NFL - US Sports: Can Mahomes reignite the Chiefs?
The Kansas City Chiefs were meant to be an established dynasty by now but, with only one Super Bowl ring so far, Patrick Mahomes is under more pressure in 2022.
Heading into his sixth NFL season, the 26-year-old is recognised as the prince of the quarterback position and is probably in line to ascend to the throne if he can get one more Super Bowl win under his belt, with the Chiefs priced at 11.00 to go all the way this coming season.
But there were some worrying signs in his - and more particularly the Chiefs' - play last season, which has cast enough doubt over whether he can sustain greatness for periods long enough to deliver another Lombardi Trophy to Arrowhead Stadium.
What: NFL 2022/23
When: 8th September 2022 - 12th February 2023
How to watch: Sky Sports
Mahomes in the Matrix
Anyone who saw how the former Texas Tech star performed in last season's playoffs will wonder how Mahomes wasn't the league MVP by a distance - he is 8.50 to land the award this coming campaign.
He found levels mere mortals can only dream of for 10 nearly flawless quarters of football, throwing for over 1,000 postseason yards and nine touchdowns with a completion rate of 73%.
The Divisional Round shootout with the Buffalo Bills' Josh Allen was one for the ages and could become a regular feature of the AFC playoffs for many years to come.
But his powers deserted him in the crunch against Cincinnati when the Bengals brought themselves back from the brink by making up an 18-point deficit at Arrowhead.
As Cincy grew more confident, Mahomes lost his mojo, taking sacks that cost the Chiefs downs and field position before coughing up the crucial overtime interception that led to the Bengals' game-winning field goal.
The changing faces of the Chiefs
The second half slump he endured in the AFC title game was in contrast to the way the regular season had gone for Kansas City. Andy Reid's team were way off their standard in the opening weeks, bottoming out in a 27-3 defeat at Tennessee which left them 3-4 and with much work to do to make the playoffs.
The defense was getting shredded far too easily, putting pressure on the offense to answer back with quick scores. But a misfiring Mahomes was too often forcing things - ultimately throwing a total of 13 interceptions - more than twice as many as he had done in either 2019 or 2020.
Steve Spagnuolo eventually sorted out the issues on the defensive side of the ball and Mahomes settled down with improved decision making and accuracy down the stretch to help Kansas City win nine of their last ten games.
But the Chiefs' poor start demonstrated how closely related an ecosystem in an NFL team can be, as when one part breaks down the knock on affect can bring the house down - even the best of teams have discovered that.
Worryingly for Reid, the Chiefs defence looks weaker now than it did going into last season after starting cornerback Charvarius Ward headed west to the San Francisco 49ers in free agency, while the team opted not to re-sign Super Bowl-winning safety and locker-room leader Tyrann Mathieu.
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Mega contract to become a millstone around his neck?
And part of the problem Mahomes and the Chiefs are facing when it comes to keeping top talent in K.C. is down to the quarterback's blockbuster contract, signed in September 2020.
With a face-value of just over a half-billion dollars, the contract pays Mahomes an average of $45m annually over the next ten years and hits a peak in 2027 when the QB's deal counts for $59.95m against the Chiefs' salary cap.
That will make it mightily tough for the team to make any splashy signings of their own to replace veteran stars nearing the end of their careers like 32-year-old tight end Travis Kelce.
It already seems to have played a part in their thinking in not matching Tyreek Hill's demands and shipping him off to the Miami Dolphins instead.
Future success in Kansas City looks set to fall on Mahomes' shoulders more and more if the team can't keep the talent levels of his supporting cast up to their previous standard.
Stars still want to play with Pat
One benefit of having a future Hall of Fame QB locked down for years to come is that Kansas City remains an attractive destination for veteran free agents more intent on seeking a Super Bowl ring than a payday.
The Chiefs brought in two such wideouts in the form of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdez-Scantling. They also brought in some youth at safety when ex-Houston Texans star Justin Reid came on board, while applying the franchise tag to Mahomes' blindside protector Orlando Brown Jr keeps one of the NFL's top offensive lines together for another year.
Mahomes will need to don his superman cape a few more times in 2022 if the Chiefs are to reign supreme in the ultra-competitive AFC West again - let alone the playoffs - but there's still enough talent and football knowhow for him to lean on when it doesn't quite fit.
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