When 22-year-old Patrick Mahomes first burst onto the scene as starting quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, one word was murmuring in and amongst the crowd; Dynasty.
Since trading Alex Smith to accommodate for Mahomes, the Missouri-based franchise has appeared in three of the past four Super Bowls, claiming two titles.
Spearheaded by a quarterback who is already arguably one of the greatest to ever play the game based on statistics alone, the Chiefs are also led by a tactically disciplined coach in Andy Reid, speed in the running game, and a strong defensive line.
Despite a narrow one-point loss to the Detroit Lions in week one, albeit without one of their prime assets in Travis Kelce, the Chiefs have won their last four to send a reminder to the rest of the competition that they will be lurking around another Super Bowl appearance.
During primetime viewing last week, Reid’s men were far from their best against a sturdy New York Jets but managed to find a way as they always do.
In saying that, there are signs that this Chiefs outfit has its fair share of weaknesses that are there to be exploited.
Who exactly are those teams that have the best shot at conquering the reigning champions?
Before the top three contenders are analysed and explained, it’s worth pointing out the two teams sitting just outside the threshold of contention and what will halt them from going all the way.
Inconsistency is the word that springs to mind whenever the Dallas Cowboys are discussed.
A 3-2 start to the season thus far could potentially be worse if not for the elite defence comprising the likes of Trevon Diggs and DeMarcus Lawrence.
Conceding 13 points combined against the New York Giants, New York Jets, and the New England Patriots as well as ranked 5th in the league for sacks before the loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the defensive line provides the blueprint for coach Mike McCarthy.
Two factors will ultimately end up stalling the Cowboys in the post-season: The quarterback position and lingering mental barriers.
When the going gets tough and big plays are required in crunch moments, is Dak Prescott someone who should be trusted in the most important position in football? History and recent form suggest a definite no.
A shock loss to the Arizona Cardinals in week three points to questions relating to their focus and concentration which all combine into consistency.
In terms of mentality, the constant inability to show up when it matters most in the post-season comes down to confidence and not having the leaders required in the locker room.
Their latest 32-point blowout loss to the 49ers brought to light the problems with the head coach on a tactical level, Prescott throwing three interceptions, and the defensive line struggling against the highest calibre.
No one wishes injury upon any athlete, but the Bills must’ve had their eyes light up when Aaron Rodgers was subbed out for the Jets early in the opening week.
Everything was going according to plan until quarterback Josh Allen decided to throw four interceptions and single-handedly gift his team an unexpected loss.
Just like Prescott, Allen still needs to prove that he can be relied upon to remain efficient and disciplined when the game is crying out for a composed match-winner.
The 27-year-old no doubt possesses the talent and the rest of the squad help create one of the most balanced teams in the NFL, but the defensive end will get exposed against the best.
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That narrows the list to three title contenders that pose the best opportunity to knock the Chiefs off their perch.
Ranked in no particular order, these are the three genuine Super Bowl challengers to expect to see fighting until the last breath.
Some may be scratching their heads seeing the Dolphins as a contender ahead of the Bills considering their 48-20 loss to their division rival last week.
You can make the argument that this franchise is inexperienced and doesn’t have the same home crowd advantage compared to other teams, but Miami is on this list solely for their explosive attacking weapons.
Averaging over 34 points per game in the opening five weeks including the 70-20 rout against the Denver Broncos, it’s one of the very few offences that can go toe-to-toe with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Tyreek Hill (former Chiefs wide receiver) has 651 receiving yards in 2023 and is arguably the most feared player for any opposition.
Then there’s the other wide receiver in Jaylen Waddle with 245 receiving yards, who by the way, was not involved in the 50-point drubbing of the Broncos.
When quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is fit and healthy, the Dolphins have every chance of making some noise come the start of next year.
The defensive side of the ball should be the main concern, but the lack of expectation within the organisation could prove to be a blessing in disguise.
The Super Bowl runners-up could not have displayed a more shaky 5-0 start to the season as they continue to find their feet, especially on offence.
Despite being forced into overtime against an underwhelming Washington Commanders recently, the serious contenders get it done without playing at their peak and find a way.
Quarterback Jalen Hurt announced himself last season as one of the top players in the NFL with his pace and strong arm dictating plays.
Containing one of the best offensive and defensive lines in the league goes a long way, coupled with the experience of tasting what it’s like to play in the big dance.
San Francisco 49ers
When the 49ers last appeared in the Super Bowl against the Chiefs in 2020, a heart-breaking defeat had some suggest that their window had closed.
The departure of Jimmy Garoppolo has made room for the emergence of talented 23-year-old quarterback Brock Purdy, who has taken the NFL by storm.
An average completion rate of 69.3 percent along with nine touchdowns and no interceptions so far this season has the offensive unit firing on all cylinders.
What could possibly be more scary than that? Perhaps defensive end Nick Bosa and the rest of the defence, conceding an average of 12.25 points in five games.
Play-call action by the experienced Kyle Shanahan as the head coach can always be relied upon, as fans hope that he has learnt from the mistakes made during the Super Bowl loss three years ago.
Out of all the teams mentioned above, the 49ers should be feared the most based on consistency, talent, and depth.
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