During the Patrick Mahomes era, no team in the NFL has been better than the Kansas City Chiefs. Since Mahomes became the team's full-time starter back in 2018, Kansas City has won 66 regular-season games -- 10 more than any other team. The Chiefs have outscored their opponents by 679 points during that span, 117 points more than the next-closest squad. They have also made (and hosted) the AFC title game five times, been to three Super Bowls and hoisted the Lombardi Trophy twice.
Of course, most of the team's success during this time has been driven by its elite offense. Kansas City has scored nearly 300 more points than the next-closest team since 2018 -- an average of more than an extra field goal per game. The Chiefs have gained nearly 2,000 more yards than the next-closest team and averaged almost half a yard more per play than the No. 2 team as well. According to Tru Media, Kansas City leads the league in expected points added (EPA) per play by such a large margin during this time that the second-place team's mark is actually HALF that of the Chiefs. (K.C. has averaged 0.14 EPA/play and the Green Bay Packers are up next at 0.07 EPA/play.)
By contrast, the defense has been fairly average during this time. The Chiefs rank 27th in yards allowed, 19th in yards allowed per play, 10th in points allowed and 26th in EPA/play. Depending on which measurement of defense is your favorite, you might think they have been somewhere between below average and slightly above average on that side of the ball.
But that's not the case so far this year. Despite having faced the Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars in two of their three games, the Chiefs currently check in sixth in yards allowed and fourth in points allowed, as well as third in EPA/play and ninth in FTN's DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). They have yielded a touchdown or field goal on only 21.9% of opponent drives, the second-best rate in the league; and they have forced a punt on 46.9% of drives, which ranks third best in the NFL. They have limited opponent first downs (fourth), locked down in the red zone (tied for fifth) and prevented explosive plays (fourth).
Now, on Sunday night (8:20 p.m. ET on NBC), they'll face a Zach Wilson-led Jets offense that has trouble moving the ball on any defense.
And the Chiefs just look like a very good defense. That's a change of pace, especially when you consider that the Chiefs under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo have traditionally started somewhat slowly on defense before rounding into shape by the end of the year, as Spagnuolo figures out the best way to utilize the personnel he has on hand. It's also pretty encouraging, given that Kansas City has yet to get defensive lineman Charles Omenihu (currently serving a six-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy) on the field, and played the season opener without the services of Chris Jones, who has yet to even play more than 51% of the team's defensive snaps in a game.
The most important improvement has come in the Chiefs' ability to deal with opposing passing games. They have yet to allow more than 250 passing yards to any opponent, and they have forced at least one turnover in every game. When you look at how the Chiefs have performed (in FTN's DVOA) against all different types of passes, you can see that this is pretty clearly their best pass defense of the past few years:
|DVOA (vs. position, area of field)||2021||2022||2023|
The team's top two cornerbacks -- second-year pro Trent McDuffie and fourth-year man L'Jarius Sneed -- have combined to allow just 17 receptions for 160 yards and zero touchdowns, averages of just 5.7 catches for 53.3 yards per contest. McDuffie is Pro Football Focus' highest-graded corner, and has yielded just a 73.9 passer rating on throws in his direction. Joshua Williams and Jaylen Watson have played well in sub-package roles. Safety Justin Reid is lining up all over the place: According to PFF, he has aligned in the box for 56 snaps, in the slot for 53, as a free safety for 47, along the defensive line for 14 and as a wide cornerback for eight.
Kansas City's other 2022 first-round pick was edge rusher George Karlaftis, and he, too, appears to be breaking out. He ranks sixth in the NFL with 16 pressures so far this season; only T.J. Watt, Maxx Crosby, Aidan Hutchinson, Myles Garrett and Micah Parsons have more. His 18.8% pressure rate also ranks sixth among the 134 players who have rushed the passer at least 50 times, per Tru Media, and checks in behind only Garrett, Parsons, Jalen Carter, Trey Hendrickson and Matt Judon.
He's more of a power rusher than your traditional, bendy, turn-the-corner type of guy, but that actually pairs pretty well with Jones, who is a ridiculous athlete and can both push the pocket and knife through the gaps between guards and centers to generate quick pressure. Jones already has 2.5 sacks in two games where he barely played, and his pressure rate (18.9%) is right on par with that of Karlaftis. During the 1.5-ish seasons he played with San Francisco, Omenihu had a pressure rate on par with that of players like Greg Rousseau and Haason Reddick, so adding him to the mix later in the year should help the pass rush even more.
Having multiple players capable of generating pressure at such a high level frees up Spagnuolo to get creative, which he can do because of the depth and versatility the team has built on the back end, thanks to its copious investments over the past few years drafts. Kansas City used 14 of its 23 selections over the last three drafts on the defensive side of the ball, with half of those being devoted to the defensive backfield. The result is a mostly homegrown secondary that works behind a solid crop of homegrown linebackers in Nick Bolton, Willie Gay, and Leo Chenal as well as offseason addition Drue Tranquill.
In short, this group just fits really well together, and due to the resources the Chiefs have poured into it and the congealing of the talent they have identified, it's playing at a higher level than at any previous time during the Mahomes era. If they can keep this up, fellow contenders, AFC and NFC alike, should be very afraid of what it means for their prospects of dethroning the Chiefs as Super Bowl champions.