The Kansas City Chiefs finished the first half of the season with a 8-1 record. Here's a look at how they have fared and what's ahead:
First-half rewind: The Chiefs are about as close to undefeated as they could be without actually being there. The one loss was on the road against the two-time defending AFC champion New England Patriots by a walk-off field goal. Otherwise, in their eight victories, the Chiefs have had leads of 19, 21, 28, 7, 23, 35, 16 and 19 points, though their inability to always finish efficiently has forced them to sweat out the end of some of those games. The schedule hasn't been particularly easy. Four of their games have been played against teams in playoff contention. Grade: Near-perfection.
What's the biggest factor in the Chiefs making a deep playoff run? Other than the continued health of quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the other skill players, the Chiefs need their defense to hold its own. Judging more by how the defense has played than its statistics, it has done that. The defense has some timely stops and several big plays to its credit. The Chiefs don't need to be dominant defensively -- merely average would be good enough with the Chiefs playing as well as they are on offense and special teams.
MVP: Mahomes might not continue at his current pace in the season's second half, but there's no reason to expect a dramatic drop-off. He has faced a number of defenses designed to confuse him and force him into mistakes, but he hasn't had a prolonged slump. Mahomes is set to break all sorts of team records for passing touchdowns and could even threaten the NFL's single-season record for TDs (55).
Biggest surprise: The Chiefs have been confident in Mahomes from the moment they drafted him in the first round in 2017. They thought he would eventually become one of the NFL's top quarterbacks. But nobody envisioned Mahomes playing as well as he has or as the front-runner for NFL MVP honors so early in his career. That's a testament not only to the way Andy Reid has handled Mahomes from the start, but also to Mahomes for the work he has put in and the way he's taken that coaching.
Hurdle to overcome: If the Chiefs don't improve on defense, they'll have to continue to score at a rapid pace. The Chiefs have allowed an average of more than 25 points per game. So far, they've been able to overcome that in all but one game. Will that continue in the season's second half?