How the Chiefs stack up among NFL dynasties (and a path past the Patriots): Sando’s Pick Six – The Athletic
By Mike SandoFeb 12, 2024
LAS VEGAS — Go ahead and crown the Kansas City Chiefs as the fourth NFL dynasty of the Super Bowl era. They have joined the post-2000 New England Patriots, 1980s San Francisco 49ers and 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers in a class apart from all others. Theirs is a dynasty in progress — just getting started, perhaps. But these Chiefs have done enough to belong.
That is the big-picture takeaway from the Chiefs’ 25-22 overtime victory over the 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII, which delivered Kansas City its third Lombardi Trophy in five seasons.
What makes an NFL dynasty? Patrick Mahomes does, but there’s more to it than that.
The stuff of dynasties: This Chiefs championship built on defense and perseverance
The Pick Six column lays out logical requirements for dynasty status with an appreciation for history, explaining what connects these Chiefs to those other legendary teams. The Joe Gibbs-era Washington Redskins and early 1990s Dallas Cowboys were great, but they belong in separate categories, as we’ll explain.
The full menu for the final Pick Six column of the 2024 NFL season:
• Chiefs fantastic and dynastic
• Mahomes already the third-best QB ever?
• Second-guessing Kyle Shanahan
• Gates, Holt and Hall of Fame
• The Lamar Jackson MVP dissenter
• Two-minute drill: No need to talk
“[Mahomes] is the best. He is the standard. Michael Jordan wins it again.” #SBLVIII pic.twitter.com/EgLchylxSA
— NFL (@NFL) February 12, 2024
1. What makes for a Super Bowl-era dynasty and what elevates these Chiefs to that status? Let’s dive into the criteria.
The public-address announcer at Allegiant Stadium introduced the Chiefs as a “dynasty in the making” before the team ran onto the field.
For much of the game, the Chiefs played like a dynasty in the unmaking. They fumbled, wasted timeouts, incurred costly penalties and were fortunate to trail only 10-3 at halftime.
But when Kansas City had to score or else, Mahomes and the Chiefs delivered, just as even the most ardent 49ers fan should have expected them to do. And so here they are, with three Super Bowl victories in five seasons, and people will ask, are they a dynasty?
After studying the greatest Super Bowl-era runs, the 1974-79 Steelers, 1981-94 49ers, 2001-18 Patriots and 2019-23 Chiefs emerged as the only teams fitting what I think are logical requirements for dynasty status:
• Winning three-plus Super Bowls over five-plus seasons
• Posting the NFL’s best regular-season winning percentage, beginning with the first Super Bowl-winning season and ending with the final or most recent one
• Reaching the conference championship round more than half the time during the dynasty
These benchmarks account for dominant success over time.
The table below compares the Chiefs to their dynastic peers in the Super Bowl era. All the relevant boxes are checked. Kansas City, like New England, has won big in the free-agency era, which complicates keeping together great teams.
Super Bowl-era NFL dynasties
|Win pct. rank
|*3-6 in ’82 (strike]
Dynasty implies a run of significant duration. Five seasons feels just long enough. Three Super Bowl victories feels like the correct minimum, but not by itself. Three in a row would be a three-peat, not a dynasty. Three in four seasons would be incredible, perhaps a mini-dynasty, but not quite long enough to make it a dynasty.
The 1992-95 Cowboys were a dynasty in the making after winning three Super Bowls in four seasons, but owner Jerry Jones fired coach Jimmy Johnson before the third Super Bowl victory. The chances for a true dynasty evaporated.
The 1982-91 Redskins won three Super Bowls but did not reach conference championship games more than half the time. They also finished second to the 49ers in winning percentage over that period. It’s tough to claim dynasty status within a primary rival’s superior dynasty.
Those Gibbs-era Washington teams stand on their own for winning three Super Bowls with three starting quarterbacks, one of the most impressive accomplishments in league history. But they don’t check all the boxes for a dynasty.
The Patriots had Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. The 49ers had Bill Walsh (and George Seifert), Joe Montana (and Steve Young) and Jerry Rice. The Steelers had Chuck Noll, Terry Bradshaw, two Hall of Fame receivers and a legendary defense.
The Chiefs have Andy Reid, Mahomes and Travis Kelce. They are not as stacked right now as some of those other dynasty teams, but they will address their issues, especially at receiver. They are not far away from becoming one of the better Chiefs teams, ridiculous as that sounds following back-to-back Super Bowl victories.
And this is why these Chiefs can ultimately threaten New England’s run of six Super Bowl victories during the Belichick-Brady era.
These Chiefs are the rare team that can win it all repeatedly with their merely decent teams. No one will point to the 2022 or 2024 Chiefs as all-time great teams individually. The 2024 team was the 28th-best in franchise history, according to Pro Football Reference’s Simple Rating System, which uses point differential and schedule strength to produce a rating that doubles as a point spread against an average opponent.
Super Bowl-winning Chiefs’ Simple Ratings
The table above stacks the Chiefs’ all-time Super Bowl-winning teams by their Simple Ratings. The 1969 juggernaut Chiefs lead the way and would have been favored by 11.9 points against an average opponent. Kansas City’s 2019 team was the sixth-best in franchise history using this measure. These were legitimately dominant teams.
For the Chiefs, winning back-to-back Super Bowls with the 19th- and 28th-best teams in franchise history feels like stealing, except these outcomes also feel inevitable, given Mahomes’ brilliance.
Contrast these past two Kansas City seasons to the Brady-Belichick Patriots, who failed to win it all with the three highest-rated SRS teams in franchise history: the 2007 team (20.1 SRS) famously lost to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII following an undefeated regular season, while the 2010 (15.4 SRS) and 2012 (12.8 SRS) teams didn’t even reach Super Bowls.
The Chiefs are winning it all during their so-so seasons, even against top-quality opponents. Their title path this season included playoff wins over the league’s top two teams in SRS (Ravens, 49ers) and four of the top five (Bills, Dolphins).
As this Super Bowl against the 49ers wound down and Mahomes went to work, finding Kelce almost at will and finally winning the game with a beautifully called, 3-yard walk-off scoring pass to Mecole Hardman, I recalled what an exec from another team said about the Chiefs back in October, when questions swirled around their struggling pass game.
13 plays. 75 yards. 1 Super Bowl victory.
The drive that gave the @Chiefs back-to-back Lombardis. 🏆 pic.twitter.com/rqmkgJPrrk
— NFL (@NFL) February 12, 2024
“Yeah, it looks harder for them on offense until Mahomes finds (Travis) Kelce on every major third down, every major two-minute play, every major touchdown,” the exec said then. “Kansas City has the luxury of their best players being their toughest players. Chris Jones is a very tough player. Kelce is a very tough player. Mahomes is a very tough player. You wonder why they win the games? Because the games are won by the toughest teams most of the time.”
That toughness allowed Mahomes to carry the 2022 Chiefs past Philadelphia on a badly injured ankle. This Chiefs team played tough defense, which was critical for keeping the score close long enough Sunday for Mahomes to make the difference in the end. Was there any doubt what would happen after the 49ers settled for a field goal on their opening drive in overtime?
Challenges lie ahead for the Chiefs. Reid turns 66 in March, and while I have a hard time envisioning him walking away from Mahomes, he isn’t going to coach forever. What would the Chiefs be without him? Kelce is 34 and could decline at any time, given his age. What would Kansas City be without him?
Chiefs’ Reid, Kelce say they’ll return in 2024
These are questions for another day, perhaps years into the future.
For now, the Chiefs are the first team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since the 2003-04 Patriots. If they become the first team to win three in a row, they’ll match those 1970s Steelers with four Super Bowl victories in a six-season span, leaving only the 1980s 49ers and post-2000 Patriots left to conquer.
That will take time, and maybe some luck.
Brady’s Patriots won three Super Bowls in his first four seasons as a starter, then went nine seasons without winning another. No one could have foreseen the David Tyree helmet catch or Philly Special or any number of plays that kept the Patriots from winning even more. Brady lost a season to a torn ACL. Mahomes has so far seemed indestructible.
We can’t know what awaits these Chiefs, but as long as Mahomes remains their quarterback, everything is possible.
The secrets of Andy Reid’s success: Attention to detail, humor and Haagen-Dazs
2. It’s time to reassess Mahomes’ place among all quarterbacks in NFL history. Is he already in your top three?
More than two years ago, when The Athletic commissioned a project identifying the 100 greatest players in NFL history, we left off Mahomes because he hadn’t played long enough. By 2022, when the project was adapted for the Football 100 book published earlier this season, we had moved Mahomes onto the list but ranked him near the bottom, 18th out of 19 quarterbacks.
The Football 100
The story of the greatest players in NFL history. In 100 riveting profiles, top football writers justify their selections and uncover the history of the NFL in the process.
The story of the greatest players in NFL history.
Again, Mahomes hadn’t played long enough, so we slotted him as follows among quarterbacks: Brady, Montana, Peyton Manning, Johnny Unitas, Otto Graham, John Elway, Dan Marino, Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, Sammy Baugh, Drew Brees, Sid Luckman, Steve Young, Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Bart Starr, Bobby Layne, Mahomes and Fran Tarkenton.
What about now? Better move Mahomes up that list — way up.
“It didn’t take me long to slot him in where I thought he belonged,” said Randy Mueller, my Football GM Podcast co-host and an NFL evaluator for four decades. “For me, I had no argument with Brady being one. Elway would be two for me, and I would put Mahomes third. I have not seen this kind of talent, this kind of production, this kind of anticipation and instincts and football IQ.”
That comment was from our discussion Friday, before Mahomes did it again on the biggest stage. Just think how many Super Bowls the Chiefs will win once they get Mahomes a little more help on offense. They’ve already given him a young defense that ranked among the NFL’s top five in EPA per play this season.
3. Bud Grant, Dan Reeves and … Kyle Shanahan? An early look at Shanahan’s trajectory, plus questions about his coaching Sunday
Shanahan is one of 13 coaches to reach the Super Bowl twice in their first seven seasons as a head coach. He is keeping elite company. Unfortunately, he’s one of three that went 0-2. The other, Grant and Reeves, finished their head-coaching careers with matching 0-4 records in Super Bowls. They never won the big one.
The remaining 10, including Shanahan’s father, Mike, all won rings in their first seven seasons. They combined to go 17-4 in those early career Super Bowls. The elder Shanahan went 2-0, as did Walsh, Chuck Noll, George Seifert, Tom Flores, Jimmy Johnson and Gibbs. Mike Holmgren, Mike Tomlin and Sean McVay all went 1-1.
Will Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers ever win a Super Bowl? Maybe not
Shanahan, 44, still has time, but this version of the 49ers isn’t necessarily configured for the long term. Some of the key pieces are either older (Trent Williams) or could be prone to wearing down through style of play (George Kittle, Deebo Samuel) and other factors (Christian McCaffrey, whose injury history and position heighten the risk).
Samuel and Kittle left the game against the Chiefs with injuries before returning. The other stars, McCaffrey (lost fumble) and Williams (two early drive-killing penalties), made uncharacteristic mistakes. But no one tends to face harsher scrutiny than the coach in these legacy-defining defeats. Shanahan faced his share Sunday:
• Overtime decision: Why elect to receive in overtime when postseason rules assure that both teams will possess the ball at least once no matter what? Going this route let Mahomes answer while knowing whether Kansas City would need a field goal or touchdown to win or tie. San Francisco settled for a field goal. Mahomes answered with the walk-off touchdown.
As Shanahan told it, he wanted to make sure the 49ers got the overtime period’s third possession, in case the teams traded matching scores. But as the situation unfolded in real time, text messages from coaches wondered what Shanahan was thinking.
“BIG mistake,” a former head coach texted.
OK, but what if Shanahan felt he needed to rest his defense after a furious finish to regulation, as some speculated the case might have been?
“Maybe,” the coach replied, “but you can’t give up the advantage. K.C. went for it on 4th down because they had to. Big mistake.”
The Chiefs did go for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 34 while trailing with 6:05 left in overtime. Mahomes ran for an 8-yard gain.
Another coach questioned whether the 49ers even accounted for the rule in making their decision to receive the ball first.
“Kyle not having a dedicated game strategist on staff screwed him,” this coach said.
The league adopted the current overtime rules in the 2021 playoffs after Kansas City beat Buffalo in the playoffs without the Bills getting possession in overtime. At the time, Shanahan argued against changing the rule.
“I think the way we have it is fine,” he said then. “I think you should have to stop someone from a touchdown if you want it back.”
• End-of-half strategy: Shanahan’s decision to take two timeouts into halftime instead of calling timeouts for a potential two-minute drive seemed predictable. Shanahan has long invited criticism for his conservative two-minute philosophy.
“He thinks his defense is playing good enough that he doesn’t want to risk a turnover before half,” the former head coach quoted above said.
A different former head coach also thought Shanahan was OK letting Kansas City run down the clock, but a game-management specialist from a team with a middling quarterback cringed as Shanahan took two timeouts into halftime with only a 10-3 lead.
“I would have pulled my hamstring calling the defensive timeouts there,” he said.
Shanahan, who deserves credit for going for it on fourth-and-3 before the Niners’ go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, has long done things his own way. He hired his general manager (John Lynch) out of the broadcast booth and has not only stuck with the old-school, two-back personnel that went out of style across the league a decade ago but used it to dominate. No one has configured an offense the way Shanahan has configured his, and few have gotten better production from quarterbacks with average talent.
Reid was not perfect Sunday, either, using a timeout when he should have initiated a replay challenge, for example. But he had Mahomes on his side, while Shanahan had Brock Purdy, the last player picked in the 2022 draft — a good player, but not a generational talent.
And that is really the story of Shanahan in Super Bowls. He’s 0-3 in them, including 0-1 as a coordinator, largely because he faced Brady once and Mahomes twice. His teams came oh-so-close all three times, squandering leads to the greatest quarterbacks of their generation. There’s little shame in that, but no shortage of second-guessing either.
49ers, Brock Purdy won’t soon forget their missed opportunities in Super Bowl loss
4. Antonio Gates was a surprise omission from the 2024 Hall of Fame class. He and Torry Holt should move to the front of the line in 2025.
Gates’ 116 touchdown receptions, all with the Chargers, remains an NFL record for tight ends. (For context, Kelce, who will turn 35 next season, has 74 in 11 seasons.) But when Hall balloting was complete for 2024, the five modern-era selections were Julius Peppers, Andre Johnson, Devin Hester, Dwight Freeney and Patrick Willis.
Peppers, Hester, Johnson headline 2024 Pro Football HOF class
As one of the 50 Hall selectors, I thought Peppers and Gates were the two strongest candidates this year. Having Peppers miss would have felt embarrassing.
At worst, Gates missing was an egregious oversight in a year when Hester was selected as a part-time player and Willis was selected after playing only seven full seasons. At best, Gates is simply following the path that another great receiving tight end, Shannon Sharpe, took to Canton (Sharpe was enshrined on his third chance).
Gates and Sharpe are close comps when measuring elite production against their peers. Gates played much longer, which could work in his favor, but when I evaluate Hall of Fame candidacies, my focus goes toward elite seasons, not compiling seasons.
To do this for pass catchers, I developed a system measuring where they ranked in receiving yardage relative to their peers in their eight best seasons. This method excludes underwhelming seasons when players compiled stats to move up all-time lists without producing at Hall of Fame levels. I included all players with at least 7,000 yards receiving (there are 159).
Wide receivers dominate the list, led by Jerry Rice, Don Hutson and Randy Moss. Their eight best seasons averaged above the 99th percentile for yardage production against their peers in those seasons, truly elite production.
Kelce is the first tight end on the list. He ranks 27th, ahead of 17 Hall of Fame wideouts, including Cris Carter and Andre Reed. He is the gold standard for receiving tight ends when we adjust for eras in this way. Gates and Sharpe fall just inside the top 100.
The table below breaks out where tight ends rank for elite yardage production across their eight best seasons compared to the 159 players with at least 7,000 yards receiving. This measure will become increasingly relevant for tight ends as blocking fades from their primary duties.
Era-adjusted elite production ranking
Jason Witten becomes eligible for the Hall in 2026. Getting Gates into Canton in 2025 would be the right thing to do on merit, and also would avoid a potential Witten-Gates logjam at the position. Andre Johnson’s enshrinement broke a logjam at wide receiver this year, leaving Holt and Reggie Wayne to return as finalists for the sixth time next year.
Holt ranks fourth behind Rice, Hutson and Moss in my elite production research. Steve Largent, Julio Jones, Marvin Harrison, James Lofton, Larry Fitzgerald, Wayne, Johnson and Terrell Owens round out the top dozen. Mueller evaluated these players and the 10 finalists who missed the cut for Canton this year. Of the 10 who missed, he felt Gates and then Holt were most worthy for Canton. That conversation is below.
5. Forty-nine MVP voters listed Lamar Jackson first on their Associated Press ballots. That was a bigger upset than the lone dissenting vote from Aaron Schatz, which put him in Stephen A. Smith’s crosshairs.
Lamar Jackson 49, Josh Allen 1. That was the distribution for voting, which took place before the playoffs.
Hey @stephenasmith, if you’re curious why @ASchatzNFL voted for Josh Allen over Lamar, make sure to check out his explanation here: https://t.co/grxs9DU25e https://t.co/wXg8X1OiH9
— FTN Fantasy (@FTNFantasy) February 9, 2024
I voted for Jackson because: He was the leading passer and rusher for the NFL’s No. 6 offense by EPA per play through Week 17; he propped up an offense that lost All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews and two running backs; and he had 11 touchdown passes with one interception in four starts against division-leading teams, games Baltimore won by 24.8 points on average.
Sando: How I’m leaning on MVP, Coach of the Year and other NFL awards with 1 week left
Jackson’s signature performance against Miami to secure the AFC’s top seed clinched it.
Still, it’s easy to see why Schatz, the founder of Football Outsiders and current chief analytics officer at FTN Fantasy, listed someone other than Jackson atop his MVP ballot (Schatz went with Allen).
The Ravens won primarily because of their defense. They had a quarterback-driven offense, but a defense-driven team. That makes Jackson an aberration among recent MVP quarterbacks.
Also, Jackson did not rank as highly as MVPs usually rank in key statistical categories. The table below shows Jackson ranking 10th in combined EPA on passes and rushes, 13th in EPA per pass play and seventh in total touchdowns. He ranked first in all three when winning MVP in 2019.
Where recent MVP QBs ranked
|Lamar Jackson (’23)
|Patrick Mahomes (’22)
|Aaron Rodgers (’21)
|Aaron Rodgers (’20)
|Lamar Jackson (’19)
|Patrick Mahomes (’18)
|Tom Brady (’17)
|Matt Ryan (’16)
|Cam Newton (’15)
|Aaron Rodgers (’14)
|Peyton Manning (’13)
I ran across Schatz during Super Bowl week after ESPN’s Smith blasted him for not listing Jackson atop his ballot. Schatz seemed to be weathering the scrutiny well. That scrutiny would be even more intense if Baltimore had advanced to the Super Bowl, but the Ravens fell short largely because Jackson didn’t play as well against Kansas City as Schatz’s MVP choice, Allen, had played against the Chiefs a week earlier.
Lamar Jackson’s legacy and Dan Campbell’s gambles: Mike Sando’s Pick Six
6. Two-minute drill: Arthur Blank’s spin cycle and Brad Holmes’ victory lap were net negatives for their organizations
Falcons owner Arthur Blank wanted people to know his organization never offered Bill Belichick its coaching job. Blank wanted people to know Belichick never demanded full control of football operations. Why would Blank want people to know these things? Presumably because it’s irritating when outsiders shape narratives. Tempting as it is to push back, Blank’s comments risk hurting the coach he actually hired, Raheem Morris, which was probably the last thing Blank wanted to do.
“I want to make it 1,000 percent clear, I want to go to 2,000 percent or 100,000 percent or whatever you want to use,” Blank told reporters. “Bill Belichick never in our discussions asked for full control of personnel or the building or anything of that nature. He was very collaborative.”
This framing could help Belichick find a job in the future, but if the Falcons struggle, the public will ask why Blank failed to even offer the job to Belichick, arguably the greatest coach in NFL history, when Belichick wasn’t making unreasonable demands for power. The better strategic approach would be simply to emphasize that Morris was the best fit for the Falcons, leaving others to speculate whether Belichick was making unreasonable demands.
What Bill Belichick’s situation illustrates about the 2024 coaching carousel
• Roaring Lion: Holmes took a similar tack by calling out specific reporters covering the Lions for their critical takes of the team’s personnel acquisitions. It had to feel good for Holmes, whose Lions reached the NFC Championship Game this season after outsiders questioned nearly all their major personnel acquisitions.
Some laughed or shook their heads when the team added coach Dan Campbell and quarterback Jared Goff, and when the Lions used first-round picks for players at non-premium positions (running back, inside linebacker). But as we noted in the fifth item of a recent Pick Six, having a philosophy and sticking to it can be as important as the philosophy itself.
While critics questioned the Lions’ philosophy, Holmes and Campbell were executing it successfully, with positive results.
“Everyone can’t play for the Detroit Lions, and that’s just a reality,” Holmes told reporters. “That’s just a standard that has been set. And look, I’ll go back to the 2021 draft. The ’21 draft, each pick from that draft was very intentional. And the reason why I go back to that draft — couple reasons.
“For one, it was 2021. We just finished the 2024 season, so that’s when you’re supposed to grade a draft. Not the day after a draft. But when you look back at those picks — and those picks were not welcome by many in this room. You wanted us to pick a quarterback. You didn’t want us to pick Penei Sewell. People didn’t want us to wait until the fourth round to draft a wide receiver. People didn’t want to wait on Derrick Barnes to develop, but every single move was intentional and was made with intention.”
Does anyone think Holmes and the Lions have figured out a permanent edge that will result in successful drafts every year? That simply isn’t how the draft has worked for anyone.
“We all want to do what Holmes did,” an exec from another team said, “but you never do it. They know the truth. There will be another screwup (in the future). It’s a relationship business, and you want to do it for 15 years in one place. There is no advantage to making it personal. If you know who you are, you don’t have to go tell everybody.”
The Lions are more entitled to the occasional told-you-so more than any other team, given their history. This was presumably a one-time indulgence, not a permanent shift in tone.
• About those Super Bowls: Speaking of big talk, Jim Harbaugh’s aspirational introductory news conference with the Los Angeles Chargers featured the former Michigan and 49ers coach declaring “multiple Super Bowls” as the goal for his new team.
It was the right time to lean into expectations. Harbaugh can worry about the particulars later. About those particulars. The roster Harbaugh inherited when he took over the 49ers in 2011 featured Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Dashon Goldson, Ray McDonald, Ahmad Brooks, Tarell Brown, Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. The Chargers need more players like that to win Super Bowls.
• HOF lookahead: The 2025 Hall of Fame discussion grows to include newly eligible candidates Eli Manning, Marshawn Lynch, Luke Kuechly, Earl Thomas, Adam Vinatieri, Terrell Suggs, Marshall Yanda and Joe Staley, among others.
Manning is going to generate the most discussion as a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback who made huge plays on the biggest stage and played for a very long time but wasn’t necessarily a top-five quarterback during his career.
Thomas is the most intriguing candidate to me. He was arguably the piece that made Seattle’s Legion of Boom secondary work with his sideline-to-sideline speed and violent hitting, which was key to enabling Pete Carroll’s Cover 3 defense. But his career ended inauspiciously.
Earl Thomas’ splits with Seahawks, Ravens — What happened?
Early NFL Power Rankings 2024: Chiefs reign supreme, but who’s next?
(Top photos of Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady: Michael Owens / Getty Images, David E. Klutho / Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)
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Mike Sando joined The Athletic in 2019 as an NFL senior writer after 12 years with ESPN. He is a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, an officer for the Pro Football Writers of America and has covered every non-pandemic Super Bowl since the 1998 season. Follow Mike on Twitter @SandoNFL