Things don’t get any easier for the Jets this week as they continue to adjust to life without Aaron Rodgers. On Sunday Night Football, they host the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, who bounced back from a one-point loss to the Lions in the opener with wins over Jacksonville and Chicago. According to our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook, the Chiefs are favored by 9 points in this game.
Coming off his second MVP award, Patrick Mahomes hasn’t fully hit his stride yet this season. His completion percentage, yards per attempt and average passing yards per game are all the lowest of his career.
That’s nitpicking though, as even though he’s off to a slow start by his own lofty standards, Mahomes is still playing well with a quarterback rating just below 100. He’s trending upwards too, as he had a season-high three touchdown passes in last weekend’s blowout victory over the Bears and didn’t throw an interception.
The Jets might have had brief hope that Mahomes could be limited in this weekend’s game when he was limping after a play last week. He’s fine though. If they did have to turn to their backup, Blaine Gabbert would step in. Gabbert, who is 13-35 in his career as a starter, has only thrown 40 passes in the past four seasons, but he had a 2-1 record in his three starts in 2018.
The Chiefs had good continuity on the offensive line last season with five players playing over 1,000 snaps in the regular season and postseason combined. However, they’ve replaced both tackles this season.
They invested big in Jawaan Taylor at right tackle, giving him a four-year, $80 million deal, then added former Bucs starter Donovan Smith to a low-cost one-year deal to play on the left. Smith missed some practice time this week with a rib injury, but he should be good to go on Sunday.
Taylor hasn’t given up a sack yet but has had issues with his stance and positioning, causing him to be flagged eight times in the first three games for either being lined up too deep or getting into his stance before the snap. He’s been benched a couple of times to readjust, but the player who filled in for him - Prince Tega Wanogho - just went onto injured reserve.
There’s a bit more stability on the interior with Trey Smith at right guard, Creed Humphrey at center and Joe Thuney on the left all returning from last year’s Super Bowl winning team. Thuney and Humphrey were Pro Bowlers last year, and Smith has proven to be a bargain after being selected in the sixth round in 2021.
Nick Allegretti is their main interior reserve and started three games last season. Lucas Niang is probably the next tackle up now that Wanogho is on injured reserve. The former third round pick barely played last year, but he started several games in 2021.
The other two backups, guard Mike Caliendo and tackle Wanya Morris, lack experience. Morris was drafted in the third round this year.
Former first round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire was overtaken as the Chiefs’ starter by Isiah Pacheco last season due to injuries and inconsistency. Pacheco, a seventh round rookie, rushed for over 800 yards in the regular season and also had a big postseason in 2022. He remains as the starter this season.
Off the bench, Jerick McKinnon proved last year that he is one of the league’s best third down backs when healthy. He caught nine touchdown passes last season.
The Chiefs’ best pass catcher is obviously tight end Travis Kelce, who caught 110 passes last season for over 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns. They also get a lot of production from McKinnon, as noted.
Beyond those two, the Chiefs have a variety of options at the wide receiver positions and it’s not altogether obvious who would be considered their number one receiver.
Marques Valdes-Scantling caught 42 passes last season, but he is off to a slow start this year. Skyy Moore and Kadarius Toney are listed as the other starters, but second round rookie Rashee Rice is actually the only Chiefs player other than Kelce with 10 catches. Toney is a big play threat but is also error-prone, and his rough game against the Lions in the opener really cost his team.
Reserve Justin Watson actually leads the team in receiving yards, while Justyn Ross should move up the depth chart with Richie James just having been placed on injured reserve. Montrell Washington hasn’t contributed on offense yet.
The Jets have given up three touchdowns to backup tight ends in the past two weeks, so Noah Gray and Blake Bell could pose threats.
The Chiefs’ defensive line is anchored by all-pro Chris Jones, who racked up 15.5 sacks last season and is now looking like he’s back to his best after an offseason holdout.
They also have some young talent at defensive end, where last year’s first pick George Karlaftis had six sacks in 2022, and Mike Danna has been promoted to the starting lineup after racking up five despite not starting any games. Danna and Jones are tied for the team lead with 2.5 sacks each in the first three games.
The other starter is Tershawn Wharton, who is also being promoted from a 2022 reserve role. Matt Dickerson, Derrick Nnadi and Neil Farrell are the main interior reserves with fifth round rookie Keondre Coburn also on the roster.
There are two more draft picks backing up at defensive end; first-rounder Felix Anudike-Uzomah and sixth-rounder BJ Thompson. Anudike-Uzomah already has a half-sack, but Thompson hasn’t played yet. Instead, Malik Herring has been the other main reserve.
Veteran Charles Omenihu will probably feature in the rotation later in the season, but he’s been suspended for the first six games.
The Chiefs are currently without Nick Bolton, who led them with 180 tackles last season. In his absence, Willie Gay, who had 88 tackles and a pick-six last year, becomes more important.
Leo Chenal and Drue Tranquill will also get regular reps with Bolton out. Chenal is a versatile player who has some pass rush abilities.
The other reserves, Jack Cochrane and undrafted rookie Cam Jones, have not seen much action on defense yet. The Chiefs also elevated Cole Christiansen from the practice squad for the second time this season as extra cover with Bolton out.
The Chiefs’ starters at cornerback are Trent McDuffie and L’Jarius Sneed, but they tend to bring Jaylen Watson into the game on the outside and move McDuffie into the slot in nickel packages. Watson is out of Sunday’s game, though, so Joshua Williams, who gave up six touchdowns in a rotational role last year, will fill in for him.
Sneed was tied for the team lead with three interceptions in 2022 and led the team with 11 pass breakups.
Seventh round rookie Nic Jones provides depth at the cornerback position and backup safety Mike Edwards can also fill in there. He’s the only Chiefs player with an interception so far this year, but they have recovered three fumbles on defense.
At safety, Bryan Cook and Justin Reid are starters with Edwards and fourth round rookie Chamarri Conner backing them up. Cook only made one start as a rookie after being drafted in the second round last year but he replaces Juan Thornhill alongside Reid.
Harrison Butker is off to a solid start as he’s made all 14 of his kicks so far, albeit with no attempts from beyond 50. Punter Tommy Townsend is also off to another good start after going to the Pro Bowl last season.
In the return game, James was handling punts and kickoffs. Now that he’s on injured reserve, Pacheco is listed as the kickoff returner and Toney as the punt returner. Both saw action in those roles last year. Washington returned punts for them in the Bears game though.
Watson and Williams have been the primary punt gunners, so the Chiefs will need to replace Watson on Sunday. They’ve only punted 10 times all season though, so that might not be a priority. Chenal and Cochrane were two of their most productive players in kick coverage last season.