Poll: Which Team Is Chiefs’ Top AFC Threat?

Representation in Super Bowls has not stretched wide in the AFC over the past decade. Since 2013, all of four franchises — the Broncos, Patriots, Chiefs and Bengals — have represented the conference in Super Bowls. The NFC in that span has produced seven Super Bowl entrants.

Since 2001, QB-driven graphics regarding Super Bowl participation primarily feature four faces — those of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Patrick Mahomes. An AFC team employing a QB outside that quartet has only reached the Super Bowl three times (2002 Raiders, 2012 Ravens, 2021 Bengals) in 24 seasons. As the NFC has rolled out 21 Super Bowl QB starters since Brady’s first appearance, it has been quite difficult for outsiders to forge a path in the AFC.

This space used to ask which team was best positioned to KO the Patriots in the AFC. The Chiefs ended up getting there, first loading up around Mahomes’ rookie contract before assembling a low-cost (but highly effective) defense to help a team suddenly limited — beyond the Mahomes-Travis Kelce connection’s enduring brilliance — following the Tyreek Hill trade. As the Chiefs aim to become the first team since the mid-1960s Packers to threepeat (part one of Green Bay’s offering occurred before the Super Bowl era), which conference challenger is best built to disrupt their path back?

The AFC North appears a good place to start. The Ravens open the season with an Arrowhead Stadium trek and held the AFC’s No. 1 seed last season. Lamar Jackson skated to MVP honors, and Mike Macdonald‘s defense led the league in scoring. But familiar issues resurfaced for the team in the AFC championship game. An oddly pass-focused Baltimore effort ground to a halt, as Jackson committed two turnovers. Macdonald has since departed — the first Ravens coordinator to leave for a head coaching job since Gary Kubiak in 2015 — and ex-Baltimore linebacker Zach Orr moved into the DC post. The team also lost three starters up front. Although quiet in free agency (in terms of outside hires) beyond the splashy Derrick Henry addition, the Ravens added likely cornerback starter Nate Wiggins in Round 1 and kept Justin Madubuike off the market via the franchise tag and a quick extension.

Cincinnati has shown superior mettle against Kansas City since Joe Burrow‘s arrival, beating the Chiefs thrice in 2022 before falling as both teams battled key injuries in the January 2023 AFC title game. The Bengals losing Burrow in November removed a key obstacle in the Chiefs’ path, but the NFL’s highest-paid player is back. The team also retained Tee Higgins, being the only team left to have a player on the tag, and added new tackles in Trent Brown and Amarius Mims to join Orlando Brown Jr. The team revamped its safety corps by bringing back Vonn Bell and adding ex-Raven Geno Stone. Not many glaring issues are present in Cincinnati’s lineup, with longer-term matters — the receiver situation chief among them — the top roster storylines here.

Creeping into the playoffs despite a host of high-profile injuries on offense, the Browns showed their roster strength by shrugging off the injuries to Deshaun Watson, Nick Chubb and their tackles. Cleveland acquired Jerry Jeudy via trade and then extended him, and other than adding some Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah supporting pieces at linebacker, returns the starters from a No. 1-ranked pass defense. Watson’s struggles, for the most part, since arriving via trade will continue to define where the Browns can venture.

Although the Bills parted with Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis, looking past Buffalo — a four-time reigning AFC East champion that defeated the Chiefs in three straight seasons in Kansas City — would probably be a mistake. The Bills made some cost-cutting moves, most notably disbanding its seven-year safety duo of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer (though Hyde remains in play to return), and saw concerning form from Von Miller following his second ACL tear. The Bills also lost Leonard Floyd in free agency. Focus will understandably be aimed at Buffalo’s WR crew, which now houses Curtis Samuel, second-rounder Keon Coleman and ex-Chief Marquez Valdes-Scantling (who certainly places a premium on QB talent). The Chiefs’ issues staffing their wideout spots last year provided a lingering problem; will the Bills make a higher-profile addition down the line?

With their backs to the wall, the Joe DouglasRobert Saleh regime will count on Aaron Rodgers belatedly delivering. The duo may or may not have attempted to strip power from OC Nathaniel Hackett, who is coming off a brutal two-year stretch. The Jets effectively replaced Bryce Huff with a more proven rusher in Haason Reddick and added Mike Williams as a supporting-caster on offense. The team will hope its pair of 33-year-old tackles — Tyron Smith, Morgan Moses — holds up, while Olu Fashanu looms as a long term tackle piece and potential short-term guard. Can the Jets do enough offensively to capitalize on their defensive nucleus of the past two seasons?

The Texans sit as a fascinating piece of this puzzle, given their outlook going into the first three seasons of Nick Caserio‘s GM tenure. After low-key offseasons from 2021-23, Houston added Diggs and a few notable defenders to the DeMeco Ryans-led roster. Danielle Hunter and Denico Autry join ex-Ryans 49ers pupil Azeez Al-Shaair as key defensive additions. Although Diggs struggled down the stretch in his final Bills season, he certainly played a lead role in elevating Josh Allen‘s stature. The Texans, who have C.J. Stroud on a rookie deal through at least 2025, will hope the Pro Bowler pairs well with Nico Collins and the returning Tank Dell.

Miami and Jacksonville’s roster equations figure to change soon, as respective extension talks with Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence are ongoing. The Dolphins have faded badly under Mike McDaniel and did not seriously threaten the Chiefs in a frigid wild-card game, though they have obviously shown elite offensive capabilities in the right environment. Handing the play-calling reins to OC Press Taylor in 2023, the Jaguars did not build on a strong 2022 finish. The Steelers also present one of the highest floors in NFL history, and they have upgraded at quarterback by adding two options — in Justin Fields and likely starter Russell Wilson. But they also have not won a playoff game since the six-field goal offering against the Chiefs — a game that represented the final shove for Kansas City to trade up for Mahoemes — seven years ago.

The Texans emerged from the NFL’s basement last season. Is there a stealth contender lurking? The Chiefs’ division does not look particularly imposing, once again, though Jim Harbaugh now overseeing Justin Herbert is certainly an interesting development. The national championship-winning HC has authored turnarounds everywhere he has gone.

No team has qualified for five Super Bowls in a six-year period, and none of the Super Bowl era’s threepeat efforts have reached the final stage; the 1990 49ers came closest, losing on a last-second field goal in the NFC title game. Who is poised to be the best Chiefs deterrent on their path to a threepeat? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your AFC thoughts in the comments section.

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