Khalil Mack is back in the AFC West, and the chips continue to be stacked against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
After an NFL season full of scorching hot takes about their team, Kansas City Chiefs fans will get no respite during the offseason.
Get your popcorn ready, Chiefs fans, and prepare for a little show called Has The Chiefs Championship Window Closed? This picture is unrated and will be playing on screens throughout the nation all summer long.
To be fair, the question is valid if not terribly nuanced. The recent success of the Buccanneers and Rams notwithstanding, teams that “win the offseason” typically do not win the actual season. But the arms race happening in the AFC West, coupled with Super Bowls for the Bucs and Rams landing the right offseason acquisition, is a troubling trend that should at least have the curiosity of Chiefs fans.
Of the two trades made this week, one of them directly affects the Chiefs and their prized face of the franchise, Patrick Mahomes. Los Angeles trading for six-time Pro Bowler Khalil Mack and bringing him back to the AFC West is a direct response to the dominance the Chiefs have had over the division since Mahomes arrived five seasons ago.
Since Mahomes took over as a starting quarterback, the Chiefs have won four division titles, played in two Super Bowls, and won one of them.
They’ve also beaten the Chargers in five of their last eight meetings, with the most recent being an overtime heartbreaker that all but ended Los Angeles’ hopes of stealing the AFC West crown.
Now instead of stealing it, the Chargers are very clearly trying to take it by force and have the strength on paper to do it. It’s also hard to not imagine the Chargers watching what the Cincinnati Bengals did to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game (and earlier in a regular season game) and not going oh, more of that but only it’s us doing it.
The groundwork has been laid for the Chargers to take over the AFC West. Last season Justin Herbert marched into Kansas City and collected a signature win at Arrowhead Stadium. The defense has players who, when healthy together, could be among the league’s best units and it just added an All-Pro pass rusher to its trenches.
Here’s what the top-line of the Chargers defense looks like after acquiring Mack:
- Joey Bosa – DE
- Khalil Mack – DE
- Kenneth Murray – LB
- Derwin James – S
- Asante Samuel Jr. – CB
Keep in mind the Chargers have the 17th pick in the NFL Draft this year. Danny Kelly from The Ringer has Los Angeles drafting Georgia defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt, while ESPN’s Todd McShay has NFL combine star Jordan Davis penciled in as the pick.
Everything about the Chargers, from players currently on the roster to those being mocked as potential additions, point to a team trying to do one thing: stop Patrick Mahomes. Bosa and Mack coming off the edge to chase Mahomes with pressure as Murray and potentially Davis or Wyatt plugging up the middle while James and Samuel take away passing options feels like a targeted attack in every possible way.
Now consider the Chargers offense. Justin Herbert has Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, and a bevy of plug-and-play weapons built to wear a team down or hang around in a shootout. Only five games last season saw the Chargers score fewer than three touchdowns and they scored more than 30 points seven times. As much as the defense is a reaction to Mahomes, the offense is a reflection of what a team thinks it needs to do to beat the Chiefs — and the Chargers check a lot of boxes.
As good as the Chargers look on paper, though, Kansas City is still a team that needs less than 13-second and fewer than half a field to destroy a Super Bowl-caliber team. Mahomes and company are the class of the AFC West until proven otherwise, and the Chargers need to do a lot more than just win on paper, but for the first time, it appears there might be legitimate challengers to the title.