When Kansas City Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon crossed the goal line to top the Houston Texans in overtime of the Week 15 thriller, it cemented the Chiefs under head coach Andy Reid’s leadership as one of the all-time teams in terms of division dominance.
The organization had clinched the AFC West division, topping three of the franchise’s biggest rivals for the seventh consecutive season. Only one team in NFL history has ever lasted at the top of a division longer: the New England Patriots, who won the AFC East every year from 2009 to 2019 amid their incredible dynasty.
Chiefs’ chairman and CEO Clark Hunt has seen a lot and understands the difficulty of the achievement. When asked about it during a post-game press conference, he knew where to give credit.
“I think one of the most difficult things in the National Football League is a consistent success,” Hunt told reporters. “The rules are designed to make that difficult, whether it’s the draft or the salary cap. So, it’s a real testament to the job that General Manager Brett Veach and Coach Reid have done over the last several years. We obviously have a bunch of young players, and we’ve got some new players, and Andy and his staff have done a tremendous job of incorporating them into the team. That’s just part of the National Football League.”
When the first title of the streak was won, the team was captained by quarterback Alex Smith, using a young tight end in Travis Kelce and running backs Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware to lead an efficient, do-enough offense to a 12-4 record. A top-10 scoring defense helped, headlined by linebacker Derrick Johnson and safety Eric Berry.
Seven years later, the team sits with a similar record and the same head coach — but looks entirely different (except for Kelce, of course). They went from the well-respected underdog that finally broke through to the constant presence that refuses to give up the throne.
It makes each title even more impressive, knowing that each team is more and more prepared to take down whoever is on top of the mountain.
“Whether it’s the AFC West or just the other teams in the AFC, they’re going to focus on trying to knock off the reigning champion,” Hunt shared. “It feels like every week when we come out that it’s a Super Bowl for the team that we’re playing. The game is that important.”
Even with the target on their backs, the Chiefs have beaten AFC West opponents in 35 of the 40 matchups during this streak; there are two remaining games this season. Among the seven seasons, one has featured multiple losses to divisional foes — but it came when the Chiefs rested their backups in Week 17 of 2020.
Three seasons — including the current one — have featured a spotless record against the division. To go along with the theme of domination, the Chiefs have clinched the AFC West title with at least two games to go in each of the last four seasons.
It’s no longer the current team’s end goal, but it’s one of the necessary boxes to check on the way to the grand prize. That’s why quarterback Patrick Mahomes told his teammates to enjoy the celebration on the Sunday-night plane ride home, something he told reporters in his post-game press conference. He mentioned it is the first goal of every season.
Mahomes has checked it off and is moving on to the next task.
“We accomplished our first goal,” he confirmed. “So, our next goal is to try to establish home field advantage. It’s not in our hands. We can do our best to be ready in case we get that opportunity, and then win the Super Bowl. We just kind of continue to get better and better. Obviously we have a lot to learn from this game. But we have to continue to improve as a team, so when we get to the playoffs, we’re ready to try to make a run.”
It’s a testament to the heightened expectations in Kansas City. Before Reid’s arrival, there were five division championships in all between the era of head coach Hank Stram and Reid’s hiring. Now, a division championship is merely a guarantee to see a home playoff game — and there have been 11 of those in the division-title streak, with no true road games mixed in.
That is only possible by first winning the division, which is something the Chiefs make look much easier than it is. Even when a division foe drafts a quarterback with elite talent (such as Justin Herbert), signs the league’s best wide receiver (such as Davante Adams), trades for a Super-Bowl winning signal-caller (such as Russell Wilson), hires a prodigal-like head coach (such as Josh McDaniel) or loads up with edge-rushing talent (such as Chandler Jones), or benefits from Kansas City trading away one of the league’s most dangerous playmakers (such as Tyreek Hill)...
...the Chiefs continue to wear the crown, donning it and using it as an advantage in their quest for a ring to go with it.