After a 2-0 start — where the Kansas City Chiefs looked unbeatable against one presumed playoff team and battled to a gritty win over another — it’s only right that we feel optimistic. But given all the rhetoric about the difficulty of the team’s schedule (and the division’s improvement), remaining unbeaten (and in the AFC’s driver’s seat) is far from a sure thing.
With their poor start (0-1-1) and injury trouble, facing the Indianapolis Colts in Sunday’s Week 3 matchup could feel like a trap game. For all of their current problems, the Colts still boast the league’s best running back and some other recognizable names on the offensive and defensive lines. The Chiefs can’t afford to take their foot off the gas.
Here are a few players that could be trending this week:
Orlando Brown Jr.: Kansas City’s left tackle came into training camp late — and will end this season basically where he began it: with a franchise tag and a long-term contract negotiation looming. So he needs to have the kind of season that forces the Chiefs (or some other team) to pay him what he thinks he’s worth. The season opener wasn’t much of a test — but Week 2 against the likes of Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa in prime time? That’s the type of game that can get guys paid. Brown responded pretty well, allowing only two pressures, one quarterback hit and no sacks against the Los Angeles Chargers. In fact, over two games, he hasn’t allowed a sack. Meanwhile, Kansas City’s running backs are all finding some level of success behind Brown and his fellow linemen. Against the Colts, they’ll face a couple of other big-name pass rushers (Yannick Ngakoue and DeForest Buckner), but neither are likely to threaten Brown’s solid start. While his PFF grades haven’t caught up with him, a strong showing on Sunday should make us feel good about where Brown is headed.
Nick Bolton: The second-year linebacker has looked like a star, doing everything he showed last season — and then some. Over two games, he racked up 20 tackles — 13 of them solo — putting him on pace to be among the league’s leaders this season. But he’s also showing improved abilities in space and in coverage, allowing a completion rate of just 62.5% on eight targets so far. Facing Indianapolis running back Jonathan Taylor without Willie Gay Jr. means he’ll be asked to carry more of the load — but so far, Bolton appears to be up for the challenge. He looks more and more like the three-down linebacker the Chiefs were hoping they’d get.
Jaylen Watson: It’s not just that he had a game-changing 99-yard pick-six on Thursday night. Watson also earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors with a consistent performance in coverage, clean tackling and good ball skills. He just doesn’t look (or sound) like a rookie seventh-round pick. His confidence should continue to grow as he faces a banged-up Colts receiving unit. Watson should have more opportunities to make plays this week, holding down the cornerback position while Trent McDuffie is on the team’s Reserve/Injured (injured reserve) list.
Others trending in the right direction: wide receiver Justin Watson, defensive ends George Karlaftis and Mike Danna, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, defensive tackle Chris Jones and punter Tommy Townsend.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling: Against the Arizona Cardinals, the former Green Bay Packers wideout caught all four targets — three of them for first downs — but against Los Angeles, those results simply weren’t there. He caught only two of his seven targets for a grand total of thirteen yards. It was a frustrating performance for a guy who is usually considered to be quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ No. 1 wide receiver. The Indianapolis defense isn’t quite as loaded as the Chargers’ unit, so Valdes-Scantling will have an opportunity to put a more efficient performance on the books. If he doesn’t, how long will it be until another receiver (like Justin Watson, Skyy Moore or Mecole Hardman) starts to see more of his volume?
Andrew Wylie: At training camp, right tackle was a position where we expected that competition would bring out the best — and hopefully, a young player would step up and win a job. Instead, the Chiefs went with the versatile veteran who served them well last year. But after seeing him struggle against Bosa and the Chargers, it’s clear that Wylie might not be up to the challenge of the division’s top pass rushers. As long as Wylie is starting, Kansas City will need to continue giving him help — and Mahomes will have to deal with more pressure in his face. Since the Colts don’t present the same kind of pass-rushing problems, it’s likely that Wylie looks a little better on Sunday. But it’s fair to wonder: once he’s off the Reserve/PUP (physically-unable-to-perform) list, could Lucas Niang get an opportunity to start?
Others trending in the wrong direction: cornerback Rashad Fenton and safety Bryan Cook
Value (sleeper) picks: Two offensive playmakers
Jody Fortson and Skye Moore: On Thursday night, the Los Angeles defense made life difficult for the Kansas City offense, so the team stuck with its offensive veterans to pull out the victory. Lost in the shuffle were two young playmakers who saw few opportunities. Both still have plenty of productive games ahead of them — perhaps as soon as Sunday. Tight end Fortson saw just 10% of the snaps and only one target: a poorly-thrown ball in the end zone. Rookie wideout Moore was on the field for just 4% of the offensive snaps and had no passes thrown his way. But this season, the stories of the Chiefs’ pass-catchers might be on a pendulum that swings in opposite directions each week. In one game, it could be JuJu Smith-Schuster and Valdes-Scantling — but the next one could belong to the young guys. Perhaps the Colts’ defense will be more hospitable towards these two young playmakers. In Indianapolis, one (or both) could find room to run — and maybe hit some pay dirt.