LOS ANGELES — Through 10 games last season, the Kansas City Chiefs were 6-4 and seventh in the league in scoring at about 26 points per game.
Through 10 games this season, they’re 9-1 and averaging about 35 points per game.
The reason for the difference is clear.
Mahomes, in his first season as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback, has made a legitimate Super Bowl contender of a team that has made the playoffs in four of the past five seasons but has not advanced beyond the divisional round.
Mahomes led the NFL in passing touchdowns (31) and yards (3,150) heading into Week 11, a slate that includes Monday night’s game between the Chiefs and Rams in Los Angeles.
That, plus Kansas City’s 9-1 record, should make him the favorite for NFL MVP. Since 1970, five quarterbacks have led the NFL in passing touchdowns and yardage in the same season that their teams won at least 13 games. Four were named MVP.
“The level of confidence and poise that this kid has, I haven’t seen it anywhere,” Chiefs wide receiver Chris Conley said. “You can’t ask him to do anything else. He’s handled the times where he’s made the plays really well. He’s handled the times where he hasn’t. That speaks volumes.”
Opponents have noticed as well. Quarterback Philip Rivers sounded as if he was in awe of Mahomes’ strong arm and ability to make unconventional throws after the Chiefs beat the Chargers in Week 1.
“I think he has a chance to be a really, really, really awesome player,” Rivers said. “He has some arm power. I’d like to borrow his arm every now and then for some of those throws. He can really throw, and he’s really accurate. … He seems to have that he can throw it from any arm angle and he was poised.
“He’s got a chance, and I just wanted to tell him after the game, whether he wanted to hear it from me or not, that he’s got a chance to be really awesome.”
Opponents have tried every trick in the book to get Mahomes off his game. The Steelers tried multiple different blitzes in Week 2, but none worked. Mahomes threw six touchdown passes in the Chiefs’ victory.
The Broncos in Week 4 were able to get consistent pressure on Mahomes. But he beat the Broncos by throwing for 192 yards outside the pocket, leaving Denver coach Vance Joseph frustrated.
“We couldn’t get him on the ground,” Joseph said. “We had a bunch of good pressures. We pushed him out of the pocket, we lost contain a couple times and he stepped out of a couple sacks. He made some plays. They were second-and-30 and he had a 23-yard completion on the run. That’s what he’s shown on tape, so we knew he was going to be a tough out as far as sacking the guy, but we had pressure on the guy. He made some plays.”
Mahomes has done similar things to other opponents. Outside the pocket, he has 566 passing yards, almost 200 more than his closest pursuer entering Week 11.
Coach Andy Reid deflected a recent question about whether Mahomes is the MVP. But he’s seen — like everyone else — Mahomes’ good work on game days plus his preparation that others don’t see on the other six days.
“He’s had a heck of a year,” Reid said after last week’s win over the Cardinals. “He’s playing his heart out. I love the back side of that, the preparation and how he goes about his business there day in and day out. … He comes out every day, and he’s bringing energy and he makes sure he has his things in order when he does that. He’s got a lot on his plate as far as responsibility goes to run the offense, and he takes care of that.
“He’s in a position where he can make everybody better around him, and he’s doing that.”