The Path To The Super Bowl Could Be Very Different This Year

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The Chiefs have been one of the most successful teams in NFL history the past 5 seasons. They have made the AFC Championship Game every year, and have gone to 4 Super Bowls winning 3 of them. In that time they have had largely the same group of rivals in the AFC. In all 5 of those AFC Championship Games they have faced either the Bengals, Bills, Titans, or Ravens, with those teams being 3 of the the 5 Divisional opponents as well. They’re even the biggest regular season rivals, as no team outside of that group has finished above the Chiefs in the AFC standings.

But things could be different in 2024. The Chiefs still look as strong as ever as they’ll be in contention to be the first team ever to win 3 Super Bowls in a row. The group of rivals may not be. The Titans have already fallen off, as they’ve had back-to-back losing seasons. But the Bengals, Bills, and Ravens could all be next.

Bengals

The Bengals are a tough team to analyze. On the one hand, they’re the only AFC team other than the Chiefs to make the Super Bowl since Mahomes made his first in 2019. On the other hand, as I pointed out before the season, their regular season record in the Burrow era really isn’t all that impressive considering their postseason success.

Their 2023 season was a microcosm of this. On the one hand, they were a mediocre 9-8 with a negative point differential. On the other hand, they had impressive wins against San Francisco and Buffalo in the brief window when Burrow was fully healthy.

This “well maybe” situation is not one they should be happy with considering the increasing number of tough decisions they’ve had to make with Burrow and Higgins getting big pay raises this year, and having to budget for the dumptruck full of money they’re going to have to give to Ja’Marr Chase next year.

Let’s go through the list of changes they’ve made:

  • Offensive tackle Jonah Williams left for Arizona, they replaced him with the relatively cheap Trent Brown.
  • They made a mostly lateral move in the interior defensive line by replacing D.J. Reader with Sheldon Rankins.
  • Quality cornerback Chidobe Awuzie left for Tennessee and Cincinnati has yet to replace him.
  • Star runningback Joe Mixon is now in Houston, they replaced him with the not-as-good Zack Moss.
  • Receiver Tyler Boyd is a free agent, but doesn’t look to be returning. Tee Higgins said he anticipates staying, but he is a draft day trade candidate.
  • The one clear improvement they made was signing safety Geno Stone, who is decent but not a star.

Of the Chiefs rivals, the Bengals are in the best spot. But that speaks volumes considering the subpar offseason they’ve had.

Bills

If you asked ESPN, Buffalo would be the Chiefs biggest rival the past several years despite not scoring a single playoff win against the Chiefs in that time. The one thing the media has gotten right though is how the Bills could be in for a rough time this season.

Buffalo went all-in a couple years ago, highlighted by the Von Miller signing, but have failed to even make it past the divisional round. They’re paying for it now.

  • They lost their top 2 receivers in Gabriel Davis and Stefon Diggs, who combined for nearly 2,000 receiving yards last year. As of now their replacements are Curtis Samuel and Mack Hollins, who combined for less than 900 yards.
  • While everyone’s talked about Diggs, they also lost edge rusher Leonard Floyd. They have yet to find a real replacement, unless you count them signing Casey Toohil for $1 million.
  • Buffalo lost additional depth on their defense as well. Starting safeties Mycah Hyde (currently a free agent) and Jordan Poyer aren’t returning, but the Bills only replacement is ex-Chief Mike Edwards.
  • They saw a downgrade at linebacker from Tyrel Dodson to Nicholas Morrow.
  • Cornerback Dane Jackson, who played 43% of the Bills defensive snaps in 2023, is now in Carolina.
  • They lost both starting center Mitch Morse and backup center Ryan Bates. They are both making significantly more in their new homes than the only center Buffalo has brought in to replace them so far in Will Clapp.

While these names may not jump out at you other than Diggs, losing that amount of depth and quality starts could hurt more than losing one star player. Unless they have an incredible draft the Bills will be worse almost everywhere than they were a year ago.

Ravens

The Ravens have quietly had a very rough offseason. Everybody is focused on their upgrade from Gus Edwards to Derrick Henry at one of the least valuable positions in football, but elsewhere they’ve been gutted.

  • They lost star linebacker Patrick Queen to the rival Steelers, with no replacement in sight.
  • Baltimore lost edge pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney, also with no replacement.
  • The defensive losses continue with the aforementioned safety Geno Stone now on the Bengals.
  • And to round out the defensive losses, cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Rock Ya-Sin are both gone as well.
  • Perhaps no position group in the NFL saw more losses than the Ravens offensive line. They lost both starting guards John  Simpson and Kevin Zeitler plus their starting right tackle Morgan Moses. They even lost backup center Sam Mustipher. So far the only offensive line signing they’ve made is bringing in for Texans tackle Josh Jones.
  • Finally, they’re going to lose Odell Beckham Jr who, while not the star he was in New York, was still a reliable receiving option.

Conclusion

It can be hard to predict the future of the NFL. If these teams do decline, who will be the new challengers to the throne? The Texans are the obvious pick, but what other team could take a step in the AFC to challenge the Chiefs in the playoffs?

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upamtn
04/15/2024 7:35 pm

why y’all gotta have the Bills?

seriously though … while Buff may not have always been #2 in the AFC, they’ve certainly been a consistent #3, not to mention a perennial PITA during the regular season

all things considered, the above 3 AND the Texans (who definitely seem to be vastly improved) would seem to be this year’s “Most Likely Contender Contenders”

NovaChiefs
04/15/2024 7:07 pm

Of the three, I see the Ravens holding steady, mainly because their game is running and they have a shiny new toy (well, maybe a bit of tarnish) in Henry. I expect them to basically go with handoffs to Henry, or faking that and Jackson runs it and the occasional long pass because no one respects Jackson as a QB. With good reason, IMO
Good read, btw

Last edited 1 month ago by NovaChiefs
kcfreak725
04/15/2024 5:23 pm

I can maybe see the Dolphins taking a step. They’ve made a few signings this year. In fact, I believe that’s where the aforementioned Jordan Poyer is now.

KCRowdy
KCRowdy
04/15/2024 4:20 pm

For me it will be interesting to see if Harbaugh can make Herbert worth something to crow about. For all the hype, he hasn’t done squat, but wondering how much of that was coaching or lack of…?

Team Player
Reply to  KCRowdy
04/15/2024 7:10 pm

Of course they are moving up the charts. The chargers win every offseason

NovaChiefs
Reply to  Team Player
04/15/2024 7:46 pm

The trophy is already on it’s way to SD.
They’ll have to have someone go pick it up

hoosierchief
04/15/2024 3:42 pm

I was kind of thinking the same thing – it seems like all the competition has gotten weaker. while we still have some issues to sort out, we seem to be holding our own, possibly improving a bit.

probablyamistake
04/15/2024 2:48 pm

I thought the jags were supposed to be the next big thing? Guess that didn’t work out so well. At least as of now.

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