On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs will try to become the eighth NFL franchise to win back-to-back Super Bowls. They’re on the cusp of historical greatness, and as is clear from the age and contract situations of their best players, they have a very good chance of becoming a bona fide dynasty — and potentially a historically great one, at that.
Depending on your definition of the finicky “dynasty” title, there have been approximately five dynasties in Super Bowl history: the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s, the San Francisco 49ers of the ‘80s, the Dallas Cowboys of the ‘90s, and the New England Patriots of the 2000s and 2010s (Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers would qualify, but their other championships came prior to the creation of the Super Bowl.) Winning this championship would not cement a dynasty, but it would make it very possible, even likely, that they pull it off.
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have desensitized us to NFL dynasties of great magnitude. The New England Patriots redefined what a dynasty could look like in this league by winning so consistently for so long, and holding such a death grip on the AFC’s spot in the Super Bowl. It didn’t seem possible for a team to dominate for two decades. They did it because Belichick is the greatest coach ever by a good margin, and because Brady sustained an elite level in clutch situations for an absurdly long time (Brady is, if you haven’t noticed, still not done.)
Matching the Patriots will be nearly impossible for the Chiefs. But continuing to dominate over these next three or four years, at least, is within the realm of possibility, and a run of multiple championships would put them in rarefied air: they would be an offense-first dynasty taking full advantage of an all-time great quarterback.
There are few parallels for that in league history. Other dynasties had great quarterbacks, of course, but only Joe Montana’s 49ers come to mind as a dynasty truly built around a dominant offense. With the best receiver ever in Jerry Rice, the peak version of the Niners in the late ‘80s might surpass even this unbeatable Chiefs offense. In 1989, San Francisco won their playoff games 41-13, 30-3, and 55-10 to repeat as champions. They averaged two more yards per pass than any other team in the regular season as Montana won MVP.
Other juggernaut offenses and quarterbacks either fell just short or couldn’t get over the hump multiple times. Dan Marino famously never won a Super Bowl. The Greatest Show on Turf Rams, with Kurt Warner winning two MVPs in three years, went to the Super Bowl twice and lost the second time in an upset. John Elway lost three Super Bowls before winning a couple late in his career. Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees only won once, early in their careers. Peyton Manning, who has a convincing case as the third-best quarterback ever, won two Super Bowls, the last of which came as a result of a transcendent defense, and made two others.
Various problems befell the great quarterbacks and offenses that have failed to sustain dynasty-level dominance, from poor defenses, departures of skill position talent, and injuries. Reaching the dynasty mountaintop requires good defense, great coaching, and organizational smarts.
Super Bowls can be funny in that there are many instances of lower-tier quarterbacks triumphing. Even as Brees and Rodgers have spent the last decade trying in vain to get back to the big game, QBs like Joe Flacco, Nick Foles, Eli Manning, a compromised Peyton Manning, Jared Goff, and Jimmy Garoppolo have managed to find themselves starting and sometimes winning it all. This is, of course, a testament to football being a team game (And to the hot streaks of Flacco, Eli Manning, and Foles.)
As the New Orleans Saints have learned, randomness and luck is a significant factor. The Patriots overcame all of this by being really smart, really clutch, and really lucky. New England had a strong defense and a merely above-average offense early in the decade, when Brady was not the driver of the success. They evolved with Brady to become a dominant offense, winning later with a more ordinary defense.
The Chiefs are the perfect modern dynasty, with their purely offensive-driven success. Patrick Mahomes looks as talented as any quarterback that has ever played, and the skill position talent is off the charts. Andy Reid is a genius play-caller and progressive game-manager who maximizes the talent at his disposal.
They’re already something we’ve never seen before. Their immediate success, with Mahomes as young as he is (25!), is close to unprecedented, and their offense might be more unstoppable than any before it. Very few NFL teams have sustained a level like this.
Look at the example of another MVP gunslinger who won a Super Bowl: Brett Favre. Favre won three MVPs in a row in the ‘90s and picked up a ring over Drew Bledsoe’s Patriots. Green Bay lost to Elway in the Super Bowl the following year and didn’t get back to the big game until Rodgers had taken over.
Kansas City can remake the mold for an all-time great offensive team. As premature as it might seem, Mahomes is clearly on track to becoming an all-time great. The only long-term concern that comes to mind is Andy Reid’s age (62) — perhaps Eric Bienemy, inexplicably snubbed for a head coaching job again, will eventually be a George Seifert-style successor.
Before anything else, they take on Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The symbolic passing of the torch between all-time great quarterbacks has not been lost on anyone. We’ll see if Mahomes and the Chiefs take it and run.