Following Conference Championship Sunday, the matchup is set for Super Bowl 55 in Tampa, Florida. Forces will collide when Tom Brady, astoundingly reaching his 10th Super Bowl, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers meet Patrick Mahomes and the AFC’s top seed, the Kansas City Chiefs.
Mahomes and the Chiefs will look to do what no team has done since the New England Patriots in 2004 and 2005: Win back-to-back NFL titles.
Early History: American Football League and the First Super Bowls
The Kansas City Chiefs are a storied franchise, as an inaugural member of the American Football League and subsequently, an NFL team since 1970. The Chiefs, originally founded as the Dallas Texans, won three AFL Championships in seven seasons prior to the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Kansas City appeared in the very first Super Bowl, which at the time wasn’t called the Super Bowl, but pitted the winners of the NFL and AFL against each other. The Chiefs reached and won Super Bowl IV; the last Super Bowl before the merger.
It’s important to note the Chiefs AFL origins and early success, as it established Kansas City as a key franchise at the time of the AFL-NFL merger. However, things went downhill fast after winning Super Bowl IV. After 1973, the Chiefs endured seven straight losing seasons, as well as a 15-year playoff drought that lasted until 1986.
Marty Schottenheimer changed the Chiefs fortunes starting in 1988, making the playoffs seven times in ten seasons. With the services of Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana in 1993, the Chiefs reached the AFC Championship, but fell to the Buffalo Bills. The Chiefs returned to the postseason in 1994, but again failed to reach the Super Bowl. Kansas City failed to win another playoff game for 22 years, until Alex Smith ended that drought in 2016. Smith led the Chiefs to two AFC West titles in 2016 and 2017, but failed to reach the AFC Championship either of those years.
The Patrick Mahomes Era
While the Chiefs were a playoff contender with Smith at quarterback, this current team’s story began on April 27, 2017: When Kansas City drafted Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes with the tenth overall pick. Mahomes sat behind Smith in his rookie season, and then took an astronomical leap in his first full season as a starter.
In the 2018 season, his “redshirt” rookie season, Mahomes took the league by storm. Mahomes wasn’t just talented, he was incredible. In the first two weeks of the season, Mahomes threw a staggering 10 touchdown passes. Since that red-hot start, Mahomes has never looked back. He led the Chiefs to a 12-4 record in 2018, allowing Kansas City to earn their third straight AFC West title. Mahomes overwhelmingly won the season’s MVP award, receiving 41 of a possible 50 first place votes. His 5,097 passing yards and 50 passing touchdowns both marked a league-high, and would have shattered every rookie record if Mahomes was a true rookie in 2018.
Mahomes won his first playoff game a starter, defeating the Indianapolis Colts 31-13. Kansas City then hosted the AFC Championship, on a collision course with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The Chiefs nearly overcame the long-time AFC powerhouse, but ultimately fell 37-31 in overtime before Mahomes got a chance to touch the ball.
While the loss hurt, it’s hard to be upset about a first-year starter leading his team to the AFC Championship, and then forcing overtime against the most decorated quarterback of all-time. Though the Chiefs fell short this time, there was an obvious feeling that Mahomes, Andy Reid, and company would be back on this stage in the future.
Kansas City rolled right in to the 2019 NFL season at 4-0 before suffering the worst stretch of Mahomes’ career. The Chiefs lost four out of six games in October-November 2019, including three home games. A Week 10 loss to the Tennessee Titans dropped the Chiefs to 6-4 midway through the season.
This would serve as a turning point for the Chiefs fortunes. Up until this point, Mahomes had gone 14-5 as a starter: A dominant, elite record that almost any quarterback or team would be envious of. After Week 10, however, the Chiefs flipped the switch and achieved a new level of dominance. While I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, the Chiefs have gone 25-1 since that point with Mahomes as their starter, dropping just one game to the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020.
Back tracing to where we were, the Chiefs won their final six regular season games to turn their average 6-4 record in to an elite 12-4 record. In their first playoff game of the season, the Houston Texans jumped out to an astonishing 24-0 lead over the Chiefs in Kansas City. Still, you would never guess the Chiefs were in trouble in that game, as they roared back to win 51-31 and reach their second consecutive AFC Championship.
Mahomes and the Chiefs wouldn’t get round two with Brady’s Patriots, as many fans would have liked to see, as Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry, and the Titans dispatched New England to make a surprising run to the AFC Championship. The Chiefs won the game 35-24, and Mahomes had led his team to the Super Bowl at just 24 years old in his second season as an NFL starter.
Super Bowl 54 pitted the Chiefs against the NFC’s top seed: Jimmy Garroppolo and the San Francisco 49ers. As evidenced by their historic 24-point comeback against the Texans, the Chiefs had been prone to slow starts, but almost always followed it up with a roaring finish.
With just 12 minutes left in the game, and following two interceptions thrown by Mahomes, the Chiefs found themselves down 20-10. Mahomes stayed composed and rebounded from his interceptions, throwing touchdown passes on back-to-back drives to quickly take a 24-20 lead. The Chiefs held on to win 31-20, again making the score look lopsided despite trailing late in the game.
The victory made Kansas City Super Bowl Champions for the first time since 1970. If Mahomes wasn’t already the best quarterback in the NFL, this dominant postseason run and NFL title helped the quarterback officially earn that crown.
2020-21 NFL Season
The Chiefs returned most of their Super Bowl roster from 2020, locked and loaded to try for an elusive second straight championship. Kansas City opened the season as overwhelming favorites (5-1 odds) to win the Super Bowl, and never relinquished their status as the team to beat in the NFL.
Kansas City was far from the last remaining undefeated team in the 2020 season, as they lost for the first time in Week 5, while the Pittsburgh Steelers rolled all the way to an 11-0 start. Yet still, the Chiefs were the scariest matchup and most consistent team in the NFL over the course of the season.
By Week 4, the Chiefs had already taken down Deshaun Watson’s Houston Texans, Lamar Jackson’s Baltimore Ravens, and Cam Newton’s New England Patriots. The Chiefs’ Week 5 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders remains Mahomes only loss in his last 26 starts.
The Chiefs weren’t tested too many more times over the course of the season, but did pick up a key win the following week over a team they would eventually meet in the AFC Championship: The Buffalo Bills. The 26-17 victory quickly put to rest any rumblings that the Chiefs might be receding.
After a slew of manageable wins, as well as some surpassingly close victories, the Chiefs met two worthy opponents in the final six weeks of the season in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints.
In Week 12, at Tampa Bay, the Chiefs held off a 14-point fourth quarter rally by the Buccaneers to win 27-24 and improve to 10-1. The matchup had the makings of a potential Super Bowl preview, as it ultimately did foreshadow the matchup of Super Bowl 55.
In Week 15, again on the road, Mahomes outdueled a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees and won 32-29. These two wins were important benchmarks for the Chiefs in the second half of the season, affirming they can still beat even the league’s strongest opponents, even on the road.
After clinching the AFC’s top seed in Week 16, Mahomes was allowed some time to rest in Week 17. Chad Henne started at quarterback, and the Chiefs lost 38-21 to finish the regular season with a 14-2 record.
In the 2019 postseason, the Chiefs made a habit of falling behind before coming back strong and emerging victorious. So far in the 2020 postseason, the Chiefs have been in charge for the majority of the 120 minutes of football they have played so far.
In the Divisional round, the top-seeded Chiefs hosted the wild card Cleveland Browns. Kansas City jumped out to a 19-3 lead at halftime, avoiding a Browns touchdown late in the first half as Cleveland fumbled the ball out of the end zone. Mahomes briefly left the game after an apparent concussion, but Henne was able to hold down the fort until Mahomes returned to seal the victory. The Chiefs won 22-17, never trailing in the game.
This set up an AFC Championship meeting with Bills in Arrowhead Stadium: The third straight year the Chiefs hosted the AFC title game. This time, the Chiefs fell behind early, as the Bills led 9-0 after the first quarter. However, Kansas City wasted no time in coming back, pouring 21 points on the Bills defense in the second quarter and leading 21-12 at halftime. Kansas City extended their lead further, with a pair of touchdown passes from Mahomes to Travis Kelce in the second half. Buffalo made the first step of a miracle comeback, recovering an onside kick, but the game was essentially over on a long Josh Allen sack, followed by a scuffle between the two teams. Kansas City won 38-24, setting up a date with the Buccaneers in Super Bowl 55.
The Makings of a Dynasty
The Brady-Mahomes matchup at quarterback makes Super Bowl 55 a must-watch for NFL fans. Besides being two of the biggest names in the league, the meeting could hold tremendous weight for NFL history. As we’ve discussed, winning back-to-back Super Bowls is so rare in the NFL, simply achieving that feat will instantly evoke the d-word: Dynasty.
The NFL was once dominated by dynasties: The Green Bay Packers had a stronghold on the NFL at the time of the merger, the Pittsburgh Steelers won four Super Bowl’s in the 1970’s, Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers took much of the 1980’s, while the Dallas Cowboys rose to power in the 1990’s, winning three Super Bowls in four seasons. Most recently, the New England Patriots enjoyed a prolonged dynasty that covered over 15 years, with only a small break in Super Bowl appearances from 2009-11.
The last team with a chance at a dynasty was probably the Seattle Seahawks, who won the Super Bowl in 2014 before falling to the Patriots in 2015. If Seattle had made another Super Bowl, they could have entered dynasty talks, but as it stands now, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks are just a very talented NFC team.
Win or lose, the Chiefs will have a bright future and likely will enter the 2021 season as favorites to win it all once again. No team has even won three consecutive Super Bowls, though the Bills appeared in four straight from 1991-94.
Further NFL history will be decided in Super Bowl between the two quarterbacks. If Mahomes pulls off a win, he’ll have two Super Bowls at just 25 years old. For context, Brady was 26 when he won his second Super Bowl with the Patriots. On the flip side, Brady will be vying for his seventh Super Bowl title, looking to extend his record amount at the quarterback position.
No matter which way the game falls, NFL history will be changed forever. There will either be a 25-year old quarterback with two Super Bowl wins, laying the foundation to eventually challenge Brady’s record, or Brady will win his seventh title, making his mark even harder for Mahomes (or any quarterback) to ever surpass.