KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Aiming for a third straight Super Bowl appearance, the Kansas City Chiefs face a daunting gauntlet during the first 11 weeks of the 2021 season.
The Chiefs have two postseason rematches in the first five weeks, an AFC Divisional rematch to open the season Sunday against the Cleveland Browns and an AFC Championship Game rematch Oct. 10 against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday Night Football.
The early-season schedule also includes road games at the Baltimore Ravens, Washington Football Team and Tennessee Titans — three other playoff teams from 2020 — along with home games against the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys.
Throw in a September showdown with the Los Angeles Chargers and a road battle at the Las Vegas Raiders and nearly every matchup has a big-game feel before the Week 12 bye.
That’s not a bad thing, though, given that the roster ought to be at its healthiest early in the season.
The post-bye schedule, which comes at an opportune time during Thanksgiving week and amid a stretch of three straight home games, includes only one playoff team from last season.
If the Chiefs can weather some tough early tests, the chance to claim home-field advantage and a first-round bye again for the playoffs, which is only available to the top seed in each conference under the expanded playoffs format, should be there in December and January.
Here’s a look at how the season may unfold:
Sept. 12 — 3:25 p.m. (CBS)
Breakdown: The Browns are getting a lot of buzz as an AFC contender in 2021 and will be understandably motivated to avenge last season’s Divisional loss. But Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid at home to open the season at a packed Arrowhead — can’t pick against the Chiefs.
Sept. 19 — 7:20 p.m. (KSHB 41)
at Baltimore Ravens
Breakdown: The Ravens and Chiefs meet for the fourth straight season. Baltimore has a potent run game led by quarterback Lamar Jackson, but Kansas City seems to have their number and makes it four straight wins.
Sept. 26 — Noon (CBS)
Los Angeles Chargers
Breakdown: The Chargers, under new head coach Brandon Staley, will be looking to flex against the recent AFC West bullies. Can LA reverse its wretched early-season history or will Mahomes’ September brilliance continue?
Oct. 3 — Noon (CBS)
at Philadelphia Eagles
Breakdown: The Eagles are rebuilding. QB Jalen Hurts is a work in progress. The Chiefs will be extra motivated to win in Philadelphia for Coach Reid.
Oct. 10 — 7:20 p.m. (KSHB 41)
Breakdown: Home-field advantage may be on the line when the Bills return to Arrowhead for an AFC Championship Game rematch. Sunday Night Football at Arrowhead sounds like a recipe for a distinct home-field advantage on this given night.
Oct. 17 — Noon (CBS)
at Washington Football Team
Breakdown: Coach Ron Rivera’s squad might be sneaky good, especially with a loaded defensive line group. If Ryan Fitzpatrick can avoid costly turnovers, don’t be shocked if WFT pulls a mild shocker.
Oct. 24 — Noon (CBS)
at Tennessee Titans
Breakdown: Yes, the Titans added Julio Jones and the defensive coaching staff has been restructured, but a wholesale change like that takes time. Not enough will have passed yet for Tennessee to take down Kansas City.
Nov. 1 — 7:15 p.m. (ESPN)
New York Giants
Breakdown: Daniel Jones vs. Patrick Mahomes — enough said.
Nov. 7 — 3:25 p.m. (Fox)
Green Bay Packers
Breakdown: It’s an elite quarterback matchup. Hopefully, Mahomes and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers are healthy this time around. Mahomes missed a 2019 meeting with Green Bay due to a knee injury.
Nov. 14 — 7:20 p.m.
at Las Vegas Raiders
Breakdown: The first installment of the Raiders’ annual “Super Bowl” gets the primetime treatment. How many Chiefs fans will pack Allegiant Stadium? Enough to enjoy a KC victory.
Nov. 21 — 3:25 p.m. (Fox)
Breakdown: The Cowboys are a trendy pick to make the playoffs with Dak Prescott’s return. They have plenty of weapons on offense, but it remains to be seen if the defense makes a leap forward under Dan Quinn in 2021. They may still be at least a year away from being a legitimate threat.
Nov. 28 — Bye
Breakdown: Coming off a home game and with two coming out of the perfectly timed break during Thanksgiving week, the Chiefs don’t have to leave home for a month in the middle of the season — a fantastic luxury entering the playoff push.
Dec. 5 — Noon (CBS)
Breakdown: Will Drew Lock be starting by December? If Teddy Bridgewater struggles, gets hurt or the Broncos have slid from contention, it’s entirely possible — and may not matter.
Dec. 12 — Noon (CBS)
Las Vegas Raiders
Breakdown: Can the Raiders stun the Chiefs again and embark on another victory lap around Arrowhead? Anything’s possible, but don’t bank on it.
Dec. 16 — 7:20 p.m. (Fox/NFL Network/Amazon)
at Los Angeles Chargers
Breakdown: Staley’s imprint should be evident by now and the brutally short turnaround for a trip halfway across the country sets up as a tremendous challenge for the Chiefs. The Chiefs are 2-4 in Thursday matchups against AFC West foes under Reid.
Dec. 26 — 3:25 p.m. (CBS)
Breakdown: While the Chargers benefit from the NFL schedule, the Steelers don’t. Historically, Reid is tough to beat with extra time prepare, so let’s chalk this up as a win.
Jan. 2 — Noon (CBS)
at Cincinnati Bengals
Breakdown: With a chance to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs on the line, Mahomes and company deliver a strong performance against Joe Burrow and an ascending Bengals squad.
Jan. 9 — 3:25 p.m. (CBS)
at Denver Broncos
Breakdown: The starters rest and Denver, which doesn’t make the playoffs, wins its Super Bowl against Kansas City’s backups.
Predicting the playoffs
1. Kansas City Chiefs, AFC West champion
2. Buffalo Bills, AFC East champion
3. Tennessee Titans, AFC South champion
4. Cleveland Browns, AFC North champion
5. Baltimore Ravens
6. New England Patriots
7. Los Angeles Chargers
Wild card round: Bills over Chargers, Patriots over Titans, Browns over Ravens
Divisional round: Chiefs over Patriots, Browns over Bills
AFC Championship Game: Chiefs over Browns
1. Green Bay Packers, NFC North champion
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NFC South champion
3. Los Angeles Rams, NFC West champion
4. Washington Football Team, NFC East champion
5. San Francisco 49ers
6. Dallas Cowboys
7. Atlanta Falcons
Wild card round: Buccaneers over Falcons, Rams over Cowboys, 49ers over WFT
Divisional round: Packers over 49ers, Rams over Buccaneers
NFC Championship Game: Packers over Rams
Super Bowl LVI: Chiefs over Packers
The “4th & 1” podcast is the twice-weekly, Chiefs-centric podcast from 41 Action News, the official broadcast “Home of the Chiefs.” Co-hosts Nick Jacobs and Tod Palmer analyze and breakdown the Chiefs’ opponent and performance for pre- and post-game episodes — available on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or your preferred podcast platform — each week during the season.