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Key moves, crucial wins and turning points by the Chiefs in their latest AFC title race

The Kansas City Chiefs’ season started with more doubts than usual.

The Chiefs traded star receiver Tyreek Hill in the offseason and the rest of the AFC West made moves to reach Kansas City. It did not work. The Chiefs won the division for the seventh straight, landed the No. 1 seed in the AFC, hosted an AFC championship game for the fifth straight season, and made it to their third Super Bowl in four seasons.

In hindsight it seems obvious that the Chiefs would have gone back to the Super Bowl. They have a future Hall of Fame coach in Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, the best quarterback in the NFL. But there have been challenges along the way.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes will likely win his second NFL MVP award after a great season. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Key moves: bosses add young

For a Super Bowl participant, the Chiefs haven’t had a great offseason. Trading Hill was a shock move, even as Kansas City made first, second and fourth round finishes in 2022, as well as fourth and sixth round finishes in 2023. The Chiefs have received contributions from most of its draft class of 10 men, most notably defensive end George Karlaftis, cornerback Trent McDuffie and running back Isiah Pacheco.

Among free agents, wide receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling and JuJu Smith-Schuster didn’t have great seasons but played key roles. Safety Justin Reid has done a great job replacing the late Tyrann Mathieu. The Philadelphia Eagles, the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LVII opponent, added big stars through trade and free agency. Compared to that, the Chiefs have had a quiet off-season for a Super Bowl team.

Crucial Victories: Close victories over magazines set the tone

The biggest regular season wins for the Chiefs may have been against the Los Angeles Chargers, one of the teams expected to contend for the AFC West title. In Week 2, the Chargers beat the Chiefs for most of the game, but a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown by rookie Kansas City cornerback Jaylen Watson in the fourth quarter turned the game around. The Chiefs won 27-24 in a huge early season statement.

In Week 11, the Chargers were 5-4 hosting the 7-2 Chiefs. A Chargers win would have pulled them within a Kansas City game. The Chargers took a 27-23 lead on a Justin Herbert touchdown pass in the final two minutes. But Mahomes drove the Chiefs downfield and hit Travis Kelce for the game-winning score with 31 seconds left.

The story continues

Both games could have gone either way. The Chiefs won both and walked away with the AFC West title.

Turning point: Chiefs warm up after huge 49ers win

Six weeks into the season, the Chiefs were 4-2. They lost to the Indianapolis Colts which was even more perplexing at the end of the season. The Chiefs were coming off a Week 6 home loss to the Buffalo Bills, a game that looked huge in the AFC playoff picture, when they traveled to play a tough San Francisco 49ers team. At that point, the Chiefs looked good but maybe not great. They haven’t solidified themselves as Super Bowl favorites. They were after beating the 49ers 44-23. The Chiefs ran for 529 yards against an elite defense.

This began a stretch in which the Chiefs won 12 of 13 games, including playoff victories against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cincinnati Bengals. That commanding victory in San Francisco was a statement that the Chiefs would be Super Bowl contenders. Again.

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