After a Super Bowl LIV victory followed by another AFC championship, the Kansas City Chiefs are a modest 5-4. Nine games into the season, Patrick Mahomes has thrown 10 interceptions — he threw a combined 11 picks the past two seasons — and he just doesn’t look like himself. By extension, the Chiefs don’t look like themselves. After averaging 31 points per game the first six weeks, they have scored a combined 36 points in their last three games.
But it's not as bad as it seems, K.C. fans.
Regression is normal for a quarterback. In Peyton Manning’s fourth season, he threw 23 interceptions and the Colts went 6-10 to miss the playoffs. In Drew Brees’ fourth season as a starter, he had 15 picks, more than doubling his previous year’s INT total. Even Joe Montana’s fourth season was not memorable, as he threw 11 interceptions in just nine starts.
In Mahomes' fourth full season, opponents have had the time and tape to get to know his tendencies. They understand what made Andy Reid’s offense different and now know how to defend it better. Just as opponents have made adjustments, the Chiefs will have to do the same on offense, which isn't quite as bad as you might think.
Kansas City is ranked sixth in passing (281.0 yards per game) and tied for fourth in passing touchdowns (20), and the rushing attack is 15th in the league (112.3 yards per game). And despite the struggle to score points, the offensive line, expected to be a strength, is now the NFL's second best, according to Pro Football Focus.
The AFC West's mediocrity is certainly giving the Chiefs a break. All four teams have five wins. Kansas City, even with a 5-4 record, is only a half-game back from the lead.
No team in the division has had consistent success. Injuries have stalked the Denver Broncos (5-4), while off-the-field issues have affected the play of the Las Vegas Raiders (5-3). The Los Angeles Chargers (5-3) have shown flashes of the kind of team they could become, but losses to the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens indicate they are not there yet.
So don’t hang your heads, Chiefs fans. Your team is too talented not to play better and be a factor in the AFC. Kansas City's next opportunity comes Sunday night against the Raiders in Vegas.
"If I had to bet on it, I'd bet we'd kind of figure it out here soon," Mahomes told reporters this week, "and hopefully this is the first week of taking that step."