It's only a week before Super Bowl 56, and the Kansas City Chiefs are nowhere to be found after getting eliminated in the AFC Championship Game. Surely enough, Patrick Mahomes and the team are not happy with how they let a trip to the Super Bowl slip right out of their hands against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The tough loss will certainly haunt them for a while, especially after seeing how they blew a huge lead and allowed their counterparts to mount a comeback on their home field. With that, the Chiefs are already shifting their focus to the offseason, where they will aim to have a more competitive roster for 2022.
As of the moment, they are projected to have an estimated $14.2 million in cap space, per Over The Cap. Patrick Mahomes' massive extension kicks in next season, but GM Brett Veach can increase that cap space by converting Mahomes' roster bonus into a signing bonus that can give them an additional $22 million for other roster moves. Restructuring the contracts and bonuses of players like Chris Jones, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill can further increase that cap number and give more flexibility to the team in the offseason.
Despite the favorable numbers for now, the journey toward contending for another Lombardi Trophy has already become tougher for the Chiefs moving forward now that Mahomes is no longer on a cheap deal. Let's take a look at two reasons why Mahomes and the Chiefs just blew their best chance at winning another Super Bowl title.
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2 reasons the Chiefs blew their best chance at another Super Bowl win
2. The rest of the AFC is catching up
Since Patrick Mahomes' MVP season in 2018, the Chiefs have dominated the AFC en route to bagging four consecutive appearances in the conference championship game. They have also nabbed two trips to the Super Bowl, having won Super Bowl 54 but losing out on Super Bowl 55 the year after.
However, things are a bit different now in the AFC. The Bengals, who previously owned the league's worst record two years ago, are now on a Cinderella trip to Super Bowl 56. Another uprising team in the Buffalo Bills were also on the verge of reaching the AFC Championship Game if it wasn't for their late letdown against the Chiefs.
Another major threat in the conference would be the Tennessee Titans, though they will have to find ways to polish their performances and finally pull through deep in the postseason.
The rest of the AFC North with the likes of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore Ravens are all capable of becoming solid playoff contenders, especially when healthy.
Meanwhile, teams like the Los Angeles Chargers, Las Vegas Raiders, and New England Patriots are seemingly finding their groove and working their way up to compete with the powerhouses in the AFC in the near future.
Plus, you never know who could emerge as a contender. As seen with the Bengals, teams can make quick turnarounds in the NFL.
Now that the gap between the Chiefs and the other teams has been diminished, we could see a new dynasty emerge. Having said that, Kansas City will be wise to not let its guard down as the other upstart squads aim to take over the AFC.
1. Kansas City somehow beats itself in crucial games
Andy Reid's men made a statement when they rallied and beat the Bills in the Divisional Round with an overtime victory. As good as that game was for the Chiefs, they eventually had a massive letdown in the ensuing tilt against the Bengals after taking an early 21-3 lead.
There were mistakes all over the place, from Mahomes to the defense to the coaching staff. Who can forget the debacle down at the goal line at the end of the first half? The questionable decisions by Reid and Mahomes in that situation resulted in no points going on the board and helped usher in a big momentum change. The end of the regulation was also a disaster for the offense when it looked like Kansas City was going to score a go-ahead touchdown.
Another individual who often found himself on the receiving end of criticism was defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo after making questionable decisions regarding the players he put on the field in certain situations.
In the early stages of the season, he opted to use Daniel Sorensen as opposed to Juan Thornhill at safety despite the former having one of the worst seasons of his career. He eventually made the decision to use Thornhill more, though Sorensen remained a liability even when seeing limited action, especially in the red zone, which hurt the team's ability to contain the opposing offense.
A similar dilemma could be seen with their linebackers in Willie Gay Jr. and Nick Bolton, who were underutilized as compared to the duo of Ben Niemann and Anthony Hitchens. For one, Gay is more athletic and more effective against the pass as compared to Niemann, who often saw action down the stretch.
While it is acceptable for Spagnuolo to have his own justification for his decisions, his failure to adapt to certain situations and recognize the strengths of his players to gain an advantage on the field remains a concern.
Yes, the veteran coordinator has already proven his capabilities with two Super Bowl titles under his belt, but his inability to adjust accordingly (which already led to a handful of defensive letdowns throughout the 2021 season) may just make it tougher for the team to win a title moving forward.
All is not yet lost on the Chiefs, of course, though they will have to make wiser decisions on the field and ensure they won't find a way to beat themselves, especially during crucial games in the postseason. This is on everybody, including the best player on the team in Mahomes, who endured a number of crucial brain farts when it mattered most.
Kansas City will remain a contender, but keeping such a high level of success for a long time is difficult to pull off.