Dating all the way back to March and lasting well into the month of September, the most common outlook on the Kansas City Chiefs was that they were taking a "reset" year of sorts. Within that soft reset, the most realistic things they could do were remain squarely in the mix atop the AFC during the regular season and then bank on their elite talent and coaching once the playoffs rolled around.
As with anything, though, there were also some other outcomes on either end of the spectrum. On the positive side, Kansas City could somehow become better in the post-Tyreek Hill era and have their young defense be good enough to help lead the team back to another Super Bowl. In that scenario, the Chiefs would pretty clearly be the top team in the NFL. On the negative side, Kansas City could take a sizable step back and risk potentially losing the AFC West for the first time since the 2015 season.
Through 13 weeks of the 2022 campaign, the Chiefs lie somewhere in the middle but lean a bit towards the high end. Despite a mild case of Chicken Little Syndrome making its way through Chiefs Twitter following the team's road loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Kansas City remains in a good spot: No. 2 in the AFC playoff standings and tied with the leader in the record column. Andy Reid's group is still on track to secure a seventh straight division crown and is firmly entrenched as one of the best teams in the entire league. Defeats at the hands of the Bengals and Buffalo Bills this season don't change that.
It does, however, serve as a reminder that the Chiefs aren't alone in their quest for a Super Bowl berth. Instead of being the odds-on favorite to come out of the AFC like in past years, Kansas City is on a relatively even playing field with a couple of other squads that also boast exciting offenses led by great young quarterbacks. That proposed case from before the season is now the actual case in December, although it doesn't doom the Chiefs' chances of having success moving forward.
In their Week 6 loss to the Bills, the Chiefs were missing multiple pieces on defense and suffered a four-point defeat to a team at the height of its powers. They also mustered just 20 points despite having arguably the best offense in the entire league. In their Week 13 loss to the Bengals, the Chiefs had the game derailed by a fourth-quarter fumble and a missed field goal by one of the best long-range kickers in the league. They were mere inches on a Joe Burrow third-down throw away from getting the ball back late with a chance to go for the win.
This is the reality of non-invincible teams. The Hill-era Chiefs that made four consecutive AFC Championship Games have just one Super Bowl win to show for it. Even the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick-led New England Patriots lost plenty of games to other good teams in the regular season and postseason. The rarity of a high-profile Chiefs loss makes each one seem like a bigger deal than it actually is. In that aforementioned "reset" year, Kansas City has shown that it can hang with the most talented squads in the conference. That allows the Chiefs to still be a Super Bowl-or-bust group.
Reid and Mahomes made concerted efforts in their postgame comments on Sunday to state that in order to beat good teams, all three phases have to be firing and mistakes have to be minimized. Although there are multiple layers of Sunday's game to peel back, sometimes explaining a loss can be as simple as that. The Chiefs, a very good team, ran into another very good team and made a few mistakes that led to them losing by one score. That doesn't change what the ceiling can be for their playoff run in January (and, if they play their cards right, February). Things just may be tougher than they have been in the past.