We get bored with greatness in sports.
In the quest to find the next great story, we are quick to dismiss the one happening in front of us. We're also not used to teams staying on top for very long, especially in the NFL. It's more exciting to predict the next big thing than pick the current big thing to keep being great.
Go back to August and early September and remember what was said about the Kansas City Chiefs. The rest of the AFC West made the big moves. The Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill — who proved his greatness with the Miami Dolphins this season — and didn't do a ton to replace him. The Chiefs were a top-heavy team without a great defense and some questions around Patrick Mahomes. It was easy to predict a new champion in the division. Many wondered if the Chiefs would make the playoffs.
The obvious pick is obvious for a reason sometimes. It was always the Chiefs. They finished tied for the best record in the NFL at 14-3. The three losses came by 10 combined points. They won the AFC West for the seventh straight season and it wasn't close. They're the No. 1 seed in the AFC, though with some debate due to the Buffalo Bills playing one fewer game. Yet it's hard to argue the Chiefs are undeserving.
This season was a testament to the greatness of head coach Andy Reid and Mahomes. We got bored with Mahomes, too, and did it during the season. People touted Jalen Hurts as the MVP, even though that never made complete sense. There isn't a reasonable argument that the Chiefs would be better with Hurts, or that the Eagles would be worse with Mahomes. Everyone understands Mahomes is the best in the NFL. It's just dull to keep saying it. Mahomes set an NFL record this season for most total yardage, including passing, rushing and receiving, and he did so after one of the five best receivers in the NFL was traded to Miami. That's impressive.
Mahomes has started five seasons for the Chiefs. Kansas City has a Super Bowl win, a Super Bowl loss, two overtime losses in AFC championship games and this season the best record in the AFC. Defining a dynasty is tough in the ever-changing salary cap world of the NFL, but this is what one looks like.
The Chiefs put together the NFL's top offense in points scored and yards gained with an odd supporting cast. Travis Kelce is great and the offensive line is very good. The second-best skill-position player on the Chiefs is ... JuJu Smith-Schuster, with his 933 yards and three touchdowns? Jerick McKinnon, who scored a ton of touchdowns but is 30 years old and has never had 1,000 yards from scrimmage in a season? This season was Reid cooking a gourmet meal with ingredients from the convenience store, and Mahomes elevating everyone around him. That's what great quarterbacks do.
Maybe the Chiefs will fall short of a Super Bowl. It's tough to win a title in any season. Kansas City benefited from a soft schedule in the second half of the season. Their defense still isn't great. The AFC championship game, if it's against the Bills, would be at a neutral site and not Arrowhead Stadium.
It's also not smart to pick against the Chiefs. They showed that this season, again. In a few months, when Chiefs/Mahomes fatigue kicks in again and we're trying to talk ourselves into another team winning the AFC West or Kansas City taking a step back, just remember that as long as Reid and Mahomes are around, the Chiefs aren't going away. Even if we're not doing a great job lately appreciating them.
Here are the power rankings after the end of the NFL regular season:
32. Indianapolis Colts (4-12-1, Last week: 31)
The benefit from a last-minute loss on Sunday is moving up the draft board. The Colts pick fourth. The bad news is that might not be good enough to get quarterback Bryce Young or CJ Stroud. The Colts might need to trade up to No. 1 with the Bears to get one of those top two QBs, and that won't be cheap. They won't be the only team trying to get one of those quarterbacks, either.
31. Houston Texans (3-13-1, LW: 32)
The Texans fired Lovie Smith, and let's offer a quick reminder of how drastic it is for the Texans to have two straight one-and-done coaches. Since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger, only three times has a team had two straight one-and-done coaches. The 49ers did it in the 1970s (they actually had three in a row) and again in the 2010s with Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly. The Texans join that dubious list. The Texans job will be a very, very tough sell to candidates during this cycle.
30. Chicago Bears (3-14, LW: 30)
The Bears are in a great spot. They can trade out of the first pick to a QB-needy team and get a ton of extra picks. They can make a trade, and if it's with the right team still get Alabama pass rusher Will Anderson or Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter. They're in a good place. The one scenario I can't sign off on is drafting Bryce Young and trading Justin Fields. This is their chance to build around Fields, who showed a lot this season.
29. Arizona Cardinals (4-13, LW: 29)
I don't blame the Cardinals for getting creative in hiring Kliff Kingsbury. But they had to know that the chances of a coach who couldn't win in the Big 12 then winning in the NFL were low. And the decision last offseason to give extensions to Kingsbury and general manager Steve Keim, who is stepping away from the general manager job, was bad. The question now becomes what the next GM/coach thinks of Kyler Murray, and how that affects plans for the third pick of the 2023 draft and the future in general.
28. Los Angeles Rams (5-12, LW: 27)
This feels like a rough offseason coming up for the Rams. We'll see what Sean McVay does, but I'm guessing he's not back next season. Aaron Donald thought about retirement last season and he could walk away too. Then other dominoes might fall like a Jalen Ramsey trade. And if all of those players are gone, is Matthew Stafford still a lock to return? The Rams might look a lot different before next season.
27. Denver Broncos (5-12, LW: 28)
Russell Wilson looked good again, making it 2-for-2 to end the season after Nathaniel Hackett was fired. That late surge gives the Broncos optimism for next season, and it makes the head-coaching job a lot more attractive to top-end candidates this offseason.
26. Atlanta Falcons (7-10, LW: 26)
Running back Tyler Allgeier finished with a 135-yard game and almost won the rushing title for rookie backs. He was eclipsed by Kenneth Walker III right at the end. The Falcons have their starting running back for next season, and he'll be joined by No. 1 receiver Drake London and talented tight end Kyle Pitts. That's a good start to the offense.
25. Las Vegas Raiders (6-11, LW: 24)
We'll hear a lot about Tom Brady to the Raiders this offseason, and I don't get it from either side. Brady will presumably keep playing for only a team with title hopes, and the Raiders aren't that. Nor do they have a great offensive line to protect him. And for the Raiders, what good does it do to start something with a 46-year-old quarterback who might already be in significant decline? The only reason for Brady to do it would be to bail out Josh McDaniels, and I'm not sure that's a good enough reason for anyone involved.
24. New Orleans Saints (7-10, LW: 23)
It will be another offseason to watch for the Saints. They can't feel good about their quarterback situation. The futures of Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas are in question, to say the least. They don't have a first-round draft pick to fix some issues, having traded it away to draft Chris Olave last season. The Saints have pulled off magic acts with the salary cap before and reshaped the roster on the fly, but it will be another big challenge this offseason.
23. Cleveland Browns (7-10, LW: 21)
Firing defensive coordinator Joe Woods was justified, but it's not the cure-all. It's just a move that keeps the heat off of Kevin Stefanski for another year. At this point, the entire franchise is tied to Deshaun Watson looking elite from Week 1 of next season on, and the Browns must wish there were more positive signs these last six games to give them more hope that the Watson trade will turn out positively on the field.
22. Carolina Panthers (7-10, LW: 25)
The Panthers' head-coaching job is interesting. There are pieces in place. The NFC South might be really bad next season and begging for a team to take over the division for the next few years. The Panthers have the quarterback question looming, but they probably have the easiest path to instant success among any franchises with a head-coaching vacancy.
21. Tennessee Titans (7-10, LW: 19)
It's hard to imagine a more disappointing way to go into the offseason than turning a 7-3 start into a 7-10 final record and a Week 18 loss in the AFC South championship after leading with three minutes left. We've seen the flaws in the roster for a while and they all seemed to catch up to Tennessee at once. There's a lot of work to be done this offseason. It started Monday with the team firing offensive coordinator Todd Downing.
20. New York Jets (7-10, LW: 20)
This should still be viewed as a promising season for the Jets, even though the success came early and the losing streak came late. They were the opposite of the Lions. But there are a lot of good young stars to build around and plenty to be excited about. Now starts the challenge of getting the quarterback situation right.
19. New England Patriots (8-9, LW: 14)
The Patriots are stuck in mediocrity, and that's not a good place to be in. Bill Belichick said he'd be back but dodged questions about the future of QB Mac Jones and what he'll do with his offensive staff. A new offensive coordinator is an absolute must for 2023.
18. Washington Commanders (8-8-1, LW: 22)
Rookie quarterback Sam Howell playing pretty well in the season finale opens up options as the offseason starts. The Commanders would and should look at all quarterback possibilities, but it wouldn't be the worst thing to give Howell the 2023 season and see what happens. Maybe they hit the late-round lottery at QB with a player who was once thought of as a potential top-five pick. That would be the kind of thing that turns a franchise around.
17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-9, LW: 18)
The Buccaneers join the unfortunate list of playoff teams with a losing record. They join the 2010 Seahawks, 2014 Panthers and 2020 Commanders (not counting the 1982 strike season teams). The Buccaneers earned that losing record; they were lucky to finish with eight wins with multiple fourth-quarter wins pulled out from the fire. But nobody will remember their regular-season struggles if they beat the Cowboys next Monday night.
16. Green Bay Packers (8-9, LW: 10)
Get ready for a few more months of the Aaron Rodgers "what happens next season" saga. Rodgers likes the attention and it's hard to tell if this time he's serious about contemplating retirement. What is clear is the Packers had a disappointing season. It would have been forgotten if they beat the Lions on Sunday night to make the playoffs. Losing that game framed their season as a big failure, wasting one of the few seasons left with Rodgers, and perhaps his final season.
15. Seattle Seahawks (9-8, LW: 17)
The Seahawks might not be roaring into the playoffs but they made it. They can thank the Lions for that. It seems hard to believe they can beat the 49ers after being dominated twice by San Francisco, but at least they have a shot.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-8, LW: 16)
The Steelers end up with the 32nd overall pick of the draft in their trade with the Bears for receiver Chase Claypool, whom they'd soured on anyway and probably isn't worth that pick. That's another reason to get excited for 2023. If this is the low point for the Steelers, squeezing out a winning record and being alive for a playoff spot late into Week 18, that's pretty good.
13. Miami Dolphins (9-8, LW: 15)
The difference between making the playoffs and not is enormous for a team that started 8-3. No matter what happens at Buffalo this weekend, the Dolphins can feel good about being a playoff team. It's certainly better than the scenario of blowing a playoff spot after that great start to the season. And that's a reason they shouldn't even entertain the temptation of playing Tua Tagovailoa, even if he has cleared the concussion protocol. The Dolphins should give their young quarterback the entirety of the offseason to recover.
12. New York Giants (9-7-1, LW: 13)
The story we didn't see coming in Week 18 was Kenny Golladay, who signed a four-year, $72 million deal in 2021, catching his first touchdown pass in the final moments of his second season with the team. It was a nice, athletic grab, too. It doesn't change that Golladay has been an all-time free-agent bust, but at least there will be one highlight with the team.
11. Baltimore Ravens (10-7, LW: 11)
The injury news on Lamar Jackson this week has some significant ramifications and not just for the Ravens' wild-card game this weekend. If Jackson misses another game with his knee injury, it will be a running storyline through the offseason and especially in regards to his contract situation.
10. Los Angeles Chargers (10-7, LW: 8)
It made no sense for Brandon Staley to play his starters in Week 18. His explanation was even weirder.
Brandon Staley: "There's only 48 guys that you can choose from and these aren't easy decisions. Hindsight is perfect for everybody on the outside, but these games are not easy to manage. They're not, because you don't have that many players. We did it to the best of our ability."
— Nick Cothrel (@NickCothrel) January 9, 2023
Teams figure out how to sit key players all the time, including the Giants in Week 18. Hopefully Mike Williams and Joey Bosa, who suffered injuries when they shouldn't have been playing, are fine for the playoffs.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-8, LW: 9)
The Jaguars won five in a row to win the AFC South and get in the playoffs. No matter what happens next, that's a great step for a young team. And there's no reason they can't beat the Chargers; they handled Los Angeles 38-10 in Week 3 on the road.
8. Detroit Lions (9-8, LW: 12)
It's rare for a non-playoff team to rightfully feel as good as the Lions should about their season. Their Week 18 win over the Packers, which gave them a winning record after a 1-6 start, seemed like a massive step. This will be everyone's pick to win the NFC North in 2023.
7. Minnesota Vikings (13-4, LW: 7)
The Vikings have to feel good about getting the Giants in the wild-card round. They're not guaranteed to win or anything, but that matchup isn't bad for them.
6. Dallas Cowboys (12-5, LW: 5)
Everything is an overreaction when it comes to the Cowboys. Let's look at them fairly: They weren't as great late in the season as they were early on, but before the Week 18 debacle they had won six of seven and the only loss was in overtime at the Jaguars. Sunday's loss to the Commanders looked bad, but they also had to know the Eagles weren't losing to the Giants, and therefore they had nothing to play for. Now, if the Cowboys lose to a bad Buccaneers team in the wild-card round? It will pretty much erase everything they did this season.
5. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4, LW: 6)
The Bengals have a gripe. The NFL was willing to flip a coin for Ravens vs. Bengals home field if Baltimore won on Sunday, but not for Bengals vs. Bills? Cincinnati has a much tougher road having to potentially go to Buffalo, but the Bengals are capable of making a run.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (14-3, LW: 4)
Jerick McKinnon had nine receiving touchdowns, tying Marshall Faulk, Chuck Foreman and Leroy Hoard for the most by a running back in the Super Bowl era. He got a receiving touchdown in six straight games, a record for a running back in the Super Bowl era. McKinnon has always had talent, but mostly his hot streak shows that it hardly matters who is catching passes from Patrick Mahomes. He'll get them in the end zone.
3. Buffalo Bills (13-3, LW: 3)
I'm not sure there was a better moment in the NFL season than Nyheim Hines' kickoff return to start Sunday's regular-season finale. It also made you wonder how far the emotional adrenaline from playing for Damar Hamlin can take the Bills. Due to the NFL ruling that an AFC championship game between the Bills and Chiefs would be on a neutral field, the Bills won't need to win a road game to make the Super Bowl.
2. San Francisco 49ers (13-4, LW: 2)
There was some thought that the 49ers would be better off losing in Week 18 to draw the Giants in the first round. I don't agree. They still got a winnable wild-card matchup against the division rival Seahawks, and the potential home game against the Vikings in the second round is a huge edge. The 49ers have a strong path to the NFC championship game.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (14-3, LW: 1)
The Eagles set an NFL record with four players with double-digit sack totals: Haason Reddick (16), Brandon Graham (11), Javon Hargrave (11) and Josh Sweat (11). Fletcher Cox came close with seven. Eagles general manager Howie Roseman has been great the past couple years and understood one thing very well: You can never have enough pass rushers.