Week 17 (@ Denver) Preview: Its Pat Mahomes Time!

(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The Chiefs (9-6) will travel to Denver to face off against their division rival, the 5-10 Broncos, in what is essentially a glorified preseason game. As far as KC is concerned, there’s no incentive to play key starters as they are locked into their seeding. Alex Smith and Tyreek Hill have already been ruled out, and Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, and many more are likely to follow suit. The biggest storyline heading into this game is the quarterback starting for the Chiefs: Rookie Patrick Mahomes.

Drafted 10th overall after trading up 17 spots, Mahomes was the answer to a snake-bitten franchise that has never been able to successfully identify and groom their own quarterback. The last quarterback drafted by the franchise to start a game was Brodie Croyle. The last rookie was Steve Fuller in 1979. The last quarterback drafted by the franchise to win a game was Todd Blackledge. Only FOUR quarterbacks the Chiefs have drafted have won  game in a Chiefs uniform. WOW.

The best quarterbacks the Chiefs have ever had were all from another squad. Even as they enter the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, they’ve done it again with another San Francisco castoff. The Chiefs can save $17 million against their cap if they move on from Alex Smith this offseason, and it’s likely what they’ll do, so this game will go a long way in deterring just how Mahomes has really come. There’s nothing but good out of practices from both sides of the ball, but live action against one of the NFL’s best secondaries (assuming Denver plays their starters) is a fantastic test for a very talented, yet raw, prospect.

To start with the negatives, Mahomes will be cast a poor hand. Without the Chiefs elite offensive weapons, Mahomes will have to do his best with Demetrius Harris, Demarcus Robinson, and a running back stable likely made up of Akeem Hunt and De’Anthony Thomas. But, these are the guys he is used to playing with in practice and from the preseason. If the Broncos play their starters, the prospects become more unfavorable, but that’s where the tide turns for the oft-hyped quarterback.

The Broncos have played against Alex Smith for five years, and even though the Chiefs won their earlier meeting 29-13, they got the same-ol Smith, thanks to a host of turnovers and a stellar start offensively that allowed the Chiefs to play ball control in the second half. Even with his newfound deep ball (the highest rated passer wen throwing deep in 2017), Smith didn’t display it that Monday Night, and hasn’t very often during his Kansas City tenure. Mahomes has incredible velocity from various platforms, and his ability to make incredible throws from inside and outside the pocket will test Denver in a way they’ve never been since Andy Reid took over the team in 2013. A knock on the veteran Smith is his inability to stand tall in a muddy pocket, and even worse bail on clean ones, but Mahomes likes to extend plays, and this will force Denver’s corners and safeties to cover longer. This could open up big plays downfield, and we saw a little of that during the preseason.

Despite his physical traits, what I’m exited most to see from Mahomes is how he handles the offense. One of the drawbacks from his stellar Texas Tech career was his lack of experience in a pro-style offense, and he rarely used huddles. If Mahomes is going to be the Chiefs franchise QB, he must huddle, and he must be able to make quick adjustments at the line of scrimmage. Its often you hear Alex Smith scream “Kill! Kill! Kill!” every Sunday, and that’s just a hint of the responsibility he has at the line of scrimmage. If Mahomes can master that often overlooked art, it’ll go a long way in securing a long term starting position.

Overall, I don’t expect Mahomes to be incredible tomorrow. He’ll likely have his handful of spectacular plays, thrown in with a turnover (or two) and some questionable decisions (throwing across his body?). I hope most of his development comes from reading defenses and executing plays as they’re called, and not rely so much on freestyling. The Chiefs made a big move to get him; now we’ll get to see why they did, and if it was worth it.

Prediction: Broncos 19-17

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