The Patrick Mahomes-led Kansas City Chiefs have crossed over into that rarest territory of sports dominance — teams so consistently good that it’s easy to take them for granted if you’re not careful. With a 14-3 record this year, K.C. just wrapped up its fifth consecutive regular season winning at least 70 percent of its games, joining an exclusive club:
|2010-2017||New England Patriots||8|
|1973-1978||Los Angeles Rams||6|
|2018-2022||Kansas City Chiefs||5|
Now the team will face the Jacksonville Jaguars in a home playoff game this weekend, with an 84 percent chance of victory according to the FiveThirtyEight forecast — putting Mahomes and the Chiefs one win away from their fifth consecutive conference championship game appearance as well. (That would place K.C. in an even more exclusive club: one with only three other members in pro football history.)1
Again, it’s all a very familiar sight for Kansas City, but it would be a mistake to view the Chiefs’ ongoing success as inevitable. The parity-obsessed NFL is designed to keep teams from staying at the top for long, and in some ways K.C. was facing more of those headwinds — talent departing, defenses specifically evolving to limit their best plays — than many would-be dynasties. Against factors that might have caused a lesser team to regress, however, Kansas City’s greatness lies in the fact that it instead continues to improve.
For one thing, the Chiefs were down a substantial amount of talent heading into 2022. The headline loss was speedy receiver Tyreek Hill, who’d piled up 1,239 yards and nine receiving touchdowns for Kansas City in 2021 before being shipped to the Miami Dolphins in March. But according to Pro-Football-Reference.com’s approximate value (AV) metric, the Chiefs lost 32.6 percent of their roster’s production over the offseason, in terms of value produced by players in the 2021 season who did not return to the team in 2022. That ranked 15th in the league, in the same neighborhood as famously unstable franchises like the Browns and New York Jets.
And that 2021 Chiefs squad wasn’t without its moments of uncertainty, anyway. At one point in the middle of the season, the team was 3-4 and facing major concerns about whether opposing defenses had found a formula to slow down its vaunted passing attack. Kansas City was saved by an abrupt defensive turnaround while Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid counter-adjusted their offense on the fly, but Mahomes’s first career slump still represented a crack in the armor — one that seemingly widened when K.C. blew a 21-3 lead at home in the AFC championship game against the Cincinnati Bengals, with Mahomes rendered totally ineffective in the game’s second half.
Facing personnel losses and a growing playbook on how to hinder their greatest strength, plus a division that looked stacked on paper, the Chiefs were far from a sure bet to extend their run of dominance this season. Based in part on the history of similar teams from throughout NFL history,2 our preseason forecast model called for Kansas City to finish 10-7, with just a 66 percent chance of making it back to the playoffs.
So naturally, all the Chiefs did was fix many of the issues that were plaguing them, and post their best regular season in years.
In fact, according to our classic Elo ratings, Kansas City finished the regular season with a rating of 1729 — not only its highest season-ending rating of the Mahomes era, but also the best mark in franchise history.
|Season||Head Coach||Starting QB||Record||Elo Rating|
|2022||Andy Reid||Patrick Mahomes||14-3||1729|
|2020||Andy Reid||Patrick Mahomes||14-2||1713|
|1968||Hank Stram||Len Dawson||12-2||1709|
|1969||Hank Stram||Len Dawson||11-3||1697|
|2019||Andy Reid||Patrick Mahomes||12-4||1695|
|2021||Andy Reid||Patrick Mahomes||12-5||1688|
|2016||Andy Reid||Alex Smith||12-4||1682|
|1997||Marty Schottenheimer||Elvis Grbac||13-3||1677|
|2015||Andy Reid||Alex Smith||11-5||1673|
|1995||Marty Schottenheimer||Steve Bono||13-3||1667|
Unlike last season, when K.C. hit its midseason lull, the 2022 Chiefs never once had a losing streak — their losses were such isolated incidents that they all came in separate months. Along the way, K.C. improved its offense relative to league average, ranking No. 1 in points per game (29.2) for the first time since 2018, Mahomes’s first season as starter. Mahomes himself bounced back from a “down” 2021, going from fifth in Total QBR3 to leading the league once again. Even more importantly, he dramatically improved his relative standing in QBR in multiple areas where he had ranked surprisingly midpack last season when defenses forced him to adjust:
|Vs. man coverage||88.5||94.3||+5.8|
|Vs. zone coverage||72.0||96.2||+24.2|
|In red zone||54.1||89.8||+35.7|
|Out of pocket||53.5||68.8||+15.3|
It wasn’t just Mahomes, of course. Tight end Travis Kelce became more of a focal point for the K.C. offense, ranking second in the league in receiving TDs (12), third in catches (110) and eighth in receiving yardage (1,338). He was by far the most productive tight end in the league this year, and finished with the second-most fantasy points by a TE ever in a single season (behind Rob Gronkowski’s 2011 campaign). And led by center Creed Humphrey, guard Joe Thuney and tackle Orlando Brown Jr., the Chiefs’ offensive line easily led the league in ESPN’s pass block win rate statistic, prevailing in 74.7 percent of their battles in the trenches. Mahomes, Kelce, Humphrey, Thuney and Brown were among the seven Chiefs named to the Pro Bowl, tying the Dallas Cowboys for the second-most all-star nods of any team in the league this season.
This Chiefs team isn’t perfect. It was in the middle of the league in points per game allowed (21.7, 16th-fewest), which was its lowest ranking on defense since placing 24th in 2018. Its special teams this season was the worst of the Mahomes era, finishing 30th in expected points added per game. But the depth of Kansas City’s core, along with the coaching of Reid and the brilliance of Mahomes to counter the adjustments of opposing defenses, has allowed the Chiefs to keep rolling without missing a beat. And by virtue of having the AFC’s top seed, they will get the most lopsided matchup of the divisional round against Jacksonville, setting them up well to advance to yet another AFC title game — or beyond. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Check out our latest NFL predictions.