Chiefs begin title defense as Texans return to Arrowhead
The Kansas City Chiefs dispensed with all the spoils, distributing rings, raising a championship banner and roping the moon to pay Super Bowl MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Now comes the hard part.
The Chiefs open defense of their Super Bowl title on Thursday night at home against the Houston Texans.
“You can feel the intensity, you can feel that mentality,” Mahomes said. “I think everyone’s at the point now where we’re just ready to play football again. We had that great year last year, but that’s last year. We’re a brand-new football team.”
At least in some sense. Kansas City does return 17 of 22 starters from a squad that rallied to win all three of its postseason games by double digits.
The defending champions get a stage all their own in a primetime rematch with the Texans at the scene of Kansas City’s stunning 2020 playoff win.
Mahomes, the Super Bowl MVP, was rewarded with a 10-year contract worth a record $503 million. Yet the Chiefs still retained other key players in separate negotiations, namely defensive tackle Chris Jones.
They won’t get quite the welcome expected for Kansas City’s first world champion in a half-century because of crowd restrictions limiting capacity around the NFL — including at Arrowhead Stadium — stemming from safety measures related to COVID-19.
Nonetheless, the Chiefs enter the season as a favorite to repeat. Going stale is no concern with head coach Andy Reid, who has his own new contract to cap an offseason in which a few new toys were added.
And not with an offense filled with talented weapons for Mahomes to tap.
“It’s tricky to say what’s new and what’s not new,” said tight end Travis Kelce, “because obviously it’s no secret what coach Reid does. He puts guys in different positions on the field to succeed and maximizes their strengths, which is why he such an unbelievable offensive mind.”
One newcomer to watch will be rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, a first-round draft pick expected to start after Damien Williams opted out of the season. Edwards-Helaire showed his versatility while helping LSU capture a national championship last season and poses a threat as a receiver out of the backfield.
“You go in with the mentality, especially with our offense,” said Mahomes, “that someone can really have a big game. Clyde’s definitely one of those guys.”
The Texans, who jumped to a 24-point lead over the Chiefs in the divisional round of last year’s playoffs before tumbling 51-31, also have a quarterback armed with a new deal.
Deshaun Watson, like Mahomes a product of the 2017 draft, signed a four-year, $156 million extension last week after leading Houston to two straight AFC South titles.
Houston coach Bill O’Brien said the extension is “a reflection to the team of what we’re trying to do here, the commitment he has to winning here and being who he is both on and off the field and the commitment that we have to him relative to our belief in him.”
Watson will be transitioning without one of his favorite receivers, DeAndre Hopkins, who was traded during the offseason to Arizona for running back David Johnson. The Texans will be able to spread things out after adding veteran receivers Randall Cobb and Brandin Cooks to step in alongside returning deep threat Will Fuller.
“I think DBs, they’re always going to fear speed,” said Fuller, “so having all that speed on the field at one time, I don’t know what they’re going to be able to do.”
Defensively, the Texans are led by a healthy J.J. Watt, who will try to regain his 2018 form when he recorded 16 sacks.
Houston also must overcome returning to the scene of one of the most improbable playoff plotlines in recent memory. Houston jumped ahead of the Chiefs in January by a score of 24-0, only to experience an historic collapse that helped propel Kansas City to the Lombardi Trophy.
Texans rookie wide receiver Isaiah Coulter will begin the season on injured reserve. The Chiefs enter the game healthy. Cornerback Bashaud Breeland is suspended for four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif opted out of the season due to health concerns related to COVID-19.
–Field Level Media