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The Chiefs Proved They Aren't a Top-Tier Contender in the AFC

The Chiefs' loss to the Titans told quite the story about where the team stands right now.

Heading into the 2021 season, just about everyone expected the Kansas City Chiefs to be one of the premier teams in the AFC. Even as the "hunted" instead of the "hunters," there was seemingly more than enough talent to overcome a tough schedule and any imminent bumps in the road.

Through seven games, that simply hasn't been the case.

Of the Chiefs' three wins, none of them have been truly impressive. To open the season, they narrowly defeated the Cleveland Browns. Their second win came against an Eagles team that is currently 2-5 and has looked mostly lost since shredding Steve Spagnuolo's defense. Their third win came in Week 6 against the Washington Football Team, a squad that went into halftime with a 13-10 lead. You get the pattern.

Of the Chiefs' four losses, all of them have been to top-shelf AFC foes. Kansas City went toe-to-toe with the Baltimore Ravens but ultimately lost because of costly turnovers. Against the Los Angeles Chargers, turnovers reared their ugly heads again. They did against the Buffalo Bills, too. Finally, on Sunday in Nashville during a contest versus the Tennessee Titans, the Chiefs looked completely out of sorts and suffered a crushing 27-3 loss. 

The pattern with the wins has been struggling to defeat inferior opponents before eventually waking up in time to make the final result(s) look impressive. The pattern for losses? It's simple: The Chiefs are showing that they're not a top-tier contender within the conference anymore. An 0-4 record against the aforementioned teams tells that story, and it was brought completely to light against Tennessee. Mark Van Sickle of Arrowhead Report joined me on today's Roughing the Kicker podcast to talk about the state of the Chiefs at 3-4. 

A few weeks ago, it appeared that the key to the Chiefs unlocking a near-unstoppable form was to make a few defensive adjustments and simply play cleaner football on offense. The second half of the Washington game — in which the team scored 21 points while shutting out its opponent — displayed that. It came after a 38-20 embarrassment at the hands of the Bills, so it led many to believe that things were fixed. Rather than it being a turning point, it served as a flash in the pan sandwiched between a pair of contests that exposed the Chiefs' many faults.

The core of Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Chris Jones, Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu hasn't lived up to expectations. Mahomes' sloppy play has been an issue all year, injuries are taking a toll on the duo of Kelce and Hill, Jones has been playing hurt or out of position all season, Clark's availability and consistency are red flags and Mathieu is just now finding his footing thanks to numerous factors. The Chiefs' best players haven't been good enough, and it's holding the team back. So is coaching.

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The split of play-calling and game-planning duties between head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has always been a bit unclear. Both of them play major roles in preparing Mahomes and company for the week ahead and on game day, both are instrumental in the team's success and take heaping amounts of blame for failures. Far too many times this season, a second-and-long run has been called, and it's effectively killed drives. Far too many times, proper in-game adjustments haven't been made. Far too many times, the offense has looked unprepared.

Defensively, Spagnuolo has been under scrutiny all year long. A lot of that is warranted, as he took over a month to make the switch from Daniel Sorensen to Juan Thornhill at the free safety position. While his in-game adjustments have been much more evident than Reid or Bieniemy's, they've normally taken effect in the second half of games. Even with recent improvements, the Chiefs' defense still ranks at or near the bottom of the league in countless statistical categories. From a coaching perspective, the team has not been up to par. 

General manager Brett Veach isn't blameless, either. His spotty track record when it comes to the NFL Draft, his high-level investments in players who aren't providing enough return on that value and his unwillingness to invest heavily in the cornerback position are all points of contention. He's been swinging for home runs in situations where a single or double would suffice. When he connects, it's beautiful. When he doesn't, it's ugly.

If you were to ask me in July or August what would need to take place in order for the Chiefs to have a losing record seven games into the season, I would have mentioned a serious injury to their best player. That's it. Nothing else — other injuries, coaching mishaps, poor roster construction, the tough schedule, overall struggles or anything of the sort — seemed like a valid reason. Ironically, those things have led to the Chiefs digging their own grave. A combination of several things has the team on the outside looking in when it comes to the AFC playoff picture.

The season is far from over and there's time left for the Chiefs to wake up, but it's becoming less and less likely by the week. When factoring in matchups with the Green Bay Packers, Las Vegas Raiders (twice), Dallas Cowboys, Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals that still loom, it's going to take a miracle in order for the Chiefs to finish the regular season as anything other than a wild card team that overcame some early-season struggles to make the playoffs. They can win from that position, but even getting there is far from a guarantee. One thing is for sure: This doesn't look anything like one of the best teams in the AFC.

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Read More: Four Takeaways From the Chiefs' 27-3 Loss to the Tennessee Titans