Patrick Mahomes Syndication: Detroit Free Press

Whether the Kansas City Chiefs win Super Bowl LVIII or not, whether NFL fans like it or not, there will be one enduring image surrounding the 2023 team for years to come.

You know the scene. The Chiefs do something, and the broadcast quickly cuts to a look at pop superstar Taylor Swift in a stadium suite.

She’s either cheering or looking worried.

Travis Kelce’s girlfriend has helped introduce millions of new fans to the sport this year. Many traditional fans, however, are tired of seeing those camera shots and hearing about her ties to the Chiefs. But let’s not pretend her presence at the Super Bowl won’t be a huge deal and won’t draw the attention of CBS cameras throughout the game.

In fact, many fans have been searching for over/under odds to bet on the number of Swift sightings during the game. That wager is off the books, for good reason.

But fans can bet on the Chiefs, who are currently 2-point underdogs to the San Francisco 49ers, the team they beat four years ago in Super Bowl LIV. And they can bet on superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes to deliver, because one thing fans learned this season is you never bet against the two-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl champion, even when conditions seem stacked against him.

Even when his wide receivers appeared to have lathered their hands in cooking grease, Mahomes somehow found a way to will the Chiefs to victory this year. He saved his best work for the postseason, where the Chiefs were road underdogs against both the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens, yet emerged on top.

The fact the Chiefs got to their fourth Super Bowl in five years, despite the disappearance of their usually dominant offense, is an unexpected story. It might make good song material for Swift one day, although “Wide Receivers are Breaking My Heart” sounds more like a sad country song than a pop hit.

Hard act to follow

Coming off a thrilling win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII, the Chiefs appeared in a strong position to repeat. The team lost some key pieces in the offseason, in Pro Bowl pass rusher Frank Clark, starting wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, DB Juan Thornhill, and starting offensive lineman Orlando Brown Jr.

General manager Brett Veach signed tackle Jawaan Taylor and defensive starters in linebacker Drue Tranquill and safety Mike Edwards. Second-round pick Rashee Rice gave Mahomes another target outside.

Kansas City also faced an AFC West where the three other teams looked much improved. Still, the Chiefs entered the season as favorites to win the division, with an expected record of 11-6. They were also favored to win the Super Bowl, just ahead of the Eagles, Bills, and 49ers.

The Chiefs opened the season with a one-point loss at Arrowhead to the Detroit Lions. They then reeled off six straight wins, and it seemed to be business as usual in KC.

Then the losing started, and people started pointing fingers.

Tear drops

Once upon a time, Mahomes threw to a brilliant wide receiver named Tyreek Hill, now with the Miami Dolphins. Mahomes & Co. didn’t miss a beat in 2022 without Hill, leading the NFL in scoring and yards. This season, the wide receiver room suddenly became a glaring weakness. Starters Kadarius Toney and Marquez Valdes-Scantling struggled mightily, dropping passes, deflecting them for interceptions, failing to get open, etc.

Those shortcomings became apparent when the Chiefs lost five of eight games after their 6-1 start. The worst moment came late in a Monday night game in a Super Bowl rematch against the Eagles. Mahomes hit MVS right in the hands on a 50-yard pass play that would have resulted in the go-ahead touchdown. The ball bounced away.

Three games later against the rival Bills, Toney scored what appeared to be the go-ahead touchdown on an incredible lateral play from Kelce. But the touchdown was called back because of an offsides penalty on… Toney.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” CBS color commentator Tony Romo erupted after the play. “That just can’t happen. These receivers can’t get out of the way of hurting the team too many times at the end of the game.”

In the season-opening loss to the Lions, Toney had deflected what should have been an easy catch to a defender for a pick-six.

The Chiefs rallied around their teammates.

“The guys gotta have the confidence to know that I’m gonna keep throwing it back to them and they gotta make the plays happen,” Mahomes told Pro Football Talk in December. “I think it’s all confidence. I think that those guys can catch the football… So I think it’s just going out there playing confident, being them, and if they do that, that stuff will kind of help itself.”

Kelce went NSFW on his New Heights podcast.

“There’s a lot of media pointing fingers on the skill players on our team, I say **** that,” Kelce said.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith responded to Kelce by citing the stats.

“Respectfully, bro you need to stop that ****,” Smith said. “Your receivers have dropped 33 passes this year. 33, dog. 33.”

These were not fun times for the Chiefs.

‘Taylor Swift Effect’

The Chiefs didn’t need any more drama, but they got it, in the form of Swift’s presence at games. The superstar’s millions of followers seemed thrilled by her relationship with Kelce, and many tuned in to KC games to catch a glimpse of her. That’s one factor cited for the NFL’s TV ratings boom this season.

Other fans were not happy about all the attention she received. Some even floated a conspiracy theory, that the NFL wanted to help the Chiefs because Swift was at the games. That theory reached a fever pitch after Kansas City beat the New York Jets Oct. 1, thanks to a late holding penalty on Jets All-Pro cornerback Sauce Gardner.

The NFL didn’t help matters when it posted on Instagram the next day, “Chiefs are 2-0 as Swifties.” (And Gardner looked like he’d traded his helmet for a tin-foil hat when he posted on social media, “Lmaoo maybe if I was a swiftie, the ref wouldn’t of threw the flag.”)

Later in the season, some people began to wonder if Swift’s presence might be a problem for the team.

“Feels like it’s about time to call Taylor Swift a distraction,” Fox Sports pundit Skip Bayless said after Kansas City lost to the Las Vegas Raiders on Christmas Day.

Many talking heads in the national media heatedly debated that issue, as well as the contention that TV cameras were showing her too often during games. NBC analyst Tony Dungy claimed some NFL fans were “disenchanted” by the attention on Swift.

The debate got so crazy, polls were even conducted on the issue. According to a Marist Poll and The Kansas City Star, 71% of fans believe Swift has positively impacted the NFL.

Swift seemed baffled by the debate.

“I have no awareness of if I’m being shown too much and pissing off a few dads, Brads, and Chads,” Swift told Time after being named the magazine’s Person of the Year.

As far as Swift being a distraction to the Chiefs — the team is playing in the Super Bowl. 30 other NFL teams wish they could have that kind of “distraction.”

Wide receivers on the rise

Given the struggles of Toney and MVS, Mahomes turned more to rookie Rice, who to be fair also had some drops. Rice began looking like a rising star. After averaging 4-5 targets per game the first couple of months, Rice had nine or more targets in seven of the last nine games, resulting in some huge games (127 yards against Cincinnati in the season finale, 130 yards against the Bills in the Wild Card round). He ended up leading the team’s wide receivers in receptions, yards and touchdowns (79/938/7).

“He’s still got a lot he can improve on which is crazy to say. He’s had such a great season,” Mahomes said late in the year. “The little things that NFL receivers do — he’s got the explosiveness; he knows how to run routes.”

Sixth-year receiver Justin Watson saw more opportunities later in the season and had some big plays, averaging 17 yards per reception on 27 catches.

Valdes-Scantling even redeemed himself to some degree, coming up with a couple of big catches in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, Toney has played in only one game since that offsides penalty, yet he still managed to create drama just before the AFC Championship. The receiver was officially listed as out due to a hip injury and personal reasons, but he went on an expletive-filled rant on Instagram Live before the game to contend the team had lied about his injury (he did celebrate the birth of his first child the day before the game).

“Obviously he’s been on the injury report, so that part is not made up by any means,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid told reporters.


With Mahomes & Co. struggling to score points, the defense unexpectedly stepped up.

The unit ranked second in the NFL in fewest points and yards allowed. Perennial Pro Bowl DT Chris Jones, who missed the season opener due to a holdout before signing a one-year deal, anchored the line. He had 10.5 sacks and a career-high 29 QB hits. He had an incentive-laden contract, including a $1.25 million bonus for reaching double-digit sacks. Jones got that in the season finale.

Teams averaged only six yards per pass attempt against Kansas City this season; only Cleveland and Baltimore (both at 5.9 YPA) were better. Cornerback Trent McDuffie earned first-team All-Pro honors. The unit finished second in the NFL with 57 sacks (the Ravens had 60). Defensive end George Karlaftis III, a 2022 first-round pick, lived up to his “Furious George” nickname with relentless pass-rushing skills that earned him 10.5 sacks.

Reid told reporters in November that a number of defensive players stepped up this season.

“I think it starts up front,” Reid said. “You have a couple of no-names up there. They don’t get a lot of credit. With (Michael) Danna, he’s playing really good football right now. George (Karlaftis) is a year improved and playing real good football. (Derrick) Nnadi gets no credit. And I don’t think he wants credit, but he didn’t get any credit. He’s a stout-style player inside. And then you have Charles (Omenihu) coming on. … that’s a nice addition to that mix.”

Unfortunately, Omenihu tore his ACL in the AFC Championship, but not before he strip-sacked Lamar Jackson. The Chiefs made Jackson, the overwhelming favorite to win this year’s NFL MVP honors, look very ordinary. Stephen A. Smith called it a “choke job.”

Maybe the Chiefs defense deserves more credit for shutting him down. If they could do that to a veteran like Jackson, what might they do to 49ers second-year QB Brock Purdy in the Super Bowl?

Road ’dogs

In their previous postseason journeys with Mahomes at quarterback, the Chiefs played all their AFC playoff games at home. This year, the Chiefs hosted Miami in their playoff opener, but they went on the road to face Buffalo in the Divisional Round and the Ravens in the title game. They were underdogs in both games. They won anyway.

Remember how we mentioned earlier that’s it a bad idea to bet against Mahomes, no matter the situation? After the AFC Championship, Mahomes now has a career record of 10-3 as an underdog and is 11-1-1 against the spread.

“We’ve been underdogs the last few games, but we never feel like underdogs,” Mahomes said after the AFC title game. “We’ve got a lot of guys on this team who know how to win. When the playoffs came around, we knew we were going to make it happen.”

Did we mention earlier the Chiefs are underdogs in the Super Bowl?

Dynamic duo

It’s the NFL version of the chicken-and-egg debate: Is Mahomes a phenomenal quarterback in part because he plays for Andy Reid? Or does Reid look more brilliant as a coach because of Mahomes’ generational skillset?

There’s no question Mahomes would be a superstar and threat to win Super Bowls no matter where he played. He’s already a consensus top-five quarterback of all time, and he’s still somehow only 28. There’s really nothing that can be said about him at this point, about his football intuition, cannon arm, improv skills, running ability, that hasn’t already been said. Some fans look at the two-time MVP’s stats this year, almost 4,200 yards and 27 touchdowns, and yawn. Just another typically great Mahomes season.

Yet Reid had great success in Philadelphia before coming to KC, and the Chiefs averaged 11 regular season wins under him the five years before Mahomes arrived. There are some smart football people who think he’s edging into “Greatest NFL coach ever” territory.

He did one of his most remarkable jobs this season, guiding the Chiefs to an 11-6 record and the Super Bowl. With offensive issues and distractions, both real and imagined, Reid found a way to get the most out of his team.

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan knows what Reid brings to the Chiefs.

“Well, Andy’s done it for so long and always had success going all the way back to Philly,” Shanahan told reporters recently. “He’s always been so tough to go against and just how he spreads it around. The formations. He’s always changing and staying on top of stuff.

“Then you give him the type of quarterback that he has and it’s definitely not a coincidence on how many games they’ve won together and how they seem to be in the situation every year.”

Swift jet

This brings us back to Swift and the mini-drama that has emerged about her appearance at the Super Bowl, on two fronts. The first question is how and when she’ll get there. She has a concert in Japan the day before the Super Bowl, and while reports say she can make it to Las Vegas in time, this has become a thing, prompting stories with headlines such as “How long does it take to fly from Tokyo to Las Vegas?”

But she’ll be there, and the CBS cameras will find her a few times during the game, maybe cheering, maybe frowning. Which brings up the second part of the drama: There’s a theory circulating that, if the Chiefs win, Kelce will propose to Swift on the field. Incredibly, people can even place wagers on that scenario.

The 49ers will definitely have something to say about that. Who wins the Super Bowl, that is. Not about any possible proposal.

About Arthur Weinstein

Arthur spends his free time traveling around the U.S. to sporting events, state and national parks, and in search of great restaurants off the beaten path.