LAKE FOREST - Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs have the AFC West championship locked in and more big goals in sight.
They hope to make for a somewhat less stressful run in the playoffs by getting a top-two seed and a first-round bye, still possibilities. And they can't afford to stumble against the Chicago Bears on Sunday night.
“Obviously, their season hasn’t gone the way they wanted to, but you saw last year - they still have those same players and they have a very talented team with a very talented defense," said Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs' star quarterback. "We expect them to be energized and ready to play. We’re going to go out there with the mentality we’re going to play a really good football team in a really good atmosphere.”
The Chiefs clinched their fourth straight division championship two weeks ago, when they beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots and Oakland lost to Tennessee. They followed that with a 23-3 romp over Denver at snowy Arrowhead Stadium.
Kansas City (10-4) has won four in a row. The Chiefs are tied with Buffalo in the AFC, trailing Baltimore by two games and New England by one, and Houston (9-5) is right behind them.
The Bears (7-7) had their playoff hopes officially dashed last week when they lost at Green Bay and Minnesota beat the Los Angeles Chargers. But in a season that began with huge expectations, they basically fell out of contention in the early going.
Coming off a 12-4 record and NFC North championship in coach Matt Nagy's first season, they hit the halfway mark at 3-5 after losing four in a row. They won four of the next five, beating the struggling Detroit Lions twice and New York Giants once in that span, before they were mathematically eliminated.
“That’s done," Nagy said. “That’s out. We can’t do it. But what we can do is continue to fight our tails off and coach our tails off, and that’s what we’re looking for and that’s what I’m looking for - how our guys respond to this situation."
MENTOR, PROTEGE MEET
Chiefs coach Andy Reid and Nagy will be on opposite sides for the first time.
A star quarterback at Delaware who never made it in the NFL, Nagy spent a decade working for Reid in Philadelphia and Kansas City before the Bears hired him last season. He was working in new construction home sales when he got internships in back-to-back summers at Eagles camp. That led to a job on Reid's staff and, ultimately, the offensive coordinator job and play-calling duties for the Chiefs.
“I watched him grow in the profession," Reid said. “The way he went about it, a relentless worker, all of that stuff that it takes to be a head coach, he's got."
The Chiefs gave their Super Bowl hopes a boost when they claimed seven-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Terrell Suggs off waivers from Arizona on Monday. And he just might play on Sunday.
That's because Suggs is familiar with defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's system from their time together in Baltimore. The two were together in 2013 and ‘14 when Spagnuolo was a senior defensive assistant and secondary coach on John Harbaugh’s staff.
Suggs spent 16 memorable seasons in Baltimore and was part of the 2012 Super Bowl championship team. He has 138 sacks over 17 years with the Ravens and Cardinals.
Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky understands he will forever be linked to Mahomes and Houston's Deshaun Watson. That's because he got drafted ahead of them when Chicago took him with the No. 2 overall pick in 2017, and has not performed as well as they have.
Mahomes went from appearing in one game behind Alex Smith as a rookie after being drafted 10th to capturing the MVP award last year. Watson made his second straight Pro Bowl. But Trubisky has mostly struggled this season and has not performed the way the Bears envisioned.
“Our careers are going in different paths and they will for the rest of time and they’ll be compared against each other,” he said. “It’s just the nature of the beast, but I’m in competition with myself and just trying to be the best version of me.”
Mahomes has a chance to become the first player to throw for 9,000 yards in the first 30 games of his career.
He has 8,987 yards in 29 outings. And with 73 touchdown passes, he also has a good shot at becoming the first to throw for 75 scores in his first 30 games.
Travis Kelce, already the first tight end with four straight 1,000-yard seasons, could become the first at his position with 1,200 in consecutive years. The two-time All-Pro has 1,131 yards after finishing with a career high 1,336 in 2018. He also needs 14 receptions to become the first tight end with at least 100 in multiple seasons.
Chicago's Khalil Mack needs 2 1/2 sacks to reach double digits for the fifth straight year. But he hasn't been taking down quarterbacks lately.
Mack has just two sacks in the past seven games.