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What Will it Take to Dethrone the Chiefs?

The Chiefs are a juggernaut and their wins feel inevitable. They are good enough to sleepwalk through sloppy stretches and still win easily.
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The Chiefs looked about as bad as they have all season on Sunday. Patrick Mahomes threw three interceptions. Their lead back averaged two yards per carry on 16 attempts. The Dolphins held the ball for the majority of the game. And the Chiefs still scored 33 points, outgained their opponent by more than 100 yards and, had it not been for two fourth-quarter touchdowns after the defense slowed to a jog, would have won the game by more than three scores. After the eight minute mark of the second quarter, their win probability never tipped below 50% again.

It’s frightening, isn’t it, when the inevitability of something settles in? We knew that the Chiefs were the most complete team in football coming into this week, but there is still something so grating for opponents when Kansas City slogs into a place, trips all over the field for the better part of three hours and still wins the thing handily, like a hungover professional golfer waltzing onto a pitch and putt and shooting 18 under par.

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For the last five weeks, the Chiefs’ games have all come down to one score. Each week there has been a moment of indefinable coolness, in Sunday’s case a critical fourth-and-1 conversion, that snapped both the offense’s mechanical and maniacal nature into autopilot for a snippet of brilliance. The rest of the time, they have shown they can survive half asleep. The Dolphins, an ideal bellwether opponent that represents the kind of versatile defensive challenges Kansas City will face en route to a title repeat, was hopeless the moment Mahomes took a snap, rolled out to his armada of offensive weapons and found one of the best receivers in the league (Tyreek Hill) with room to run. There are precious few teams in modern history that can conjure a yard in a situation like that with such regularity.

If we needed another reminder of the Chiefs’ overall heft, Sunday was as good as it gets. It’s sometimes better to judge them on days like this, when they show how far behind the rest of the league drags. Once the pandemic swept the offseason away, it was safe to assume that teams having an established quarterback-coach relationship and coordinator retention would hold an advantage. This win illustrated the width of that separation.

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Predicting the future is a fool’s errand—just ask everyone who wrote variations of this column about the Patriots at some point during the 2007 season (and yes, we know the Chiefs aren't undefeated, though the eight-point loss to Las Vegas feels like a lifetime ago). Since that moment, though, has there been a team with more of an iron grip on our collective certainty about another title game berth than these Chiefs? About, perhaps, another MVP award for the quarterback? (Sunday’s rough outing dropped him to 33 touchdowns and—gasp—five whole interceptions on the season.) About how strongly they’d match up with whoever crawls out of the other conference?

At some point, while we’re all convincing ourselves that titans fall in the NFL and that no team or system or player is infallible, we’ll realize how much better the Chiefs have gotten since they won the Super Bowl a year ago. The defense has Steve Spagnuolo squarely in the head coaching conversation. The offense has teams already designing their facility to Eric Bienemy’s expectations. Unlike other great teams, they have evolved, even if not in a spectacular fashion that tilts fantasy football playoff scores.

And it’s obvious even on the days when it’s not obvious, which is what makes it all the more frustrating for any team that sees them coming from here on out. You have to be both perfect and lucky enough to catch the Chiefs on a day far worse than we’ve seen yet.