KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs are optimistic they can have a second straight season in which points come in massive numbers.
It's an optimism that was once shared by every other team on the NFL's top-10 single-season scoring list, but one not all of them could follow through on.
"We expect to score every single time we're on the field," said Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who last year led an offense that scored 565 points, the third-highest total in NFL history. "We plan to go out there, have positive gains and get the ball in the end zone or let [place-kicker Harrison] Butker kick it in."
Mahomes and the Chiefs have plenty of reasons to be optimistic, mainly because the signal-caller -- the reigning NFL MVP -- and all the other significant parts are back.
So what could go wrong? Well, for starters, they could lose Mahomes to a season-ending injury in their opener, just as the New England Patriots lost Tom Brady to a knee injury in their first game of 2008, one year after scoring 589 points, second on the NFL's all-time list. The Pats' offensive production dropped 30% in 2008 with Matt Cassel at quarterback instead.
Unforeseen things happen, which is why the other nine teams in the top 10 in single-season scoring saw a drop the next season. Eight of the nine dropped at least 16% and seven of the nine at least 20%, including the 2017 Atlanta Falcons (down 35% from 2016) and those Brady-less 2008 Patriots.
Only one of the nine teams, the 2000 St. Louis Rams, led the league in scoring again the following season.
All, like the 2019 Chiefs, started the next season with big plans. The reality was almost always something else, and that's a trend the Chiefs are fighting.
"What I've seen is they're trying to challenge themselves to do better," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "It's kind of interesting to watch. There's a certain drive there. … Their willingness to learn new things, the excitement of going out there every day and playing together. There's a certain pride in that group. They challenge each other. And Patrick is right in there with them. He's leading the pack on that. I think that's an important quality to have.
"They're growing together. These are young guys. They challenge each other in a healthy way. They love each other -- they hang out off the field, they vacation together. There's a unique camaraderie between them."
Mahomes had a busy offseason between personal appearances and filming multiple commercials that will air locally and nationally. But he found time for football. He led some teammates on an excursion to the Turks and Caicos Islands shortly before training camp. That vacation included Mahomes throwing passes on the beach to some receivers.
"Pat did a lot in the offseason," Kansas City general manager Brett Veach said. "He hit a lot of shows and award ceremonies. I think everyone, myself included, wondered after a world tour like that, 'What's the mindset like?' Any question we had about that was erased when we got to the offseason program. You could see how focused and dialed in Pat was. Once it was time to go, it was time to go.
"Andy is locked in too. It starts with those two. It's a coach-and-quarterback league, and we have the best of the best at both positions."
To score as many points as last season or more, the Chiefs are going to need more than just determination. But they aren't fighting some of the things that dragged down other high-scoring teams. The 2017 Falcons, a year after scoring 540 points, lost offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who became head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. The Falcons that season scored 353 points, 15th in the league.
The 2013 Patriots lost three of their top four receivers from the previous season and saw their scoring decline from 557 points to 444, a 20% drop.
The Chiefs' offensive coaching staff returns intact. Some 65% of last year's receptions were caught by players still on the team, including Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins. The Chiefs return just 42% of last season's rushing yards after they released Kareem Hunt late last season; but they averaged 32 points in seven games with Damien Williams in place of Hunt as the featured back, including the playoffs.
It's possible the Chiefs could be more efficient on offense this year but not score as many points. If the defense improves, the Chiefs won't need to play as many high-scoring games. The Chiefs lost games last year despite scoring 40 and 51 points, the latter being an NFL record.
Defensive improvement or not, the Chiefs have a lot going for them. Mahomes in his first season as a starter last year became only the second quarterback to pass for 50 touchdowns and more than 5,000 yards. The expectation is that he will be even better in the encore.
"Everyone's motivated to get better, and that starts with Pat, especially," Chiefs tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. "First year starting, second year in the league, 5,000 [yards], MVP, basically every award they've created for best athlete and he's out there more critical on himself then anybody. That sets the tempo for the rest of the offense to try to get better."
The Chiefs have added to their collection of offensive talent. Over the weekend they signed running back LeSean McCoy, who is 31 years old and coming off the least productive season (514 yards, 3.2 yards per carry) of his 10-year NFL career. But McCoy had big seasons playing for Reid early in his career with the Eagles and won't have to carry a huge load with the Chiefs, who have Damien Williams as the starter.
Two of the Chiefs' draft picks, second-round wide receiver Mecole Hardman and sixth-round running back Darwin Thompson, showed in training camp and the preseason that they could have impacts as rookies. Each took a short pass and outran defenders to the end zone for a touchdown in the preseason.
Their addition makes the Chiefs perhaps the fastest offense in the league, alongside Hill and Watkins.
"Anything we want to do," Kelce said when asked what all these fast players would allow the Chiefs to do. "You name it. We've got 4.2, 4.3, maybe 4.1. I don't know what Tyreek runs now. Who knows? We've got guys that can absolutely fly all over the field. Speed kills in this game. If you've got it, you're in the advantage.
"We're taking it up a level [from] years past. You can just tell from the coaches' excitement to their attention to detail to how guys are reacting to their coaching. This team is going to be awesome. We're going to have a lot of fun on the offensive side of the ball."
When asked whether he could imagine a faster receiving group, Mahomes said, "I can't, honestly. We've got guys that can roll, guys that really stretch the field. It really makes my job a lot easier. We're able to stretch the field vertically and horizontally. You can either take the deep pass and throw it like that or throw it out in the flat, and these guys can all take it 70 yards to the house.
"Adding Mecole and having Sammy back healthy this year is even going to help more. Defenses have to really pick and choose which matchups they want to take. ... We look at the matchups and trust that the receivers are going to win."
Then there's Reid designing the offense and calling the plays. He seems to know how to get the best from Mahomes and the other skill players.
Reid said he spent much of his offseason drawing up what he called "Pat plays" designed to take advantage of Mahomes' considerable skills. Mahomes said the Chiefs' playbook bears little resemblance to that of last season.
"When you have a quarterback with this kind of skill set, you have limitless options as a coach," Veach said. "Then we have so much speed on offense. When you have that many fast options, the more creative you can get. There's a lot of room for the mind to roam, and Andy takes advantage of that."