NFL

Who Can Stop the Kansas City Chiefs from the NFL’s First Super Bowl Three-Peat?

By Scott Kacsmar

The 2023 NFL season ended in spectacular fashion in Super Bowl LVIII with the Kansas City Chiefs ending the longest repeat drought in NFL history by winning their third championship in the last five seasons. You can officially call them a dynasty now. If the Chiefs win the Super Bowl again next year, that will make it wins in 4-of-6 Super Bowls, something only the 1974-79 Steelers have done.

But perhaps more importantly, it would be the NFL’s first Super Bowl three-peat.

The 1965-67 Green Bay Packers technically had a three-peat, but they won the 1965 NFL Championship Game before the first two Super Bowls in 1966-67. This was all before the merger, so it is understandable why it is not viewed in the same light as post-merger achievements.

Unsurprisingly, odds are already available on who will win Super Bowl LIX. The Chiefs (+650 at FanDuel) have the best odds of any AFC team, but they trail the 49ers (+500), who they just defeated again.

Three-time Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes is a one-of-a-kind talent for the Chiefs. We know he’ll have head coach Andy Reid and tight end Travis Kelce back for this three-peat attempt in 2024. But what can stop the Chiefs from pulling off even more history? Are they still their own worst enemy, or is there another challenger lurking in the NFL for 2024?

We look at the history of three-peat attempts in the NFL, the way the Chiefs continue to defy the odds, their internal challenges for next season, and the outside challengers who can dethrone the defending back-to-back champions.

The History of Three-Peat Attempts in the NFL

Staying on top of the mountain for three years is extremely hard to do, especially in the era of expansion and deeper playoff fields. The NFL’s one-and-done playoff format is a tough spot to always deliver as you don’t get a series like the other leagues, so upsets should be more common. The 2022-23 Chiefs have already gone 6-0 in playoff games decided by 1-to-7 points.

But the three-peat has also been rare in other professional sports leagues with only 6 of them occurring since 1975:

  • The 1998-2000 New York Yankees are the only MLB team to have a three-peat since 1975.
  • In the NHL, there was an 8-year period where the Montreal Canadiens (1976-79) and New York Islanders (1980-83) both had a four-peat, but no one has had a three-peat since.
  • The NBA is where it’s been most common in the modern era with head coach Phil Jackson doing it twice with the Chicago Bulls (1991-93 and 1996-98) when he had Michael Jordan and again with the Los Angeles Lakers (2000-02) when he had Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

In the NFL’s Super Bowl era, the 2022-23 Chiefs are the ninth team to repeat as champion. Here is how the last eight fared in their three-peat bid:

  • 1966-67 Packers: The Super Bowl II win was a last hurrah for the dynasty of the 1960s in Green Bay. Head coach Vince Lombardi moved on, the 1968 Packers finished 6-7-1, and the team did not make the playoffs again until 1972.
  • 1972-73 Dolphins: Don Shula’s core was still intact in 1974, and the team produced an 11-3 record. But they lost a tough 28-26 playoff game in Oakland in the divisional round thanks to the Sea of Hands play.
  • 1974-75 Steelers: Pittsburgh made it to the AFC Championship Game and was a road favorite in Oakland behind the Steel Curtain defense. But Terry Bradshaw struggled without his running backs available, and the Raiders won 24-7 to sweep the Steelers that year.
  • 1978-79 Steelers: Pittsburgh had most of its Hall of Fame core still intact, but the team of the 70s started to look a bit old in the new decade, and they only finished 9-7 in 1980 and missed the playoffs.
  • 1988-89 49ers: The best chance yet, the 1990 49ers were 14-2, No. 1 seed, and Joe Montana was MVP again. But as an 8-point favorite in the NFC Championship Game against the Giants, Montana was injured, and Roger Craig lost a late fumble. The Giants drove for the game-winning field goal and won the Super Bowl. If the 49ers won, Steve Young likely would have started for Montana in the Super Bowl against the best Buffalo team.
  • 1992-93 Cowboys: Dallas was a 7-point underdog in San Francisco for the NFC Championship Game. An awful start put the Cowboys in a 21-0 hole they didn’t recover from. Many believe if the Cowboys kept coach Jimmy Johnson instead of opting for Barry Switzer they could have won 3 or 4 Super Bowls in a row.
  • 1997-98 Broncos: A bit of a last hurrah team, quarterback John Elway retired after winning back-to-back Super Bowls, then star running back Terrell Davis was injured early in the 1999 season. The team finished 6-10, the worst record for a defending champion until the 2022 Rams (5-12).
  • 2003-04 Patriots: Bill Belichick lost his top coordinators (Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel), and the team only won 10 games. They lost 27-13 in Denver in the divisional round.

No one made it back to the Super Bowl. Only three teams (1976 Steelers, 1990 49ers, and 1994 Cowboys) reached the Conference Championship Game, and only those 49ers had a fourth-quarter lead, making them the closest to pulling off the three-peat if not for that Roger Craig fumble.

In an interesting twist, half of these teams were closer to the three-peat when we look back in time instead of forward, meaning we focus on the year before their repeat instead of the year after when the three-peat was possible.

  • We already established that the 1965 Packers won the NFL Championship Game a year before the Super Bowl was introduced.
  • The 1971 Dolphins were also in the Super Bowl a year before their perfect season, and they lost badly, 24-3 to Dallas.
  • The 1987 49ers (13-2) would have been a heavy favorite to win it all, but they choked in the divisional round at home to an 8-7 Minnesota team.
  • The 1996 Broncos had a great regular season but they lost in a huge upset in the divisional round to Jacksonville or else we may have had Elway vs. Brett Favre two years in a row.

But maybe the team with the best argument are these Chiefs, who blew a 21-3 lead at home in the AFC Championship Game against Cincinnati. If they hung onto that one instead of losing in overtime, they would have been favored to beat the Rams in the Super Bowl that year, and maybe this is already a three-peat team.

But the butterfly effect is a huge problem with going back in time like this. If the 49ers didn’t choke in 1987 or if the Chiefs didn’t blow it in 2021, then you never know if they would have finished the job in the other years. Maybe the Chiefs don’t get rid of Tyreek Hill in 2022 if they won another ring with him in 2021. The butterfly effect would create a lot of ripples we could only speculate about.

The fact of the matter is no one has come closer to a three-peat than the 1990 49ers, and the Chiefs are looking to fix that by getting to the Super Bowl again in 2024.

How the 2023 Chiefs Defied the Odds Again

In our 2023 team preview for the Chiefs, we had a list of stats that showed how unique it was for the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl in 2022 despite having a quarterback take up 17% of the salary cap, the team having a negative turnover differential, and a below-average defense that allowed 25 points per game in the playoffs.

Not sure if this year’s list is as impressive, but the Chiefs found another unique path of history to carve out to win another Super Bowl:

  • The 2023 Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to go 4-0 in the playoffs against teams with a +100 scoring differential in the regular season: Dolphins (+105), Bills (+140), Ravens (+203), and 49ers (+193).
  • The 2023 Chiefs are the sixth team (and first No. 3 seed) to beat both No. 1 seeds and a No. 2 seed to win a Super Bowl, joining the 2000 Ravens, 2005 Steelers, 2007 Giants, 2011 Giants, and 2020 Buccaneers.
  • Kansas City’s minus-11 turnover differential in the regular season is the second worst among the 58 Super Bowl winners, only ranking ahead of the 1983 Raiders (minus-13). The Chiefs were plus-2 in the playoffs.
  • The Chiefs had 17 takeaways on defense in the regular season, the fewest ever by a Super Bowl champion, replacing the 2022 Chiefs with 20.
  • The 2023 Chiefs held all 21 opponents under 28 points and 20-of-21 opponents under 25 points, the most such games in a season in NFL history (playoffs included) for both marks.
  • While not as high as his 17.0% salary cap hit in 2022, Mahomes took up 16.8% of the cap in 2023, the second-highest rate of any Super Bowl-winning quarterback season since 1994. He has the top two seasons now.
  • The Chiefs led the NFL with 44 dropped passes, beating the team in the Super Bowl (49ers) with the fewest drops (9).
  • Mahomes completed at least 73% of his passes in his last three playoff games, the longest such streak in playoff history (min. 20 attempts).
  • Mahomes led his team in rushing in the Super Bowl, and his 66 rushing yards are the most ever by a quarterback in a Super Bowl win.

This was supposed to be a down year for the Chiefs with their wide receiver issues, and they had their worst record (11-6) and lowest seed (No. 3) in the Mahomes era. He had his worst individual stats for a regular season too as the offense slipped out of the top 10 in some key categories.

Yet they still won the Super Bowl, armed with a great defense and a receiving corps that did a better job of not screwing up games in the playoffs.

For years, people wondered how the Chiefs would fare in a road playoff game away from Arrowhead. They won in back-to-back weeks as underdogs in Buffalo and Baltimore before beating the 49ers in another Super Bowl with a crowd, Taylor Swift aside, that was heavily leaning towards San Francisco.

The thing about repeating is you always have to do it differently. The Chiefs had the No. 1 offense and a subpar, young defense in 2022 when they won. This year, the offense regressed and struggled while the defense was elite and so consistent.

What kind of team does Kansas City field in 2024? That might depend on who is staying.

Kansas City’s 2024 Roster Questions

Another reason it is so hard to stay on top these days is the way you lose players and key assistant coaches. The Chiefs are no strangers to this. They won the Super Bowl in 2019 with quite a few different players than the 2022 team had, and they even made more changes in between the last two seasons.

For 2023, the Chiefs again let go of their No. 1 wide receiver (JuJu Smith-Schuster) and replaced him with a rookie (Rashee Rice), they let left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. walk to Cincinnati and brought in a couple of vets in Donovan Smith and Jawaan Taylor, and they lost offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, replacing him with Matt Nagy.

Most of the moves worked out fine, and with Bieniemy unemployed after a year in Washington, it wouldn’t be surprising if he rejoined the staff for 2024.

But with the salary cap in mind, you can guarantee some Chiefs played their final game with the team on Sunday night. According to Over the Cap, the Chiefs have about $22 million in cap space for 2024, and some things are going to change this year:

  • Mahomes’ cap number will shoot up to $58.6 million, so you can expect some restructuring and typical NFL team accounting that will free up cash for the team.
  • Stud defensive tackle Chris Jones is a free agent and will command a huge contract that the team would like to afford, but we’ll see if the two parties can work out a deal or not.
  • Another key part of Kansas City’s great defense was corner L’Jarius Sneed, who will be a free agent and in line for a big payday too.
  • The Chiefs probably feel vindicated in their wide receiver moves after winning the Super Bowl again, but it would still be a good idea to get Mahomes better weapons there.
  • Paying someone like Marquez Valdes-Scantling $14 million in 2024 is probably not a good use of money, so he could be cut, and re-signing Mecole Hardman (free agent) to a new contract also might not be the best idea for the offense despite his game-winning touchdown catch. They’ll probably use a high draft pick on a wide receiver.
  • The running backs could lose their depth behind Isiah Pacheco as Jerick McKinnon and Clyde Edwards-Helaire are both free agents, though running backs are usually easy to find (see Pacheco).
  • The Chiefs will have to decide with left tackle Donovan Smith, who only signed a 1-year deal worth $3 million, so the blind side protector for Mahomes is a question mark for 2024.
  • The defense also has some linebackers set to be free agents in Willie Gay Jr. and Drue Tranquill.

Even if the Chiefs bring back Jones and Sneed, there is a good chance the defense will take a step back just because of how hard it is to sustain success on that side of the ball from year to year. The offense is more consistent. But there is a chance the Chiefs lose one or both of those players too. Jones is such a crucial part of that great pass rush and he had another big Super Bowl even without getting a sack. He prevented Brock Purdy from throwing multiple touchdowns. He is pretty much the AFC equivalent of Aaron Donald.

We’ll see what the Chiefs do in free agency and the draft, but finding some long-term weapons for Mahomes needs to be a priority. They should feel good about Rashee Rice going into his second year, but Kelce will be 35 years old, which is quite old for a tight end.

Who Challenges the Chiefs in 2024?

You could say for years the Chiefs have been their own worst enemy with the obligatory fumble, the dropped passes, and the careless penalties in their losses. They rarely ever lose by more than one possession, so they are usually in every single game.

The Chiefs don’t have a true rival. They have been played tough by teams like the Bills and Bengals, but they are still 4-1 in the playoffs against them. Mahomes certainly does not have an equal at quarterback in today’s NFL.

So, where does the challenger come from that is going to stop this three-peat from happening in 2024?

The Division

I guess we have to do it again. We have to hype up the AFC West as if the Chiefs won’t win it for the ninth year in a row. We tried the best we could to make it sound like a real battle these last few years, but the Chiefs still outclassed the other teams.

Sean Payton did not in fact fix Russell Wilson in Denver, and while the Broncos were able to end their long losing streak (16 games) to the Chiefs, they still missed the playoffs again and Wilson may already be out of a job there.

The Raiders were the last team to beat the Chiefs on Christmas day, but that proved to be a wake-up call for Kansas City after that awful showing by the offense. The Raiders won that game despite Aiden O’Connell not completing a pass after the first quarter. Good luck getting two defensive touchdown returns in 7 seconds next time. The Raiders are excited about the Antonio Pierce hiring, but who is the quarterback? This team also lost 3-0 at home indoors to the Vikings, so I’m not convinced this is a challenger in 2024.

But maybe hyping up the Chargers pays off this time as they made a great head coach by hiring Jim Harbaugh, who has won everywhere he’s gone, he was 44-19-1 (.695) in San Francisco with three NFC Championship Game appearances, and he just won a national title at Michigan. If he can give Justin Herbert a defense and running game and improve his efficiency, then they can be a real contender in the division for the Chiefs.

Harbaugh changing the Chargering brand might be the only hope for the AFC West in slowing this dynasty down. Good luck to him, because this franchise seems cursed to always be blowing leads and suffering injuries to key players.

The Rest of the AFC

Who else in the AFC can keep the Chiefs from going right back to the Super Bowl? We can probably eliminate a few teams right now:

  • Dolphins: Paper tiger that just cannot beat the good teams on the road under Mike McDaniel (10 straight road losses to playoff teams).
  • Jets: Robert Saleh’s last lifeline in New York is hoping a 40-year-old Aaron Rodgers returns in MVP form after a torn Achilles. Even then, he’d probably miss the playoff game as we have never seen a Mahomes vs. Rodgers game in the NFL despite numerous chances.
  • Patriots: Hard reset without Bill Belichick, and more hard times to come.
  • Browns: Deshaun Watson just does not grasp Kevin Stefanski’s offense and he is too expensive to move on from.
  • Steelers: They don’t have a quarterback and the defense always implodes in the postseason.
  • Jaguars: Limited team with Trevor Lawrence not making enough big strides yet.
  • Colts: Anthony Richardson is an intriguing quarterback, but he may lack the consistency to win a shootout against Mahomes, but Indianapolis has had some weird wins against him since 2019.
  • Titans: Might be a rebuilding year without Mike Vrabel and possibly without Derrick Henry.

That leaves the Four Horsemen of the Kansas City Apocalypse: Bills, Bengals, Ravens, and Texans.

Buffalo has had so many shots already and has been so close to dethroning the Chiefs. Josh Allen is 3-1 against the Chiefs in the regular season but 0-3 in the playoffs. He just needs his defense one time to step up in January and make Mahomes look mortal. If his defense played the way the Ravens and 49ers played the Chiefs, he would have won the game as he had by far the best offensive performance against the Chiefs in the playoffs. But Buffalo just seems cursed to ever get it done in January, and we’ll see if they bring Stefon Diggs back or make big changes there.

The Bengals have some issues with slow starts to the season, a tough division to battle, and Joe Burrow has already ended 2-of-4 seasons on injured reserve. That makes it hard for them to finish with a higher seed than the Chiefs and avoid going to Arrowhead in January. The defense also declined this past year and they have some decisions to make with wide receiver Tee Higgins, a key weapon who could leave in free agency.

The Ravens seemed to have the best team in the AFC this year with Lamar Jackson staying healthy, the No. 1 defense, a No.1 running game, the best starting field position, a Hall of Fame kicker in Justin Tucker, and it all led to a No. 1 seed. But you can’t trust Jackson in the playoffs as he’s now led the Ravens to their season-low in points in all four of his postseason trips. His defense did a fair enough job against the Chiefs, but he turned it over multiple times and scored just 10 points at home in the AFC Championship Game loss. This team has fared worse against Mahomes and the Chiefs than the Bills and Bengals have. The Chiefs also get to host the Ravens (and Bengals) in 2024.

That leaves the Houston Texans as the possible Kansas City stopper in the AFC, or at least a team that hasn’t had their crack yet. The last time we viewed Houston as a roadblock for Kansas City, it was in the 2019 AFC divisional round when the Texans blew a 24-0 lead to the Chiefs. Nothing went right for that team again until 2023 when they hired DeMeco Ryans and drafted C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson, who won the Rookie of the Year awards.

The Chiefs host Houston this season too, so we’ll hopefully get to see that first matchup between Mahomes and Stroud. The other good news for Houston is offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik is returning instead of getting poached by another team, so that should give Stroud consistency, and maybe his wide receivers will be healthier this year with Tank Dell and Noah Brown injured late in 2023. If Stroud improves on his game as he no doubt can, he could be that MVP candidate and rival to Mahomes in his second year.

Someone needs to be that quarterback and team in the AFC to slow this dynasty down. Even the Patriots during their championship drought in 2005-13 struggled mightily with Peyton Manning’s teams (Colts and Broncos), and the occasional elite defense from the Ravens (2009-12) and Jets (2009-10).

 The NFC Challenger

The Patriots also had their kryptonite in Eli Manning and the Giants back in the day, losing both Super Bowls to them. It appears the 49ers are not that team against the Chiefs as Kyle Shanahan is 0-4 against Andy Reid and Mahomes, including 0-2 in the Super Bowl.

That’s part of the reason why the 49ers being favored to win Super Bowl LIX in New Orleans does not feel like a great bet today. The other part is the NFC loves a new flash in the pan every season as the 2013-14 Seahawks are the only team since 1998 to go to consecutive Super Bowls for the NFC.

We mean flash in the pan too as these teams usually found success quickly with a lack of experience. The last eight Super Bowl teams from the NFC all went into that season with a quarterback who had no more than 16 starts with the team’s current head coach:

  • 2016 Falcons – Dan Quinn and Matt Ryan, 2nd year, 16 prior starts
  • 2017 Eagles – Doug Pederson and Nick Foles, 1st year, 0 prior starts
  • 2018 Rams – Sean McVay and Jared Goff, 2nd year, 16 prior starts
  • 2019 49ers – Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo, 3rd year, 8 prior starts
  • 2020 Buccaneers – Bruce Arians and Tom Brady, 1st year, 0 prior starts
  • 2021 Rams – Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford, 1st year, 0 prior starts
  • 2022 Eagles – Nick Sirianni and Jalen Hurts, 2nd year, 16 prior starts
  • 2023 49ers – Kyle Shanahan and Brock Purdy, 2nd year, 8 prior starts

Only Jimmy Garoppolo was in his third season with the team, and that’s a stretch since he was traded late in 2017 and tore his ACL just 3 games into 2018.

Your best bet is someone new represents the NFC next year after San Francisco has blown so many chances already in championship games. Who might that new team be?

You have to figure the NFC South is still the weakest division, and the Chiefs get to play it in 2024 which could help their record.

The Seahawks will probably take a step back in the NFC West without Pete Carroll. The Cardinals have a lot of work to do. The Rams made the playoffs behind a strong run by Matthew Stafford, but they do not have the studs to fill out the roster they had in 2021 when they won the Super Bowl. But a Rams-Chiefs Super Bowl, which we almost had in 2018 and 2021, could be fun.

The NFC East turned out to be a massive disappointment with the Eagles and Cowboys both getting bounced in the wild-card round. You just can never trust Mike McCarthy and a Dallas team that has not been to the NFC Championship Game since the 1995 season. The Eagles also have some major internal issues as Nick Sirianni may not be the long-term coach there after the team’s epic implosion following a 10-1 start. The Commanders and Giants are far away from a Super Bowl.

As for the NFC North, we’ll see what the Bears do with the No. 1 pick and what the Vikings do with Kirk Cousins, and if he goes elsewhere. But he’s not the kind of quarterback that is going to take down a dynasty. He was 0-13 against teams that reached the Super Bowl that year before beating the 49ers this past season.

The Lions had a great year, but they may have blown their shot with that blown 17-point lead in the NFC Championship Game. We’ll see if the defense can take more strides forward and the young offense looks to be in a solid place. But you just wonder how they’ll rebound from the devastation of losing that big lead the way they did.

That leaves the Green Bay Packers, who are +2500 at FanDuel to win the Super Bowl just like the Houston Texans are right now. It is absurdly early in the process, but this would be my dark horse pick to take down the Chiefs and the three-peat in 2024. Maybe it will even be the Super Bowl LIX matchup.

  • Jordan Love was the only quarterback to score more than 24 points against the Chiefs in 2023, and he was red-hot in the second half of the season despite leading the youngest team in the NFL.
  • The Packers beat the Cowboys in impressive fashion in the playoffs, and they were outplaying the 49ers for much of that game on the road.
  • Head coach Matt LaFleur has won 67.5% of his games and coaches with records that great should be in at least one Super Bowl in their first six seasons in the league.
  • Maybe the defense will improve after the team moved on from defensive coordinator Joe Barry.
  • They better find a better kicker though.

Just think of the headlines. The Chiefs going for the three-peat in a rematch of Super Bowl I between the Packers and Chiefs, which was the middle year in Green Bay’s overlooked three-peat in 1965-67. It would be historic and probably a great game too.

Conclusion: Chiefs Are a Historic Dynasty Either Way

We’ll have 7 months to build up this season and up to 12 months to see if the Chiefs pull off the three-peat. Either way, this team is already a historic dynasty that has provided many special moments and records in Mahomes’ career, and we should acknowledge when we are witnessing greatness.

But this success is no doubt making the Chiefs the villain for many NFL fans, so they will root even harder for their downfall next season. You need a hero for that role.

Maybe Harbaugh gets the Chargers to end the AFC West streak for Kansas City, but given that team’s playoff history, it might have to be the Bills or Ravens finally breaking through and beating the Chiefs before the Super Bowl. Maybe Houston is that next AFC contender with C.J. Stroud taking big strides in his second year after an impressive rookie debut.

If all else fails in the AFC, maybe Love and Green Bay is the team to take down the Chiefs in the Super Bowl.

In the end, I think the Chiefs and Chris Jones work something out, the offense improves, the defense declines a little, and Mahomes still gives this team the best shot yet at a three-peat.

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