KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs enter the 2019 season with sky-high expectations following last season's run to the AFC Championship Game behind quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and now the team knows exactly what path it faces in making another trip to the postseason.
The Chiefs finished 12-4 a year ago, but this year's schedule includes a tough slate with seven games against playoff teams from a year ago including all five of the other AFC division champs and playoff squads.
Can the Chiefs claim their fourth-consecutive divisional title and capture the AFC's top-seed for a second-straight year? Here's my prediction for how the 2019 season may unfold.
Week 1 at Jacksonville: WIN
The Chiefs coasted to a 30-14 win over Jacksonville last season, thanks to five turnovers by quarterback Blake Bortles. The Jaguars hope the addition of free agent quarterback Nick Foles taking charge of the offense and a bounce back season from a still-talented defense can help them return to the form that took them to the AFC Championship Game two seasons ago. The Chiefs have won four-straight games over the Jaguars, including a 28-2 drubbing in the 2013 season opener at Jacksonville.
Week 2 at Oakland: WIN
The Raiders added free agent safety Lamarcus Joyner and linebacker Vontaze Burfict, but this will still be a young team under head coach Jon Gruden in his second season back in Oakland. The Raiders scared the Chiefs last season before falling 40-33 at home in Week 13. There's still considerable distance between these two teams.
Week 3 vs. Baltimore: WIN
This team now fully belongs to quarterback Lamar Jackson, who completed 13-of-24 passing for 147 yards and two touchdowns while adding another 67 yards rushing against Kansas City last season. The Chiefs pulled out a 27-24 overtime win following a Jackson fumble with 44 second left in the fourth quarter that setup Kansas City for a game-tying field goal. The Ravens thought they had the game won, and they should come into Arrowhead Stadium determined. Expect another thriller, but the home-opener magic should propel Mahomes and company.
Week 4 at Detroit: WIN
This could be a trap game for an undefeated Chiefs team thinking about the Week 5 Sunday night game against Indianapolis at Arrowhead. The Lions are coming off a lackluster 6-10 season with a down year for quarterback Matt Stafford. But Stafford should still provide a solid tuneup for the retooled Chiefs defense under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. This isn't easy, but the Chiefs pull out the win.
Week 5 vs. Indianapolis: WIN
The comeback of quarterback Andrew Luck returned the Colts to the upper echelon of the AFC last season. This game serves as a rematch of last season's Divisional Playoff game, a 31-13 Chiefs victory. The Colts will have this game circled for revenge, and the atmosphere at Arrowhead Stadium should be electric as usual for a primetime game. This is where the Chiefs should learn whether their revamped defense is playoff caliber.
Week 6 vs. Houston: WIN
The Chiefs played the Texans four times from 2015 to 2017, all of them in Houston so it's surprising to see them as visitors to Kansas City. While the Chiefs won three of those matchups and four of the last five between the two teams, most have been hard-fought battles. No Chiefs fan should forget quarterback Deshaun Watson tossing five touchdown passes in a 42-34 loss to the Chiefs in 2017. The Texans won the AFC South with an 11-5 record last season, and maintain the core of a defense that ranked No. 4 in the league with 19.8 points allowed per game.
Week 7 at Denver: LOSS
There is nothing tougher in the NFL than going on the road in a short week on Thursday night. That's what the Chiefs must do in Week 7 when they visit the Broncos. Kansas City owns seven-straight wins in the series, with the last loss coming at home in 2015 on – yep, Thursday night. In fact, the Chiefs hold a 23-3 record over AFC West opponents since December 2014 – all three losses coming on Thursday night.
Week 8 vs. Green Bay: WIN
The Packers make their first visit to Arrowhead Stadium since 2015 when a furious Chiefs rally fell short in a 38-28 Green Bay victory. The club cleaned out its coaching staff in the offseason, hoping to bounce back quickly from a disappointing 6-9-1 campaign last year. This is another quarterback battle to watch between Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, but it remains to be seen if the Packers have the supporting cast behind their 35-year-old quarterback. Expect a lot of points and a Chiefs victory.
Week 9 vs. Minnesota: WIN
The Vikings were a mystifying team last season, struggling to an 8-7-1 mark after an NFC Championship Game appearance in 2017. The club promoted Kevin Stefanski to offensive coordinator in mid-season last year, and added former Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak to the staff in an effort to jump-start the offense behind quarterback Kirk Cousins. If the defense rebounds, the Vikings could return to the playoffs, but the Chiefs at home are a more well-rounded team.
Week 10 at Tennessee: WIN
The Chiefs owe a little bit of payback to the Titans for a stunning 22-21 Wild Card loss after the 2017 season. Quarterback Marcus Mariota has yet to play 16 games in a season, so the Chiefs don't know if they're facing the unpredictable Mariota or journeyman Ryan Tannehill. The Titans didn't blink with the transition to defensive coordinator Dean Pees last season, and this expects to be another tough defensive squad. The offense might sputter but the Chiefs should prevail on the road.
Week 11 at Los Angeles Chargers (Mexico City): LOSS
Let's try this again. The Chiefs once again hold tickets to Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, and hopefully the turf holds up this time. The Chargers might be wise moving a home game out of the cozy confines of Dignity Health Sports Park (yes, that truly is the new name of the soccer stadium formerly known as StubHub Center). The last few two trips to Los Angeles resulted in a partisan Chiefs crowd, and the Mexico City venue might benefit the designated home team. The Chargers proved in last season's 29-28 win at Kansas City they can stand toe-to-toe with the Chiefs.
Week 12 Bye Week
Week 13 vs. Oakland: WIN
Nothing changes from Week 2 except the location and that the Raiders' season should be over with a look ahead to 2020 on the horizon. The Raiders put up a fight at home against the Chiefs last season, but Arrowhead in December is a different matter. If the Chiefs defense jells, this could turn into a rout. Trap game or not, Kansas City rolls
Week 14 at New England: LOSS
The Game of the Year late on Sunday afternoon in New England should live up to all the hype. The top-seed in the AFC could be on the line to determine who hosts the inevitable playoff rematch. Fans can only hope that this game matches excitement of Tom Brady-Mahomes I and II. But is Brady ready to give up the title yet? Not so fast. If 2018 serves as an indicator, the Patriots jump out early and survive a determined Mahomes rally.
Week 15 vs Denver: WIN
The Broncos could beat the Chiefs in Week 7 yet still find themselves playing out the string in December. The addition of quarterback Joe Flacco doesn't instill much fear around the AFC West, it just looks like more of the same pedestrian Broncos offense. The defense also isn't what it once was. Denver can get up for big games, but hard to do it twice in one season against Andy Reid.
Week 16 at Chicago: WIN
This might be the late-season game that determines if the Chiefs go 13-3 and claim the No. 1 seed in the playoffs or simply win the AFC West at 12-4. Conventional wisdom suggests the Bears are in line for a regression after a phenomenal season under first-year head coach and Reid protege Matt Nagy. But the Bears possess two things that should help them defy the odds: solid quarterback play from Mitch Trubisky and a stifling defense. Wouldn't be a surprised if the Bears are a favorite in this game but the Chiefs eke out a win.
Week 17 vs Los Angeles Chargers: WIN
The two squads who should be the favorites for the AFC West slug it out in the season's final week. Philip Rivers turns 38 a few weeks before this game, and if the Chargers select a quarterback in this year's draft, there are bound to be questions if this serves as his final trip to Kansas City. The Chargers and Chiefs are well-balanced teams, with the Chargers the better defense squad. The winner of this game claims the AFC West and rides momentum into the postseason.