A new National Football League season kicks off this week, after a turbulent and eventful offseason. During the last seven months, two national stories dominated the football headlines: The coronavirus outbreak and its effects, and the summer’s protests over race and policing. Both will affect the season, with fan-less stadia and player protests likely to continue.
On the field, however, two stories will resonate. Tom Brady’s offseason decision to leave the New England Patriots placed a spotlight on his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The improved roster of the Buccaneers, including Brady’s New England teammate Rob Gronkowski, has garnered media attention and speculation about the revamped roster reaching the Super Bowl — set to take place in Tampa Bay’s home stadium.
The intense offseason focus on Brady and the Buccaneers has allowed the Kansas City Chiefs to remain under the radar, as they attempt to defend their first league title in half a century. In February, the Chiefs managed a come-from-behind victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, capturing their first NFL crown since they won the Super Bowl’s fourth edition back in 1970.
How the Chiefs managed comeback wins en route to their championship — they trailed by 10 or more points in all three playoff games — speaks to another dominant champion of recent years: Basketball’s Golden State Warriors. Just as the Warriors revolutionized NBA play with their high-powered offense, burying teams in a blizzard of buckets, so Kansas City’s point-scoring potential could change football strategy in the years ahead.
Consider how Kansas City won its title, by turning deficits into leads during each of its playoff victories last season:
- Trailing 24-0 to the Houston Texans, Kansas City scored touchdowns on seven straight drives — a league playoff record — en route to a 51-31 win.
- Finding themselves behind 10-0 to the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship Game, Kansas City scored touchdowns on three consecutive drives, creating a lead they would not relinquish, as they punched their Super Bowl ticket with a 35-24 victory.
- Down 20-10 to San Francisco in the Super Bowl, the Chiefs scored touchdowns on three straight fourth-quarter possessions — while holding the 49ers scoreless — to come home with the 31-20 victory.
Basketball’s Warriors used a similar approach during that team’s run of five straight NBA Finals appearances. Golden State’s heavy emphasis on three-point shooting meant that, while the team could go through dry spells, once shots started to fall — as they almost inevitably would — they could overcome just about any deficit, no matter how large, by overwhelming the competition. Basketball writers have spent much time in recent years analyzing the power of the spurts the Warriors produced, which normally (but not always) came during the third quarter of games.
Like the Warriors, Kansas City plays an up-tempo style that lends itself to quick, potent bursts of offense. While the Warriors have stretched basketball defenses with an emphasis on long-range jumpers — making the three-point shot the hallmark of their offense — the Chiefs stretch the field with the threat of deep passes to speedster wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins.
Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs’ quarterback and MVP of last year’s Super Bowl, bears a passing resemblance to Warriors point guard Stephen Curry. More importantly, the two stars similarly play their respective games, leading fast-break offenses and using their athletic abilities to distribute the ball to their teammates in such a dizzying manner that opposing defenses often don’t know what hit them.
The Best Defense Is Kansas City’s Offense
At the end of the first half of the Super Bowl, San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan used an unorthodox clock-management strategy. Rather than stopping the clock to give his offense enough time to march down the field and score, Shanahan let the clock keep running until mere seconds remaining in the half.
The Super Bowl broadcast showed that even John Lynch, GM of the 49ers, questioned Shanahan’s strategy; Lynch instinctively made the “time out” signal after the team’s defense stopped Kansas City’s offense — but Shanahan would not call one. The reason for Shanahan’s decision to let the clock run?
While he didn’t give his offense much time to try to score, Shanahan said the goal was to make sure that Patrick Mahomes and his quick-scoring offense would not have a chance to get the ball back before halftime.
Of course, by preventing Kansas City from getting the ball back at the end of the first half, Shanahan also gave his team less of a chance to score points on its last possession of the half. It speaks to how the foreboding offensive potential of the Chiefs forced Shanahan to make a decision that ultimately cost his team.
While Kansas City’s run through the 2019-20 NFL playoffs showed hints of the Warriors’ dynasty, only time will tell if the Chiefs can create a dynasty of their own. While Golden State won three titles amid five straight trips to the league’s championship series, this era’s version of the Chiefs holds only one title as of yet.
But if the Chiefs can blitzkrieg opponents as they did in the playoffs last year, they may find themselves on their way to a status akin to the Warriors — and change the game of football in the process. It’s one key story to watch as this NFL season unfolds.