IT’S GAMEDAY, BABY! Not only that, but in my 14+ years of fandom (wow, I’m getting old) this is probably the most excitement I’ve felt for a season opener. The media loves the Kansas City Chiefs, and that means the media has paid more attention to the Detroit Lions than almost any lead up to a Lions season opener before. The Lions have a big game ahead that many are watching as a litmus test for whether they can carry over last year’s momentum.
The Chiefs are entering Week 1 already hobbled. They present a very whelming receiving corps, but that’s usually not a problem with Travis Kelce buoying the unit. Kelce, however, hyperextended his knee in practice this week and remains questionable for Thursday night’s kickoff. Without him, there are major questions about where Mahomes will go in the passing game.
Bold prediction of the week: Lions sack Mahomes 3+ times amidst Travis Kelce’s absence
Travis Kelce is more than just a good receiver for Patrick Mahomes—he’s Mahomes’ safety net. Kelce and Mahomes are very similar to what Calvin Johnson was to Matthew Stafford in the early 2010s. Stafford was able to avoid a lot of sacks because, well, Megatron was down there somewhere and would find the ball.
With Kelce questionable to play, that puts a big dampener on Mahomes’ escapability. He doesn’t have anywhere near the same cohesion with the rest of his receiving corps to improvise on the run. Nobody’s doubting Mahomes’ scrambling abilities, but he may not have the usual opportunities to get rid of the ball that he has with a healthy Kelce.
Then, there’s finishing the job. You’re probably thinking that three sacks isn’t a ton. You’d be right. Against Mahomes, however, it is. In his five seasons as a starter, Mahomes has been sacked three or more times in 17 starts. That’s just over three games per season. Across his entire career, Mahomes is only sacked 1.51 times per game on average, and he wasn’t sacked at all the last time these teams met in 2019.
The Lions are also entering the season with one of their most talented pass rush units in years, emphasized by the tough decisions they had to make at defensive end during 53-man roster cuts. That means fresh legs will be rotating in throughout the game to keep Mahomes under pressure.
Then there’s the part about Isaiah Buggs not playing. It’s still unclear whether this was the result of poor play from Buggs in training camp or a defensive strategy to focus on more pure pass rush Thursday night. If it’s the latter, then expect a lot lighter personnel in the middle of the defensive Lions with an emphasis on collapsing the pocket vertically for Patrick Mahomes. From there, he’s flushed and it’s cleanup duty for the edge rushers, especially if Kelce can’t go.
This all sounds great on paper, but it’s still pitched against arguably the best quarterback of all time, a man who earned the title “Mahomes Magic” for a reason. If Kelce can’t go or is limited, though, the Lions may have an opportunity to corral Mahomes in a way we rarely see, and that will be key to stopping the Chiefs and leaving Arrowhead Stadium with a win.