Football is finally back into our lives and what a way to kick off the 2023 NFL season than a matchup between the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and the up-and-coming Detroit Lions. The Lions had a strong finish to the 2022 season and an offseason that made the NFL take notice of them and gave them this game to start the season.
The good news of having this game in Week 1 is nobody has tape as to what the team is doing this season. So while the Lions won’t know what the Chiefs will look like, the Chiefs won’t know what the Lions will look like. Also, going up against the best team in the NFL is a good test to see what this team could look like this season. While it’s just one of 17 games this season, a strong start against the Chiefs could build into something special, while a loss could be turned into a lesson on what to do and what not to do in the future.
The Chiefs are trying to repeat as Super Bowl champions, something that hasn’t happened since 2003-2004 with the New England Patriots. The franchise has been in three of the last four Super Bowls, going 2-1 in those games, with the lone loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It is difficult enough to win it all, but repeating is even tougher and has only happened eight times. Let’s take a closer look at the Chiefs in our Week 1 scouting report for the 2023 season.
Kansas City Chiefs
- 14-3 record (1st in AFC West)
- 1st in points scored, 16th in points allowed
- Overall DVOA: 4th (1st on offense, 17th on defense)
Last season was another successful one for the Chiefs. Despite quarterback Patrick Mahomes getting injured late in the regular season and in the divisional round, he was able to still throw for seven touchdowns, over 700 yards, and zero interceptions in the playoffs and help his team win another Super Bowl. The Chiefs were able to survive without wide receiver Tyreek Hill as he was traded to the Miami Dolphins and they attempted to get a replacement that could fill his shoes in Kadarius Toney from the New York Giants by giving up a third-round and sixth-round pick.
Mahomes was the main man of the offense to nobody's surprise, throwing for 5,250 yards, 41 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions last season. He also won the MVP award in 2018 and 2022 seasons, alongside another Super Bowl MVP. With Hill gone, Mahomes went more to his favorite target tight end Travis Kelce, who finished with 110 catches for 1,338 yards, and 12 touchdowns. The ground game saw an emergence from rookie running back Isiah Pacheco who finished with 830 yards and five touchdowns.
The defense was average. Their best unit was the defensive line, led by defensive tackle Chris Jones, who finished with 44 total tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks, four pass deflections, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. With rookie defensive end George Karlaftis III helping out with six sacks alongside the other starting defensive end Frank Clark with five sacks, the defensive line was dangerous all over. Outside of the line, the rest of the defense struggled. According to DVOA, they had the 20th-ranked passing defense, allowing on average 225 passing yards per game (10th worst in the league) and a QBR rating of 93.2 (seventh-worst).
Key additions: LB Drue Tranquill, OT Jawaan Taylor
Key losses: DE Frank Clark, WR Mecole Hardman, OT Orlando Brown, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, CB Juan Thornhill, OL Andrew Wylie
Trade additions: DT Neil Farrell
2023 NFL Draft picks
Round 1: DE Felix Anudike-Uzomah
Round 2: WR Rashee Rice
Round 3: OT Wanya Morris
Round 4: CB Chamarri Conner
Round 5: DE BJ Thompson
Round 6: DT Keondre Coburn
Round 7: CB Nic Jones
The biggest change on the offense will be at left tackle without Brown, replacing him with Taylor. Despite losing Hardman and Smith-Schuster in the passing game, Mahomes will have Justyn Ross returning from a foot injury and rookie Rice could see some ample playtime this season. The passing game will still be the Chiefs’ primary way of moving the ball on offense as long as Mahomes is at quarterback.
The biggest change on the defense is losing Clark, one less pass rusher to get to the quarterback. The team exercised this issue with the pick of Anudike-Uzomah in the first round and Thompson in the fifth. They also drafted Conner and Nic Jones to try and help the secondary as they lost one of their top cornerbacks in Thornhill. The defense needed more help in the secondary, so those additions should help that unit improve overall.
2023 season outlook
The Chiefs are one of the most dominant teams in the NFL nowadays and they are a championship-level team as long as Mahomes is playing for them. The team is the favorite to win the AFC West despite some changes around the division. The Los Angeles Chargers will be their biggest threat, but the division should easily go to the Chiefs. The Las Vegas Raiders have been a mess in the offseason, and the Denver Broncos will improve, but still seem unlikely to be a playoff team in 2023.
As the defending champions, the Chiefs open the newest season, and going up against the Lions is a good test for both teams. The Lions get to see if they can hang with a championship-level team, while the Chiefs get an early season test against a tough opponent.
The biggest talking point this week, and possibly for the first half of the season is Chris Jones holding out for a new contract. Jones hasn’t been practicing with the team all off-season and will be fined $2.2 million for missing the entire training camp. Jones hasn’t practiced with the team so far and says he is willing to hold out until Week 8 this season to return. With Jones not on the field, the defensive line takes a big step back, and with the secondary already being rough, it could get worse without their All-Pro defensive tackle helping get pressure on the quarterback.
The length of how long Jones is out depends on what the Chiefs record will be at the end of the season. If Jones holds out the first seven games, the Chiefs are going to miss him having to go up the quarterbacks like Trevor Lawrence, Aaron Rodgers, Justin Herbert, and Jared Goff—along with two divisional games. The sooner Jones comes back, the better chance this team can get on track and continue to be the biggest threat in the NFL.
Key injuries: DT Chris Jones (holdout), WR Kadarius Toney (knee), CB L’Jarius Sneed (knee)
The Chiefs have three key players injured or dealing with something right now, but luckily for them, it doesn’t seem serious. Toney and Sneed are both “good to go“ per Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, so expect them to play on Thursday night. Jones is still holding out and has a chance to miss the game this week.
Biggest strength: Quarterback
Mahomes is the best quarterback in the NFL right now, and while there are plenty of very talented quarterbacks, Mahomes is still the top dog. He is aiming for a third MVP trophy and has a chance if his receivers are able to click and find chemistry. He is the leader of this team, and despite having some new weapons to throw to, will always be dangerous and the biggest target on offense to stop.
Biggest weakness: Secondary
While the defensive tackle position makes sense without Jones here, I think the secondary takes a bigger hit if Jones is out. Jones is able to create pressure on the quarterback and with less time to throw, quarterbacks are either sacked, forced to throw the ball away, or make a risky throw that could turn into an interception.
With that possibly gone, the secondary is tasked to hold onto their coverage for longer which could be a tough thing to do. The Lions have some playmakers in the passing game like wide receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown, Kalif Raymond, Marvin Jones Jr., and Josh Reynolds. That doesn’t even include the tight end room and the running backs. Losing Thornhill in free agency will hurt them and despite Sneed being good to go, one play could flare up that injured knee and knock him out. The secondary is young and will be tested early and often, and no better start than up against a team with loads of weapons in the passing game.
Key matchup: Lions offensive line vs. Chiefs defensive line
No matter whether Jones is playing or not, this battle is the one to watch out for. The Lions have their starting offensive line healthy for the first time in two years and they will have their hands full with the Chiefs defensive line. If Jones is there, the job becomes much tougher, and his presence will be a big factor in how long Goff has to throw and how many rushing lanes are there.
If Jones is still out, though, that gives the Lions offensive line some breathing room as they can focus more on the edge rushers and hopefully give Goff more time to throw in the pocket. If the Chiefs can still be a difficult force on the interior without Jones, that won’t be good news for the Lions offense.
Vegas line for Thursday: Chiefs by 6.5