If you’ve been anywhere near football Twitter or Facebook this week you’ve probably seen any number of discussions about the near certainty that not only will Patrick Mahomes fail to reproduce his 2018 season, the Chiefs as a whole are in danger of missing the playoffs. And some of these even go so far as to claim that Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold are now the two young AFC quarterbacks teams would most like to build a franchise around.
Go ahead. I too stammered through a series of incredulous swear words when first reading the above nonsense.
But after calling them all idiots, morons, and $L?&#@, I gathered myself and decided to play along. I asked myself two questions, which we’ll try to answer there.
- Why is the internet so fixated on finding a replacement for Mahomes after just one year?
- Are they right? Is he going to take a step back big enough to cost the Chiefs a playoff spot?
Let’s start with the first.
Where Has the Mahomes Love Gone?
In Kansas City this is an easy answer. It hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s only grown. The leader that did everything right during the season has done everything right this offseason. He was a man of the people, cheering on his Texas Tech Red Raiders from the student section. And series of sponsorships with Oakley, Adidas, and others, were rolled out with understated and humble sensibilities. Kansas City sensibilities, if you will.
Mahomes then spent April and May tweeting with fans about Game of Thrones, and finding time to play video games with hospitalized children.
And hanging out with members of the Kansas City Police Department.
To put it simply, it is impossible to dislike Patrick Mahomes. And if you’re a Chiefs fan, you might even love him a bit too much.
I’m not admitting to owning this shirt or wishing I owned this shirt (or wishing that Patrick Mahomes was my father.) But I’m pretty sure my real dad would understand if any of those things were true.
So Kansas City loves him. Stipulated. Why then does the media seem to be so down on his season prospects? How, with Andy Reid at the helm, could the Chiefs and Mahomes miss the playoffs?
It’s worth noting that heading into last year the same Mike Clay as above predicted 21 touchdown passes for Mahomes. You may remember that the NFL MVP hit 21 touchdown passes before the end of October. So Clay doesn’t see Mahomes with the same eyes of optimism as most others do.
But he’s also not alone in his prediction of offensive regression.
For the record that’s Chris Wesseling, a guy I respect as both an NFL writer and cancer survivor, predicting that the Chiefs offense will rank out of the top 5 and behind the Eagles and Falcons.
I think the reason others have listed Mahomes behind Baker Mayfield in their QB rankings for 2019, or have already anointed Kyler Murray the next Patrick Mahomes (even as Mahomes is still just 23), is two-fold.
The media loves “the next big thing.” Mahomes is now a known quantity. Predicting a great season for him is boring. It’s like predicting a spot in the Hall of Fame for Tom Brady. Duh.
Finding and talking about the next big thing is what the media loves most, so everyone is putting in their predictions.
The media also loves to pat itself on the back for making bold predictions. It doesn’t get much bolder than saying the generational talent that just won the MVP award will take a step backwards this season.
Or is it that bold?
To Regress or Not Regress
Last year as a first-year starter Mahomes threw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns. It was one of the top 3 seasons ever recorded by an NFL quarterback. Mahomes, with almost zero help from his defense, put the Chiefs to within a foot of making a Super Bowl appearance.
Statistics are funny things. They are a pretty good way to measure a player’s value. It’s typically the first thing anyone cites when debating this player vs. that player. But team statistics are also driven by the game, and individual stats are driven by other players.
A really great rushing defense might have pedestrian numbers against the pass, but it could nothing to do with how good they are against the pass. Teams simply pass more because they can’t run. Or that same defense sees its passing yards allowed balloon because they have a really great offense that also forces the other team to be more aggressive.
Stats for that team don’t tell the complete story, and the same is true for Mahomes in 2018.
There is no question that if Mahomes plays with a top 10 defense he doesn’t finish with 50 and 5,000. The Chiefs offense was forced to play aggressive for all 60 minutes, and they have the offensive stats to prove it.
If the Chiefs defense is improved in 2019, which I think it will be, Mahomes will finish with fewer yards and touchdowns. And even if the defense doesn’t improve, it’s a safe bet his numbers will still drop.
But there is a huge difference between a statistical regression and a drop in quarterback play. Only a fool thinks Mahomes as a player is going to get worse. His natural talent aside, Mahomes has a head for the game, a desire to learn with a great coach to teach him, and a competitive burn that will fuel his growth. Players like Mahomes, and at his age, only get better.
He will be better in 2019. He will be better in 2020. And as crazy as it sounds, he will be better in 2021. But without 54-51 shootouts in LA or six touchdown games in Pittsburgh, his numbers are likely to drop. It’s natural.
But with the largest margin of victory by far in 2018, even a regular regression by Mahomes and the Chiefs offense does not put them out of the playoffs. Not be a long shot.
And if the film coming out of OTAs this week is anything to go by, betting on Mahomes to come back to the pack feels quite foolish.