The Road To Glory: Part XIV

Kansas City Chiefs 30, Houston Texans 24

Kansas City Chiefs / Sam Lutz

Kansas City Chiefs 24, Seattle Seahawks 10

The Seattle Times / Jennifer Buchanan

If anything was apparent after the Chiefs 30-24 overtime win last week against the Texans it’s that even for the best teams it’s still really, really hard to win in the NFL. And if anything was apparent after this week’s 24-10 Christmas Eve win over the Seahawks, it’s that this team might still actually care about getting the number one seed in the AFC.

Kansas City has a habit of rolling this way. They’ll barely scrape by the worst team in the league, then focus their sights for a week and handle business against a much better opponent. It seems like they find large stretches of the regular season to be a complete drag, waiting until they can finally show what they have in the playoffs, but constantly within that backdrop is the fact that every week the team the Chiefs are playing are treating it like their Super Bowl. Wherever Patrick Mahomes is, the competition on the other side is showing up to play.

The Chiefs have been so gifted for so long that motivation tends to wane. That seems like such a cliche thing to say about a football team that so often underachieves against the betting spread, but it’s virtually the only constant I have witnessed with this team since Mahomes took over. I think I held out some distant hope during the offseason that all the new characters on offense and the litany of young draft picks would create an atmosphere that was highly motivated week after week. I’m sure some of that exists — at least more than I’m giving them credit for. But if you look at the final scores in games against the Colts, and Texans, and Raiders, and Broncos, and Rams, you’ll see they either kept their foot off the gas or forgot the pedal was there in the first place.

And this team is 12-3. It’s not that they don’t give a shit, it’s just that they give a lot less of a shit than most fans (like me) wish they would. Every year there’s a prop bet (that you can actually wager real money on) about the Chiefs finishing the season undefeated. It typically pays out something mammoth like +2000 — where every dollar you bet wins you $20 — and it’s the exact kind of sucker bet that you would expect to pay at such long-shot odds.

But every time I see it before the season starts something in me wants to believe in the dream. I want to believe that they will be max-motivated every week and go for a perfect season. I’m not sure it’s at all possible with a 17-game season, not to mention three weeks worth of playoff wins that follow afterwards, but if any team was ever going to do it it would be the team that Patrick Mahomes plays for. Because despite his ungodly amount of wealth that he’s earned as 27 year-old, his biggest competition has been less about the team he is playing against on any given Sunday and more about the history that lies in his grasp ahead of him.

It’s easy to take all of this for granted. The Chiefs have won 12 games for a fifth consecutive season — all under the leadership of Mahomes — and they still have two games left to play. Patrick Mahomes is the favorite to win MVP, which is cool I guess, but if truth be told he would have been deserving of it in any of the five seasons he’s played. The numbers might not compare to the guys who actually have won it, and the Chiefs may not have finished with the best record in the NFL any of those years. But Patrick Mahomes does things no one else can do. He accomplishes the career highlight reels of most quarterbacks in any given season. He makes a handful of plays every game that would be on top-10 lists for most quarterbacks in their best season.

Kansas City’s fate with the number one seed in the AFC pretty much comes down to next week, as the 12-3 Buffalo Bills travel to Cincinnati to play the 11-4 Bengals. If the Bills win, they will likely curb stomp the Patriots in Week 18 en route to a 14-3 campaign and a first round bye in the playoffs. If the Bengals win, which is entirely plausible, then the Chiefs would be able to control their own destiny by beating the lowly Denver Broncos and somewhat feisty Las Vegas Raiders in Week 18. If somehow the Bills and Chiefs both lose, and the Bengals win out, then there would be a three-way tie in the AFC at 13-4 and the Joe Burrow-led Bengals would own the one seed.

Those are all the scenarios. Given that the AFC is so stacked this season, the top seed matters more than it ever has — at least insofar as the current structure where only one team in each conference gets a first round bye. I think the most realistic outcome is that the Bills and Chiefs both finish 14-3 and Buffalo gets the one-seed based on their head-to-head win against the Chiefs. But Joe Burrow has proved me wrong before. He has pretty much proved me wrong every time I have ever doubted him.

I would love for Kansas City to do the thing and get the one seed. But something tells me that part of this journey isn’t about doing it the easy way. Without the electricity of Tyreek Hill, or the outspokenness and charisma of Tyrann Mathieu, this has been the most working class version of the Chiefs since Patrick Mahomes took over in 2018. As badly as I want them to finish 14-3 and get the one seed, I believe the only way that would make them a truly worthy champion in 2022 would be to get nasty and have to beat the Bengals and then go on to win on the road against the Bills. I would take a Super Bowl however it comes. That specific way, however, would be just perfect.

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