8:20 PM EST, NBC – Line: Chiefs -9.5, Over/Under: 54.5
The National Football League finally makes it’s return as the 2020 Regular Season kicks off with a rematch of last year’s Playoffs, as the reigning Super Bowl Champion, Kansas City Chiefs, play host to the Houston Texans from Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. Even without the circumstances created by the Covid-19 Pandemic, it has been nothing short of an unusual Offseason for the Texans (10-6, 1st in AFC South in 2019), who followed a second consecutive division title by parting ways with one of the most significant playmakers. In one of the most controversial moves of the Offseason, Houston traded away All-Pro Receiver, DeAndre Hopkins (104 REC, 1,165 YDS, 11.2 Y/R, 7 TD in 2019), to the Arizona Cardinals in return for a 2020 Second Round Pick, a 2021 Fourth Round Pick, and veteran Tailback, David Johnson (94 CAR, 345 YDS, 3.7 Y/C, 2 TD in 2019). Of course, anyone who has been paying attention to this franchise for the past year and some change will know that they have a unique paradigm with their Front Office, whereas their Head Coach, Bill O’Brien, operates as the General Manager as well, and while he’s been a nothing short of solid on the field, the skipper hasn’t necessarily been the most competent of executives. Last season alone O’Brien traded away Pro-Bowl Defensive End, Jadeveon Clowney, to the Seattle Seahawks essentially bit parts, while packaging a plethora of draft picks to secure the services of Left Tackle, Laremy Tunsil, veteran Receiver, Kenny Stills (40 REC, 561 YDS, 14.0 Y/R, 4 TD in 2019), and others. The general consensus is that he’s been doing far more harm than good in this regard, with the perception that he’s been continuously fleeced by other General Managers, particularly when it comes to proper evaluation. Case in point, draft compensation aside, receiving the aforementioned Johnson as part of the Hopkins Trade was perplexing to say the least; the 28-Year Old started just nine games for Arizona last season, averaging just 55.0 Total Yards per Game on 5.5 Yards per Touch, while sporting a lengthy injury history and a cap hit of just over $20 million over the next two seasons.
While it’s certainly easy to pick apart O’Brien’s work as a General Manager, you certainly can’t fault him for his most recent transaction, which was the lucrative extension of Quarterback, Deshaun Watson (67.3%, 3,852 YDS, 6.67 NY/A, 26 TD, 12 INT). The 24-Year Old signed a four-year contract extension worth a total of $160 million, $111 million which is fully-guaranteed, making him the second-highest paid Quarterback in the league, right behind his counterpart tonight. The two-time Pro-Bowler has been nothing short of a playmaker and winner in his three years as the Starter, having led the Texans to the Playoffs in each of the past two seasons, and in 2019 further proving his mettle with 3,852 Passing Yards, Twenty-Six Touchdowns, and Five Game-Winning Drives, while continuing to make plays with his feet, rushing for another 413 Yards and Seven Scores. Investing in the Offensive Line really paid off in this regard, as Watson was sacked on forty-four occasions last season, which was eighteen-fewer than he absorbed in 2018, which was the highest figure in the league. Interestingly enough, Houston just released longtime Center, Greg Mancz, who had spent the last five years with the franchise. With that said, the rebuild of this unit has been something that started long ago, and with such a hefty allocation of their salary cap now invested in their young Signal-Caller, the mandate will be keeping him upright (and healthy) for many years to come.
Tonight’s game will be significant for the Texans for this will serve as a rematch of the last game they played, which was the AFC Divisional Championship. That game was a wild one for many reasons, though O’Brien must have many a nightmare of it over the past few months. the 51-31 debacle certainly didn’t begin that way, with Houston racing out to a 21-0 lead in the First Quarter. A 54-Yard Touchdown Pass from Watson to Stills was immediately followed by a blocked Punt Return for another Touchdown, with Watson eventually finding Tight End, Darren Fells (), for a 4-Yard Score shortly before the end of the period. After a 31-Yard Field Goal, the visitors were living large with the faithful at Arrowhead Stadium shell-shocked from the events that they had just witnessed. However, that’s when everything changed, as the Chiefs stormed back into the affair scoring a staggering Twenty-Eight Points in less than ten minutes of action, ending the First Half with a 28-24 lead. The onslaught didn’t stop there, folks, as the hosts continued to pile it on with back-to-back Touchdowns to open the Second Half, stretching the lead to 41-24. Watson would cut the lead to ten with a 5-Yard Touchdown Run shortly before the end of the stanza, but that would ultimately be as close as the visitors would get, falling 51-31 when the final whistle blew. When it was all said and done, the Texans racked up 442 Total Yards, with Watson completing 31-of-52 Passes for 388 Yards and a pair of Touchdowns, but it simply wasn’t enough as the Defense was absolutely torched by Kansas City’s blitzkrieg, accumulating 434 Total Yards of their own, despite only possessing the football for a scant 25:35 (which we’ll get into shortly). Eight months later, it’s hard to honestly say that this team has managed to close the gap, particularly with the loss of Hopkins, for it was clear that they didn’t have the necessary firepower to outscore the champs on that day in which Hopkins posted Nine Receptions for 118 Yards, and now he’s no longer a member of their team.
Meanwhile, for the first time since 1969 the Chiefs (12-4, 1st in AFC West in 2019) can call themselves Super Bowl Champions again, storming through the Playoffs en route to besting the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, 31-20. 2019 wasn’t necessarily easy many means for Kansas City, who fought through an injury-riddled first half of the season in which their opponents essentially tried to play keep away in terms of possession, exploiting a Defense that at that point was still very much acclimating to a new system. However, Andy Reid’s charges flipped the script over the term’s second half, with the Offense returning to full health and the Defense, under Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, buckling down in a complete about-face; following the Bye Week, they outscored their opponents 218-127, and coming from behind to defeat the Texans, Titans, and Niners in the Playoffs. Resiliency and toughness became their calling card, and as a result they managed to put nearly fifty years of postseason ineptitude to rest.
After winning a championship, it’s oftentimes natural to what to stand pat, and that’s exactly what the Chiefs did in the Offseason as Reid and General Manager, Brett Veach chose to focus on keeping their talent in house. First and foremost, the biggest signing of all, was the sensational contract extension of former MVP Quarterback, Patrick Mahomes (65.9%, 4,031 YDS, 7.79 NY/A, 26 TD, 5 INT in 2019), whom they inked to a mammoth ten-year, $450 million extension, consisting of just over $141 million in guarantees, making the 24-Year Old the single highest paid player in the history of the National Football League. Simply put, this deal is a landmark for all athletes, while also proving to be very friendly to Kansas City as a franchise. Signed with two-years to spare on his rookie deal, Mahomes is only set to count $5.346 million against the cap this season, and doesn’t truly hit the astronomical figures until 2023 when he’ll be accounting for 42.45 million of the cap. This deal basically keeps their Franchise Quarterback in house for what should be the duration of his career, while also creating enough space and flexibility within the cap to keep bolstering the ranks with talent. That’s how they were able to retain the services of Pro Bowl Defensive Tackle, Chris Jones (36 TKL, 8 TFL, 20 QBH, 9.0 SK, 1 FF, 1 FR, 4 PD in 2019), who was an Unrestricted Free Agent in the Offseason, and how they managed to hand All-Pro Tight End, Travis Kelce (97 REC, 1,229 YDS, 12.7 Y/R, 5 TD in 2019), a hefty extension of his own, earning $57.25 million over the next four years. All in all, this was masterclass on how to approach an Offseason following a championship, and the Chiefs deserve all the plaudits that they’ve thus far received and then some.
And with that said, it’s difficult not seeing this team light up the scoreboards once again, particularly if they stay healthy. Since Mahomes became the Starting Quarterback, this has been arguably the most explosive Offense in the NFL over the last two years, with an ability to strike from anywhere on the gridiron. Since 2018, Kansas City has amassed a whopping THIRTY-SIX Offensive Touchdowns of Twenty Yards or more, with Mahomes’ combination of arm strength and mobility creating the opportunity to make plays father downfield. There is plenty of speed and athleticism to burn on this unit, with the likes of Receivers, Tyreek Hill (58 REC, 860 YDS, 14.8 Y/R, 7 TD in 2019), Sammy Watkins (52 REC, 673 YDS, 12.9 Y/R, 3 TD in 2019), Demarcus Robinson (32 REC, 449 YDS, 14.0 Y/R, 4 TD in 2019), and Mecole Hardman (26 REC, 538 YDS, 20.7 Y/R, 6 TD in 2019), burning opposing Defenses on the regular. Hill has been one of the league’s most effective downfield threats over the past few years, averaging 16.0 Yards per Reception since 2017, and 14.1 Yards per Touch, which is the most in the NFL during that span. Despite missing four games due to a collarbone injury, the four-time Pro Bowler logged Fifty-Eight Receptions for 860 Yards and Seven Touchdowns, though hasn’t been utilized much in the return game much any more following the emergence of Hardman, who racked up 871 Yards and a Touchdown on Forty-Five combined Returns. And if that wasn’t enough of an embarrassment of riches, the Chiefs added the services of Rookie Tailback, Clyde Edwards-Helaire (32nd Overall), at the end of the First Round of the 2020 Draft, with the versatile ‘Back expected to play a major role in the passing game following a season in which he had totaled Fifty-Five Catches for 453 Yards and a Touchdown for National Champion, LSU.