The best way to win early in a National Football League season requires two basic disciplines. First, don’t expect what happened last year to happen again, and second, know what is going to be different.
Both are tough challenges to conquer.
On Thursday night, the Chicago Bears played great defense at home and lost. A team that loses their opener at home, has a miniscule chance of representing their conference in the Super Bowl. A team that losses on the road, is not necessarily eliminated.
If the Bears played great defense, at home, how did they lose?
Because it is not last year. The Bears won the NFC North Division in 2018 after finishing in last place the prior four seasons. When a team has that kind of burst in the standings it requires the motivation stoked from recent failures. Once a team has the talent, and wins, the ability to spring from bad to good is followed by a much more challenging proposition.
Winning after success.
The mindset is totally different for the Bears this year, their expectations are those of a division winner that was knocked out of the playoffs by virtue of a missed field goal from medium range. The talent is still there, but that edge only found after a down season was missing. These Bears are now the hunted, after being on the prowl last season.
The Bears long term prospects beyond this season are very bright, they have an imposing defense and the chance of having Mitch Trubisky develop into a Super Bowl winning quarterback. Another team that enjoyed incredible success last year was the Kansas City Chiefs.
In his second professional campaign, and his first as a full time starter, Patrick Mahomes burst onto the football scene like Mighty Mouse arriving to save the day. He became the youngest QB in history to surpass 5,000 passing yards in a season, and led the Kansas City Chiefs to the best record in the American Football Conference. They also had an opportunity last January to knock off eventual Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots, with Mahomes putting up 24 fourth quarter points to overcome a deficit and stake his team to a seven point lead in the AFC Championship Game with time running out.
Then, just like the Bears have that missed 43-yard field goal as the reason for their postseason elimination, the Chiefs can point to a ridiculous off-side penalty as the reason they didn’t advance to Super Bowl LIII. The culprit, Dee Ford, was traded to the San Francisco 49ers during the off-season to rid the organization of the daily reminder.
Was the Chiefs success last season just a step towards them being better this year? Unlike Chicago, Kansas City has been a playoff caliber team during Andy Reid’s six seasons as head coach. Kansas City is coming off three straight division titles and Reid has led them to the playoffs five times. If last year was just a step on the path to a championship, then Mahomes and his teammates could be in for a tremendous season that could result in their first Super Bowl appearance since the 1969 season.
But, if Mahomes spectacular season is more likely followed by a lesser year, then what chance do the Chiefs have given their defense is not championship quality?
There's the rub. As great as Mahomes was last year, Kansas City’s defense was ultimately responsible for them not advancing past the New England Patriots. And there is no indicator that the Chiefs defense is going to be better this year, a step down appears a more likely trajectory for this unit.
Kansas City’s opening day opponent has also been a playoff calibre team in recent seasons, except for last year, when they were horrible. The Jacksonville Jaguars have conceded their 2014 top pick, the third pick in the draft, is not the franchise quarterback they were hoping he would be. To remedy this liability, the Jaguars dispatched Blake Brotles in favor of one-time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, Nick Foles.
The 30-year-old veteran, Foles spent the past two seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles following seasons in St. Louis and Kansas City after being drafted by the Eagles in 2012. He relieved an injured Carson Wentz in both his most recent campaigns with Philadelphia, and led the Eagles into two postseasons and a Super Bowl win two years ago. But, before you consider him a sure bet with the Jaguars, know this, he can be as bad as he has been good.
In his first stint with Philadelphia, Foles won only one of six starts in 2012, then came off the bench to replace an injured starter and guided Philadelphia to eight wins in ten games while throwing 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions. The Eagles thought they had their franchise guy, but he threw nearly as many picks as TD's the next year, 13-10, and lost as many games as he won.
Away from Philly, it got worse for Foles. He threw more picks than TD’s for the St. Louis Rams in 2015, 10-7, and won only four of eleven starts. He got only one start with the Chiefs in 2016, before rejoining Philadelphia and guiding them to their only franchise Super Bowl victory.
Jacksonville is his fourth NFL team, but what he starts with is going against a team he once played for and with the better defense on his side.
I don’t know how good Foles is going to be, but I know this, Mahomes has to be overrated coming into this season and we have a Jaguars team poised to bounce up off a disappointing campaign.
Qoxhi Picks: Jacksonville Jaguars (+3½) over Kansas City Chiefs