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The Kansas City Chiefs kick off their title-defense campaign on Thursday night in a matchup against the Detroit Lions.
Here are five things to keep in mind heading into game day.
1. Here’s a look at the final injury report for both teams.
The Chiefs’ lone designation is tight end Travis Kelce, who suffered a hyperextended knee during Tuesday’s practice. Kelce is listed as questionable for the season-opener, so the next update on his status will be at 5:50 p.m. CT on Thursday when the game day inactives announcement takes place.
As for the Lions, they will officially be without cornerback Emmanuel Moseley (knee), who joined Detroit as a free agent during the offseason. Moseley has been working his way back to the field after suffering a torn ACL last season.
2. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is historically dominant in season-openers.
Mahomes has been nothing short of brilliant in Week 1 games during his young career, even by his lofty standards. The reigning league MVP has thrown for 18 touchdowns (with no interceptions) in five career season-openers. His Week 1 performances are as follows:
2018: 256 passing yards and four touchdowns vs. the Chargers.
2019: 378 passing yards and three touchdowns vs. Jacksonville.
2020: 211 passing yards and three touchdowns vs. Houston.
2021: 337 passing yards and three touchdowns vs. Cleveland.
2022: 360 passing yards and five touchdowns vs. Arizona.
The most important statistic of all, of course, is that Mahomes is undefeated in those five season-opening games. Kansas City is the only team in the NFL to own a 5-0 record in Week 1 matchups since 2018.
3. The Lions’ offense thrived when using play-action last season.
Detroit somewhat quietly assembled the fifth-highest scoring offense in the NFL last season, and upon a closer look, the Lions’ success utilizing play-action was a significant reason why.
In fact, Lions’ quarterback Jared Goff recorded the highest passer rating on play-action passing attempts of any qualified quarterback in the NFL last season, tallying a mark of 123.0. Goff tossed a league-most 16 touchdowns off play-action (with just three interceptions) while completing nine “big time throws,” a Pro Football Focus metric that subjectively tallies passes that were particularly impressive. Only Patrick Mahomes (with 13) recorded more “big time throws” in play-action situations last season.
Conversely, Goff – whose 90.5 PFF “grade” in play-action passing situations last season trailed only Mahomes among quarterbacks with 400+ snaps – ranked 23rd in the NFL with a 61.8 “grade” when play-action wasn’t used.
It’s all to say that the Chiefs’ ability to maintain discipline in play-action situations will be critical on Thursday, particularly as the Lions unveil a new-look backfield that features two new contributors who are each capable of catching the football. Detroit elected to move on from former running backs Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift during the offseason, which was a significant decision considering that they combined for 1,608 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns in 2022. The Lions replaced that duo with rookie Jahmyr Gibbs and veteran David Montgomery, who each offer a versatile skillset to Detroit’s offense.
Gibbs, in particular, was the No. 12 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft just a few months ago. The former Alabama standout, who led the Crimson Tide in both rushing yards and catches last season, presents a unique challenge for the Chiefs’ defense on Thursday.
“He didn’t play a lot in the preseason – there were a couple snaps in there – but we have looked at Alabama film,” said Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. “They found ways to get him the ball out on the perimeter. We expect this team to do the same thing. He’s really good with the ball in his hands. It’s all eyeballs on No. 26 whenever he goes in the game…We have to know where he is. With a guy who is that explosive, they’re going to find ways to get him the ball.”
As far as the passing game goes, Lions’ wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is the primary name to know. St. Brown racked up 106 catches last season – the ninth-most in the NFL – for 1,161 yards and six touchdowns. The third-year wide receiver was targeted at least six times in 14 of his 16 games last year.
4. The battle between the Chiefs’ new tackles and the Lions’ pass-rush will be critical.
The Chiefs feature two new offensive tackles this season as veteran Donovan Smith prepares to anchor the left side while Jawaan Taylor protects the right. Both players enter this upcoming season with impressive resumes, and the Chiefs will need them at their best on Thursday night as Kansas City faces a young and talented Lions’ defensive front. Notably, the Chiefs will need to slow down defensive end Aidan Hutchinson – the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft – who led all rookies in sacks last season with 9.5.
Detroit yielded the most yards-per-game of any team in the NFL last season (392.4), but they shouldn’t be overlooked. Containing Hutchinson and the rest of the Lions’ pass-rush will be key, and it provides a significant first test for the Chiefs’ new tackles.
5. Kansas City will look to maintain its ridiculous stretch of success vs. NFC opponents.
The Chiefs have amassed a historic run of success against NFC opponents in recent seasons. In fact, Kansas City has won an incredible 16 consecutive regular-season games against the NFC. It marks the second-longest interconference winning streak in the Super Bowl Era, trailing only the New England Patriots streak of 17 straight games from 2005 to 2009.
Taken a step further, the Chiefs are a staggering 21-4 vs. NFC opponents since 2018 when including the playoffs. Those 21 victories are more than three NFC teams have against their own conference in that span.
It all makes for a potentially thrilling matchup on Thursday night as the Chiefs kick off their title-defense campaign on the global stage.
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