The Chiefs survived two games without star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, going 1-1 with backup Matt Moore in his place, and they still remain atop the AFC West with a 6-3 record entering Sunday’s game against the Titans in Kansas City.
The question now is this: How good can the Chiefs be with a healthy Mahomes, back from his dislocated knee cap injury?
And, does a healthy Mahomes make the Chiefs the favorites to win the AFC?
The Patriots were brought back to earth last week with their lopsided loss to the Ravens, after New England had cruised through the first half of its schedule at 8-0.
Enter Mahomes, the reigning NFL MVP.
Assuming he remains healthy for the rest of the season, the Chiefs (with apologies to the 6-2 Ravens) figure to be the biggest hurdle in the way of a fourth consecutive Super Bowl appearance by the Patriots.
Beginning with Sunday’s game, the Chiefs face a few scenarios:
- The AFC West has tightened, with the Raiders now one game back at 5-4, so they’re in a battle to capture a division they’re heavily favored to win.
- A first-round bye and at least one home playoff game is hanging in the balance.
- So, too, is a potential No. 1-overall seed in the AFC, though they’re two games behind New England at the moment.
Moore, who finished in relief of Mahomes in the Chiefs’ win over the Broncos, lost a close game to the Packers then helped the Chiefs defeat the Vikings last week.
The solid performances by the veteran journeyman backup allowed the Chiefs to rest Mahomes one more week last Sunday when it looked like he could have returned. But the Chiefs are not a formidable threat to get to the Super Bowl without Mahomes.
A statistic telling of what Mahomes means to the offense is one for “explosive’’ plays, defined by ESPN as pass plays of 20 or more and run plays of 10 or more yards. The Chiefs produced 45 of those plays in the six-plus games Mahomes played, and they have just 11 of them in the two-plus games with Moore.
“We need him back,’’ Chiefs receiver Sammy Watkins told reporters during the week. “His energy affected all of us. Him being on that field has definitely been needed. All week we’ve been practicing hard. Every practice has been perfect.
“For us, it’s just to play fast, be in the right area and literally for our offensive line to let nobody touch him. I think that’s going to happen this week. He had a great week of practice. He’s been practicing well and we’ve been looking really good with him.’’
For his part, Mahomes sounded like he’s jumping out of his skin to get back onto the field. He certainly looked spry last Sunday while celebrating a game-winning field goal with his teammates — something Titans coach Mike Vrabel took notice of, telling reporters, “That was a pretty good jump there at the end of the game. He got pretty good air.’’
“I’m in a good spot,’’ Mahomes told Kansas City reporters Friday. “I’m ready to get out there.’’