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Key Questions for the Chiefs, Eagles, 49ers, and Six More NFL Contenders: Sando’s Pick Six

Cover 7 | Monday

A daily NFL destination that provides in-depth analysis of football’s biggest stories. Each Monday, Mike Sando breaks down the six most impactful takeaways from the week.

The Athletic has live coverage of Chiefs vs Eagles in Monday Night Football action.

We had questions about the NFL’s best teams more than a month ago. The past five weeks have provided answers.

The Pick Six column for Week 11 re-stacks Super Bowl contenders, leveraging fresh evidence to see how well — or how poorly — the best teams are responding.

The Cincinnati Bengals are conspicuously absent. Their championship odds match those for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams following quarterback Joe Burrow’s season-ending injury. We’ve set aside a separate section for the 7-3 Cleveland Browns, whose Super Bowl odds remain long but who keep winning with defense and now are welcoming 38-year-old Joe Flacco into the fold.

The full Pick Six menu this week:

  • Re-stacking Super Bowl contenders
  • C.J. Stroud joins elite company
  • Truth about Brandon Staley’s defense
  • 2023 Flacco takes on 2015 Peyton!
  • Panthers vs. every team in the NFL
  • Two-minute drill: Hip-drops and more

1. An eventful month has passed since we asked key questions about NFL contenders. We have some answers now.

Kansas City Chiefs: Is the explosive passing game gone for good?

Seven explosive pass gains against the Chargers in Week 7 were encouraging, but teams have averaged 6.4 of them against Los Angeles this season. Green Bay had eight against the Chargers on Sunday. The Dolphins had 14 against them in Week 1. So, there’s an asterisk for any production against that defense.

The Chiefs over their past three games were league average in explosive pass rate, a slight improvement. But Travis Kelce is averaging 10.5 yards per reception, a career low. His explosive reception rate is roughly half what it was last season and for his career. This is still the No. 1 question facing Kansas City.

If you’re going to bet on anyone to figure out a way, you’re going to bet on Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes. They fixed the same problem in 2021, except for a couple late games against Cincinnati, which ended the Chiefs’ season. This year, the Kansas City defense is strong enough to expand the margin for error.

“The people that question the Chiefs are the ones who don’t have to play them,” an opposing coach said. “They have the best player in the game (Mahomes) who is constantly looming, and now they have the defense that can hold Miami to 14 points on a neutral field. They could have an issue when they play a team that takes away Kelce, but their defense is really hard to play against. That is the equalizer this year.”

San Francisco 49ers: What do they have in Brock Purdy?

It’s a good time to ask, with Purdy posting a perfect passer rating against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a first for a 49ers quarterback since Joe Montana in 1989 (minimum 15 attempts).

Purdy, who completed 21 of 25 passes for 333 yards and three touchdowns in the 27-14 victory, is the 20th NFL player with a 158.3 passer rating on at least 25 attempts, per Pro Football Reference. Tom Brady did it three times. Geno Smith, Doug Flutie and Nick Foles are also on the list, but they didn’t produce as well for as long as Purdy has produced in this San Francisco offense.

The 49ers are 2-2 since we asked the Purdy question. That span included losses to Minnesota and Cincinnati. But they lead the league by a wide margin over that span in yards per pass attempt (11.2) while ranking third in EPA per pass play and first by a wide margin in explosive pass rate. San Francisco should feel better about Purdy now than it did a month ago.

2. The Houston Texans are 6-4 with a rookie quarterback and a top-10 offense after winning 11 games over the previous three seasons. That puts C.J. Stroud on an impressive short list with Dak Prescott, Matt Ryan and Andrew Luck. Here’s how those four stand apart.

Stroud was intercepted three times and left the Texans’ 21-16 victory against the Arizona Cardinals for one play after absorbing a jarring hit in the third quarter.

shot out of a cannon 😤@jt_broooo x #BirdGang — Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) November 19, 2023

The rookie first-round pick endured to collect his sixth victory…


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