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Chiefs-Falcons rapid reaction: do we really know what to think?

At 14-1, the Chiefs will finish with the best regular-season record in franchise history. But do we believe they are as good as their record shows?

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Like the title says, this weekly post is a rapid reaction — but this time around, I have found myself in quite a conundrum: I am not quite sure what to think of the 2020 Kansas City Chiefs.

At 14-1 — by the simple definition of record — the 2020 Chiefs are the greatest regular-season team in franchise history. But when digging into the season — and more specifically, the final stretch of seven games they won by one possession, I cannot help but wonder if this team is primed to be upset in the NFL playoffs.

The Atlanta Falcons rolled into Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday — and like the six teams who played the Chiefs before them — found ways to curb the Chiefs enough to give themselves a fighting chance late in the game. Then — also like the six teams before them — they lost the football game when Patrick Mahomes found a way to pull it from their grasp.

There are folks who will say, “Well a win is a win, and I don’t care the margin.” And they are right. We watched as the Chiefs trailed by 10 points three times in each of last year’s playoff games, only to turn it on and win by 10 or more every single time.

Then there are other folks who will caution that the Chiefs are playing with fire by having such points of struggle against marginal teams like the Panthers, Broncos and Falcons (by the way, these teams don’t have as many combined wins as the Chiefs). And I think they’re right, too.

For the purpose of my rapid reaction, I wish I would agree with one side or the other. But I don’t; I agree with both. And that happens to be quite a significant problem when part of the gig is to analyze what‘s going on. Also, based on Andy Reid's history, we likely won’t see the starters again until the weekend of January 16.

By then, I expect we will have gone through weeks of chatter that the Chiefs are potentially vulnerable — only to watch Reid’s unit dominate their Divisional round foe because he is the league’s supreme expert game-planner out of the bye. In the blink of an eye, the Chiefs — suddenly again one of the final four teams left — will be nationally prepared for a repeat.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

When it comes to the offense, we knew what we would get from Mahomes and Reid in January regardless of how Sunday’s game against the Falcons went. To be honest, it did not go particularly well.

But I think what we learned on the day is what we haven’t seen in a while — or maybe ever before.

The pass rush looked alive and well — not only from Chris Jones and Frank Clark but also from Alex Okafor and Tershawn Wharton. Mike Danna sniffing out the early reverse did not go unnoticed. At the second level, Willie Gay Jr. comes in as advertised. Gay, along with Darius Harris and Omari Cobb, did not have the adult supervision of Anthony Hitchens and Ben Niemann — the latter who left the game early — but still shined when the Chiefs needed them, too. Cornerback L’Jarius Sneed is beginning to look like one of the league’s bright stars.

Gay and Sneed combining for a forced fumble (and Harris picking it up) played like a dream into the future of this team. After the game, Mahomes twice described that the defense had tapped back into its championship swagger. It did take a crucial missed 38-yard field goal, but the Chiefs defense held former MVP quarterback Matt Ryan to just 14 points.

While I can agree that it would have been nice for Chiefs fans to see a final score of 35-14 (for once), what transpired on the defensive side of the football was necessary for the defenders’ confidence heading into the playoffs.

If you believe in Reid, Mahomes and company — and the three weeks to straighten their part out — this team may be ready to make more history over the next month.