The Chiefs Biggest Threat in the AFC is Themselves
There is not a bigger target on a team in the NFL than the Kansas City Chiefs have this season. As defending Super Bowl champions, it really has not mattered what team is on the opposing sideline, every team is prepared for the game as if it was a playoff game.
The Chiefs are currently sitting at 9-1 with a strength of schedule rating at 13th, according to the rankings at https://www.teamrankings.com/nfl/ranking/schedule-strength-by-other . The Chiefs currently sit at second in the league in point differential at +107, trailing only the Pittsburgh Steelers at +124. The schedule has included some tough matchups for the Chiefs: Justin Herbert 1st start against the Chargers where there was no defensive game plan for him, at the Ravens on Monday Night Football the following week, at the Bills on a Monday night, against the Panthers with Christian McCaffrey healthy and heavily involved, and the Raiders have proven twice that their offensive weapons are a huge issue for this Chiefs defense. All of these matchups provide some personnel mismatches for the Chiefs defense and have kept most of these games close, but the bigger issues in these games have been self-inflicted wounds.
It is very clear at this point that Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes have absolutely no issue with working from behind in a game. The issue is that every other team also knows this information, so it is only going to continue to get harder for the Chiefs to consistently pull off. Mental mistakes, missed opportunities, and penalties have been big reason as to why the Chiefs have started out so slow in these games. Games that fall in this category so far this season have been: Week One vs the Texans (0 1st quarter points down 7-0), Week Two at the Chargers (0 1st quarter points, down 17-9 entering the 4th), Week Four vs the Patriots (0 first half touchdowns, only up 6-3 at halftime facing Brian Hoyer), and Week Nine vs the Panthers (3 1st quarter points, trailed 14-3 early 2nd quarter). The Chiefs ended up winning all of these games, but the concern for slow starts still has to be there.
The Chiefs have also been their own worst enemy with keeping teams in the game for too long. This has been one of Andy Reid's more prominent issues during his tenure with the Chiefs, but has been less noticeable since Patrick Mahomes was handed the keys to the Chiefs offense. The Chiefs have shown up big against their toughest opponents so far this season. The Ravens were the only team to be favored against this Chiefs team this season, but the Chiefs absolutely dominated this game. The Bills have a high powered offense that should've gave the Chiefs issues, but they were held to 17 points and had little offense all night. The Raiders proved to the Chiefs that they could not be taken lightly in the first matchup and proved the same thing last night and gave the Chiefs everything they had. An issue that I could see coming back to hurt the Chiefs in the postseason is that Andy Reid seems to get comfortable when he gets a double digit lead, and the defense is not good enough to hold good teams down all game. The Chiefs took a 17 point lead into the break against the Ravens, they did not score again until the game was 27-20 with eight minutes left in the 4th quarter. The Chiefs got out to a 20-10 lead late in the third quarter against the Bills and let the Bills stay in the game until closing it out with two minutes left. Keeping good competition within striking distance in games is something the Chiefs should not be comfortable with, and it seems like they are.
Looking around the AFC, the Steelers are the no brainer option for best chance at knocking the Chiefs out in the postseason. This is not something that I have been worrying about because I do not see these two teams meeting up in the AFC Championship Game. The Steelers currently are undefeated and have been dominant in almost every single game, but they have a very soft schedule (currently sitting at 31st SOS). The Steelers are a very good team do not get me wrong. They are the second best team in the NFL this season in my opinion because of their elite defense and the playmakers that they have on offense. This is a team that could give the Chiefs a lot of issues if they were to see each other in January, but the Steelers also have big slip-up potential in a winner-take-all scenario. Teams like the Titans, Colts, Bills or even Raiders all can very easily knock off the Steelers in a playoff environment. The Steelers defense will carry them for the foreseeable future, but the lack of consistent offensive production will be the reason they do not see the Super Bowl.
The AFC is honestly loaded this year with nine true playoff contenders. All nine of these teams have different things about them that make them scary enough to be the best competition to knock off the Chiefs, but the biggest concern will be coming out every week knowing the other team has your team circled on their schedule. If the Chiefs show up to play every week with the mindset of nobody in this league can beat them if they play a clean game and play their brand of football, they will not lose and probably will be the first repeat Super Bowl Champions since the '03-'04 seasons. If the Chiefs want to show up flat to a game or get comfortable too early in a game, that will be the reason they lose and it could end up costing them the season. The Chiefs have got to get used to being the top dog sooner rather than later before their reign as the top dog is cut short.