EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Two storylines that are at once contradictory and independently logical have emerged in the runup to the Giants' game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium.
The first is that the Giants are catching the Chiefs at the right time because they are coming off their most one-sided victory in Joe Judge's tenure as head coach (25-3 against Carolina) and the Chiefs could be struggling. Kansas City could get nothing going offensively in a 27-3 loss last week at Tennessee, and its defense is ranked 28th in the NFL.
The other theory is that the Giants will face one of their biggest challenges of the season in the noise factory that is Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs have most of the key components, including quarterback Pat Mahomes, that carried them to the last two Super Bowls. They are unhappy to be 3-4, tired of hearing criticism locally and nationally, and eager to show a national audience that they belong among the NFL's elite teams.
Guess which hypothesis the Giants support.
"I think it's a foolish narrative for us to buy into if we think this team isn't as good as they are," said Judge, whose Giants are 2-5. "This is a damn good team. They're very explosive, they're very dangerous. These guys are going to be playing their best ball Monday night. We're going out into a tough atmosphere, it's a lot of great energy out there, so we've got to get ready this week to play our best football."
"It's Monday night, they're going to bring their A-game," safety and defensive captain Logan Ryan said. "They've got really good players. They've got championship-caliber players. I think they're going to be at their best. They're still the number (four) passing offense. They still have legit Pro Bowlers all over their offensive side of the ball, so defensively, we've got our work cut out for us. But that's just the challenge of the league. That's the challenge of being a defensive back. In order for us to win that game, we've got to play well on defense."
Despite their low-scoring outing last week, the Chiefs rank third in the NFL with an average of 419.3 yards a game and are tied for eighth with 26.9 points-per-game. They have a talented and deep array of weapons, including speedy wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman, six-time Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce and running back Darrel Williams, who has stepped in for the injured Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The Chiefs have punted just 12 times in seven games.
"Watching the tape, I'm telling you I was pulling my hair out," defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said. "These guys are running all over the field. They're moving the ball offensively. I'm sure there's some stuff that coach (Andy) Reid and coach (Eric) Bieniemy (the offensive coordinator) want to get a little better on, but they're moving the ball and they can score at any moment. You make a mistake, they can score."
The Chiefs' primary problem has been turnovers. Their 17 giveaways are five more than any other team in the league and their minus-10 turnover differential is tied with Jacksonville for the league's worst.
Mahomes uncharacteristically leads the NFL with 11 turnovers (two fumbles and a league high-tying nine interceptions). He hasn't had a game without a giveaway since Kansas City's Week 1 victory against Cleveland and threw multiple interceptions in three of the last five games. Mahomes 97.9 passer rating places him 15th in the league.
So, how does Judge evaluate Mahomes' recent play?
"He looks like one of the best quarterbacks in the world to me," Judge said. "To be as athletic as he is, as just naturally instinctive as he is and have that kind of arm strength to make all those throws, there's a reason this guy gets paid that much money because there's not a lot of these guys walking the Earth. This guy's extremely talented. He's got a lot of savvy and experience. I think he does a great job of going through the initial reads, finding the right receiver and if something gets shut down, extending the play."
View photos of the New York Giants traveling to Kansas City for a Week 8 matchup against the Chiefs on Monday Night Football.
Both the front and the back of the Giants' defense know they face a significant challenge in trying to limit Mahomes' impact on the game.
"I think it's really important for our pass rush to affect the quarterback this week, as it is every week," lineman Leonard Williams said. "The quarterback is always the leader of the offense and if you can make that guy flustered, it's going to affect their offense a lot. Also, just staying alive on the rush. He's the type of guy that he's never really fully down and you've just got to keep rushing and keep getting after him."
"He's the best quarterback in the league, arm-talent wise, creativity, arm strength, so we've got to do our jobs," Ryan said. "We've got to defend the deep part of the field when I'm back there and cover for a little bit longer than normal because he always keeps the play alive. You really can't replicate it. You've got to go out there and just do your job and do it well and be in position when the ball is in the air."
The Chiefs' defense under coordinator Steve Spagnuolo – who twice held that position with the Giants – is not rated nearly as high statistically. The Chiefs have allowed 404.6 yards a game and are 32nd and last in opponent yards-per-play (6.6). With eight sacks, Kansas City joins Jacksonville as the only teams in single digits. Chiefs' opponents have converted 48.7% of their third-down opportunities (38 of 78), the NFL's third-highest rate.
Pay no attention to those numbers, said offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.
"They have good players," Garrett said. These guys over here, (defensive end Frank) Clark and (defensive tackle Chris) Jones, they're really hard guys to block. The guys in the back end, (safety) Tyrann Mathieu is a playmaker and they have good corners. They have good linebackers. They have really good players. For whatever reason, they haven't jelled as a whole unit as well as they have in the past up to this point in the season, but we have great respect for them. Spags is as good as a defensive coordinator as there is. They have a lot of really good players across their defense."
"They're a good defense," quarterback Daniel Jones said. "They've been a good defense for the past however many years, the Chiefs have been a top team in the league. They've got really good players on defense, guys who can disrupt the game and who can make big time plays. I don't think there's anyone on our team or in this building who's going to overlook them."
Which is exactly the message Judge has hammered home all week. Mark him down as supporting theory No. 2.
One more point. Two of Kansas City's three victories were against NFC East rivals Philadelphia and Washington. Mahomes threw for 675 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions in those games.
"Nobody in this building is going to in any way, shape or form underestimate this team. Period," Judge said. "This is a very good team. We know that. We know how dangerous and explosive they are. We always expect everybody's best game. It's our job to make sure that we're not overconfident or underestimate anybody."