Until proven otherwise, AFC West remains a piñata for the Kansas City Chiefs

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Chiefs coach Andy Reid has had a roller-coaster season: a 5-4 start on the field and a health scare that included a hospital stay after his team’s home loss in September to the L.A. Chargers
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Shortly after the Chiefs thrashed the Las Vegas Raiders 41-14 at Allegiant Stadium on Nov. 14, safety Armani Watts took to Twitter to lend some context to the moment.

“We don’t need no victory lap on to the next,” he wrote, punctuated with a flexed-biceps emoji.

If his declaration was a bit of a provocative dig at the Raiders for that victory lap they took by bus around Arrowhead Stadium after a rare recent win there last season, it also served as an astute act-like-you’ve-been-there before statement based entirely in a fundamental fact of the Andy Reid era.

Beyond that the Chiefs are 14-3 against the Raiders since Reid arrived in 2013, they’ve won 34 of their last 40 games against AFC West opponents entering Sunday’s visit from Denver — which has lost 11 times in a row to the Chiefs.

Not that you’d know that from anything the Chiefs (7-4) might say as they prepare to take on the Broncos (6-5) in the first of three straight divisional games, games that will go a long way toward determining both the trajectory of the Chiefs’ postseason hopes and further reveal what this team is about as it seeks to extend a four-game winning streak after a tepid 3-4 start to the season.

Never mind that of late the AFC West has been something of a chew toy inside a pinata for the Chiefs, who have seized the last five division titles — furnishing the mortar of the last three AFC Championships, back to back Super Bowls and their first championship in 50 years.

When Reid on Wednesday was asked about the dominant streak over the Broncos, he deadpanned, “I’m not even sure what you’re talking about. But we can’t think about all that. We’re in this whole thing where we’re trying to just get good enough to go play these guys. So that’s where we’re at.”

Indeed, while the prologue might give the Chiefs some swagger and their fans a certain reassurance and even lurk in the heads of their divisional adversaries, it’s also entirely true that this game will be won or lost on its own independent dynamics.

“We understand it’s a whole brand-new football team on both sides of the ball,” said quarterback Patrick Mahomes, perhaps suppressing some inner flexing himself but nonetheless accurately adding, “It’s a division opponent. It’s always a big game against the Broncos, and we know it’s going to be a great challenge for us …

“We need to go out there and play our best football.”

And so they do, particularly right here-right now on what looms as a pivotal day in a clumped divisional race.

Even coupled with the fact that the Chiefs are coming off a bye week, after which Reid historically is 19-3, this would be a good time for the Chiefs to reassert the division of power they’ve established under Reid.

Since the Chiefs are just a game ahead of the Broncos, Raiders and Chargers, by day’s end on Sunday the standings could range from a four-way tie for first to the Chiefs towering above the fray at 8-4 with a two-game lead on the rest of the division with five games to go.

Given the lofty heights the Chiefs have attained the last few years, of course, the divisional superiority might seem an afterthought to some — a feat either taken for granted or shrugged off as no big deal because of the tier the Chiefs have achieved these last few years.

Remember those “THE WEST IS NOT ENOUGH” T-shirts that Chiefs players were given (as were the 49ers, it turns out) when they won the division in 2019?

But it’s also been entirely essential to everything else.

And while it’s up to the Chiefs to demonstrate that the breakout game of the season that happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas, and they already suffered the indignity of a loss to the Chargers at home, the burden of proof is more on the rest of the division to demonstrate that the Chiefs don’t still absolutely own them.

Toward that end, it’s hard to discern precisely how and why this generally has tilted this way since Reid came here and especially in the last five seasons.

Certainly, it’s true that the rest of the division has been erratic at best. Only twice in that five-year span has it produced teams that also had double-digit victories (the Chargers were 12-4 in 2018, the Raiders the same in 2016). The Broncos are 29-46 since the 2016 season.

Moreover, each has been in flux with coaching changes. And, heck, the Raiders and Chargers even have moved to different cities in that time.

All those records would look a bit different, though, if they weren’t 4-26 against the Chiefs in those five seasons and, in fact, 3-26 if you discount the 2020 regular-season finale in which the Chiefs lost to the Chargers 38-21 while resting their primary starters.

Perhaps it’s just natural that Reid, the fifth-winningest coach in NFL history, wins more than his share against anyone he faces.

And if familiarity breeds contempt, in Reid’s case it also seems to promote competence.

That was a crucial part of his success in Philadelphia, where his teams won six NFC East titles in his first 12 seasons (including four in a row at one point). In fact, after going 4-0 against NFC East opponents this season, Reid is 61-39 against his previous division … including 3-0 against the Eagles.

Because Reid plays it remarkably close to the vest, though, there’s very little way to know what more specifically goes into any advantages he and his staff might unearth against the teams they see most.

Maybe it has something to do either strategically or psychologically with the fact that the Chiefs devote a single day of their off-season training programs to preparing for each of those teams. Then again, it’s hard to know how prevalent such an emphasis is around the league.

This much we know, though: Under Reid, the Chiefs have so monopolized the division that it’s really no wonder any of the others would want to overzealously celebrate a win over them.

And no wonder the Chiefs reckon they’ll just go on to the next — even if it’s deja vu they’ll need to manufacture all over again in the weeks to come if they’re going to make good on keeping it that way.

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