underachieved for much of this season.

“He’s a tough competitor,” an NFL evaluator tells FanSided of Howell. “He has an elite arm. Their offense doesn’t show all of Sam’s talents, but you see his athletic ability and he has all of the traits that help you succeed in today’s NFL.”

There are going to be upwards of at least seven teams in the market for a quarterback next spring, perhaps, even more, depending on Baker Mayfield’s future in Cleveland, and what happens in Seattle and Green Bay with Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers.

But, for as dominant as Howell and Pickett have been, at least one NFL personnel director says teams shopping for quarterbacks this year might be sifting through the racks a year too late.

“Both of these guys are tier-two guys,” the executive says. “They’re a cut below the top of last year’s class. Howell needs to become more consistent, maybe he’d benefit from staying an extra year.”

As for Pickett, Racioppi sees shades of Bengals quarterback, and former No. 1 pick, Joe Burrow in his star pupil.

“He’s been through it all, he’s seen it all, he’s physically gifted, he’s going to run a very good 40-time, he’s a really good athlete and I don’t think people understand how strong his arm is,” Racioppi says. “He’s only going to get better. That’s the kind of kid he is. He’s so smart, he’s been around football his entire life, he has Mark Whipple as his offensive coordinator at Pitt, he has me, he’s soaked us both up like a sponge, and you’re starting to see the fruits of that labor now.”


"“I don’t think one game will ever define you. So, the fact we can bounce back and be dominant, that should put everyone on notice that … we are not to be ‘F’d’ with right now.” – Dallas Cowboys rookie LB Micah Parsons, following Sunday’s 43-3 demolition of the Atlanta Falcons"

Watching Sunday’s game, it was wholly obvious the Cowboys were out not only to beat the Falcons, but to prove a point.

In Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s first game against the Falcons, since his firing last October, Parsons led the charge as Dallas’ defense snuffed out a suddenly surging Matt Ryan.

Parsons sacked Ryan once, forced a fumble, produced six total tackles, and continues to strengthen his NFL Defensive Rookie of The Year resumè. The Cowboys’ first-round pick out of Penn State, Parsons boasts Pro Football Focus’ third-highest pass-rush grade in the NFL at 92.1, has produced 58 total tackles. Parsons’ six sacks are tied for 13th in the NFL.

Moreover, Sunday’s victory made it clear the Cowboys are among the NFL’s most complete teams, and perhaps the chasm between Dallas, the Green Bay Packers, and the rest of the NFC is vast as the stretch run begins.

Additionally, Dak Prescott tossed a pair of touchdowns and his 127 passer rating was the third above 115 so far this season.

After a nine-game sample size, Dallas sits atop the NFL in total offense, 15th in total defense, 10th in scoring defense, and there’s a very real possibility that presuming everyone stays healthy, the NFC’s Super Bowl berth may come down to Cowboys-Packers in January.

The Cowboys will likely coast to the NFC East title, and while Sunday’s showdown with the Chiefs in Arrowhead might be a Super Bowl preview, the combined record of Dallas’ remaining opponents is 26-30.

Not exactly a fortified blockade between Dallas and at least one home game in the playoffs.

Dallas has firepower, a defense improving each week, and it seems after getting embarrassed by the Broncos, the motivation, to make a real run at the Lombardi in a year that the Super Bowl chase is more wide open than ever.

Final thought

This week, we bore witness to some Jet-on-Jet crime.

“This guy is supposed to be a defensive guru,” former Jets coach Rex Ryan said, during an appearance on ESPN Radio this week, of Jets head coach Robert Saleh. “I take it personally. Everything I heard was this guy is a lot like myself but without the bad part. Some of the bad parts you need, that his team doesn’t want to play with any damn heart. That’s the thing that is disappointing to me.”

Ryan crossed a line questioning the heart and effort of a team that he has not stepped into a locker room of, but is his criticism all that far off?

While Saleh’s Jets have hung some impressive scalps this season; beating the Titans and seemingly torpedoing the Bengals’ season, they have also wildly underachieved defensively.

Saleh is a coach with a defensive background, and his defense is making history. Only, it’s for all the wrong reasons.

The Jets so far this season have allowed 45 points three times, and three times in for weeks, for only the second time in the past 50 years.

“If it’s that personal for him, he knows where to find me,” Saleh responded. “I’m not surprised by him, he’s always got something to say.”

Maybe the Jets would be better served if Saleh kept his focus on rebuilding a defense that is devoid of the kind of playmakers that made him a success in San Francisco; like Nick Bosa, Richard Sherman, and Fred Warner that helped make the 49ers one of the NFL’s most feared units.

The Jets are far from a finished product, but Saleh’s is the worst in the league. That’s no way to stave off criticism, or compete in today’s NFL.