After the team’s 25-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals that assured a playoff berth and yet another AFC West title, national writers still aren’t convinced the Kansas City Chiefs are legitimate contenders for the championship. It’s unlikely that in the final regular-season game against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Chiefs could do something that would change many minds.
So as Jake Taylor might say, we guess there’s just one thing left to do. But can Kansas City do it?
Here’s this week’s sampling:
(up from 9)
It’s easy, and quite fair, to say that the Chiefs are not the team we expected them to be this season. But that doesn’t mean they can’t make some noise still. Sunday’s win over the Bengals provided a snapshot of how they could reinvent themselves on the fly and potentially reemerge in the playoffs as a threat. Defense and Isiah Pacheco are the two elements that give Kansas City the best chance. Now, don’t twist my words; I am not saying Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce are incapable of leading a hot January run. Of course they are. But right now, the aerial game is operating at a passable level; meanwhile, the Chiefs’ defense and Pacheco (when healthy) have been the two biggest X-factors. The defense shut out Cincinnati for the final 36-plus minutes on Sunday, including a massive fourth-down stop midway through the third quarter, and Pacheco was the offense early on. We give Tom Brady ultimate credit for the Super Bowl rings he won in 2018 with the Patriots and 2020 with the Bucs, but those teams had a similar makeup to these Chiefs in a few ways.
— Eric Edholm
(down from 8)
Biggest offseason contract to watch: DT Chris Jones
Jones would be a free agent this offseason if the Chiefs don’t re-sign him or protect him with the franchise tag first. The sides couldn’t agree on terms of a multiyear extension this season when Jones held out from training camp and missed the regular-season opener. That makes it unlikely they would come to an agreement this time unless one side or the other has a dramatic change of heart. Jones returned to the Chiefs this season during Week 2 only after the team agreed to sweeten the final season of his contract.
— Adam Teicher
The Athletic: 8
(up from 9)
The lesson: There are no sure things
The Chiefs may win another Super Bowl, but it’s going to be an uphill climb. All of Patrick Mahomes’ magic could only generate one touchdown against the Bengals on Sunday. Kansas City got the win thanks to six Harrison Butker field goals, and Rashee Rice, who had five catches for 127 yards, remains the only reliable wide receiver. That’s a problem that is made worse by the fact that Travis Kelce had only three catches for 16 yards against the Bengals and hasn’t topped 45 yards in any of the last three games.
— Josh Kendall
(unchanged from 6)
I think the third quarter, from the moment the Chiefs stopped the Bengals on a horrendously called fourth-down run, to the moment (technically early in the fourth quarter) where they went up 19–17, is the kind of swing that can alter a team moving forward. I believe this mostly because of the performances from Justin Watson and Rashee Rice in big spots, both catching critical balls. Patrick Mahomes opted not to throw to a wide open Isiah Pacheco down at the goal line, or we may have had something more closely resembling a blowout.
— Conor Orr
(unchanged from 10)
Their playoff experience will come in handy.
— Mike Florio
(unchanged from 8)
It wasn’t pretty against the Bengals, but the offense did show some life in the second half to win the division. Now they will open the playoffs at home.
— Pete Prisco
Fox Sports: 9
(up from 11)
— David Helman
(up from 8)
The Chiefs are locked into the AFC’s No. 3 seed. There’s no reason to play key starters in Week 18. But the offense does not look playoff-ready. Settling for six field goals Sunday, even in a win, was another reason to be concerned.
— Frank Schwab
(up from 9)
The Chiefs’ offense took a lot of uphill climbing to get enough points to beat the Bengals but their reliable defense keeps coming through. If Kansas City repeats, it would be because of how they’re playing on the other side of Patrick Mahomes.
— Vinnie Iyer
USA Today: 4
(up from 6)
Only Tom Brady’s Patriots have won more consecutive division titles than the eight Andy Reid and (mostly) Patrick Mahomes have strung together since 2016. But doesn’t appear there will be a sixth straight AFC title game at Arrowhead Stadium this season.
— Nate Davis