Coming off their first Super Bowl title in 50 years, the Kansas City Chiefs have looked like the best team in the NFL this season. Patrick Mahomes should win MVP honors for the second time in his young career. Travis Kelce may lock up a Hall of Fame berth by the end of the season. And Tyreek Hill continues to torch defenses with his unparalleled speed.
However, the 12-1 Chiefs haven’t officially locked up the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) still have a slim shot at knocking Mahomes and Co. off their throne. And with just three regular-season games to go, neither team can afford a loss.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, they just suffered a potential setback to securing the top seed (and a first-round bye) with an important piece of injury news emerging out of New Orleans that completely changes the equation for Sunday’s matchup between the two Super Bowl hopefuls.
Kansas City is the team to beat in the AFC
It’s scary to think that Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs have actually improved from a year ago. In 2019, Kansas City went 12-4 and ranked fifth in scoring (28.2 points per game) and seventh in points allowed (19.3 per game).
While the defense has given up 21.6 points per game, the Chiefs still rank eighth in the league in that category. Steve Spagnuolo’s unit has forced 20 turnovers, including 15 interceptions. Opposing quarterbacks have averaged an 84.2 rating against Kansas City’s defense—the fourth-lowest mark in the NFL.
On the other side of the ball, Mahomes continues to shine as the point guard of a basketball team on turf. The Chiefs have managed to increase their scoring average to 31 points per game; the Green Bay Packers rank just ahead of them at 31.5.
Kelce and Hill have been flat-out studs and will assuredly earn first-team All-Pro honors. Despite playing the tight end position, Kelce currently leads the NFL with 1,250 receiving yards. Hill has caught a league-high 14 touchdown passes in his fifth year in the league. The electrifying wideout has now found the end zone 52 times in 72 career games.
With a roster full of blue-chip players and a coaching staff that knows how to maximize them, the Chiefs have only lost one game all season and enter Week 15 as winners of eight straight.
The Chiefs just suffered a potential setback to securing the No. 1 seed
Considering their last five games have all been one-score affairs, the Chiefs have certainly looked beatable in recent weeks. And while the odds still weigh heavily in Kansas City’s favor, the race for the No. 1 seed just got much more challenging for Mahomes’ team.
On Friday, Saints head coach Sean Payton announced that the team plans on starting Drew Brees against the defending Super Bowl champions. The future Hall of Famer hasn’t played a down since Week 10. With their iconic quarterback on the mend from cracked ribs and a collapsed lung, the Saints surprisingly went 3-1 with Taysom Hill under center.
But after taking a rather cautious approach with the 41-year-old, New Orleans will have Brees back in the huddle in a monumental matchup at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Payton’s team has gone 5-1 at home this season, with their only loss coming against the Packers in Week 3.
For the Chiefs, this news represents a potential setback in their quest to wrap up the battle for the AFC’s top seed. Because out of all 31 other teams across the league, the Saints absolutely have the pieces in place to send Mahomes and his teammates back to Kansas City with their second loss of the season.
The return of Drew Brees changes everything for the Saints
New Orleans already represented a major challenge for Kansas City before new broke that Drew Brees will start on Sunday. Like the Chiefs, the Saints boast an incredibly talented roster that packs star power on both sides of the ball. The Saints rank seventh in scoring (28.3 points per game) and fourth in points allowed (20.4 per game).
Although Michael Thomas will not play due to injury, that’s nothing new for the Saints. The record-setting receiver has not made nearly the same impact as he has in previous years. Thomas has caught just 40 passes for 438 yards and zero touchdowns in seven games, with the majority of that production occurring with Hill at quarterback.
More importantly, Brees’ return significantly changes the outlook of the game. Prior to his injury, he looked like an MVP candidate. In nine games, the 13-time Pro Bowler has completed 73.5% of his passes for 2,196 yards, 18 touchdowns, and only three picks.
Hill can now be deployed as a receiver and ball-carrier, which can help make up for Thomas’ absence. The Saints can even utilize his passing skills to keep the Chiefs on their toes.
In addition, Alvin Kamara has to be ecstatic about the return of No. 9. The dynamic dual-threat back has seen his production plummet without Brees under center. Kamara caught a total of three passes from Weeks 11-13 before catching seven for 44 yards in last week’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Expect Sean Payton to find a variety of ways to get the ball in his best playmaker’s hands.
The Saints are also in a race for the No. 1 seed in the NFC, so they’ll have plenty of motivation to come out firing on all cylinders against the best team in the AFC. And with Brees back in the starting lineup in a pivotal home game, they should improve to 11-3.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, it might take another week (or two) to officially secure a first-round bye.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.