Coming into the year, the Kansas City Chiefs were outwardly embracing the high expectations placed on them after making it to the divisional round of the AFC playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
"I love that, man," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said last Spring during OTAs of the high expectations. "Put them as high as you want and let's go…I love that."
Under Reid, the Chiefs have been one of the league's most consistent teams during the regular season—amassing an overall record of 49-24 over the past four-plus seasons, which ranks third behind the Patriots (57-16) and Seahawks (51-21-1) over that time.
While falling short in the divisional-round games the last two years by a combined nine points, which came via a 27-20 loss to the Patriots two years ago and then a 18-16 loss last year to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Chiefs knew they couldn't overlook the regular season and just fast-forward to another crack at it in the playoffs this year.
It doesn't work that way. They just have to earn it again.
While it was understood that they were going to be good again this year and their goals were within reach, the work still had to be put in in order to earn the opportunity to compete for another shot at the AFC title game.
And through the first nine games of the season, the Chiefs find themselves in a good spot. They sit at first place in the AFC West and have proven that when at their best, they can beat even the best teams in the NFL. The Chiefs have beaten both the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles—two teams considered the best in the league right now.
Despite chugging through one of the league's most difficult schedules, the Chiefs have successfully navigated through a treacherous first nine games of the season.
According to Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders and in a special to ESPN, the difficulty of what the Chiefs went through early in the season was something that shouldn't be overlooked, and neither is what they have coming up.
"Kansas City was the hottest team early in the season despite the hardest schedule in the AFC to this point. The average team would have gone .437 against Kansas City's past schedule, so things are about to change significantly. Four of Kansas City's final seven games are at home, and only one of those opponents has a winning record: the collapsing Buffalo Bills. The Chiefs also fly to beautiful New Jersey twice in the next three weeks, taking on the Giants on Sunday and then the Jets in Week 13, and they finish the season in Denver. Each of those three road opponents ranks in the bottom 10 in overall DVOA."
Reid spoke earlier this week about the schedule they have faced already, which wasn't just about the quality of opponents, but also two Thursday and two Monday night games.
"The schedule for those first nine games was unique," Reid added. "It was fun and interesting, but unique, and so now we start on the second half here and we look forward to that. I had the guys run around just a little bit [Monday] just to loosen up, nothing too formal, but just to get them back into the swing of things."
The Chiefs have had plenty of time to rest up and prepare for their stretch run into the final weeks of the regular season and hopefully into the playoffs again this year.
And despite dropping three of the last four games, Reid is confident about where the team is right now.
"We're sitting here at 6-3, so we're in good shape," Reid noted. "We didn't finish up before the bye week very well, so we've all been sitting here, fans included, on a loss for a couple weeks. But I like this team, and I like their work ethic. I like the way they battled through the first nine games."
The combined record of the teams the Chiefs will face the rest of the year is 24-42, and only one team—the Buffalo Bills—has a winning record at 5-4, although they are 1-3 on the road. They travel to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Chiefs next Sunday, November 26.
Here's a game-by-game look at what the Chiefs have coming up to finish out the regular season, including the current offensive and defensive ranks for each team.
"You put yourself in a position where you're within striking range, but we have room to improve and get better," Reid added. "That's what we're going to focus on and I talked to the team a little bit about that—let's get right back into the things we know and grind and get better on a day-to-day basis and let everything take care of itself from there.
"There's room for us as coaches and players to improve, and I kind of get fired up about that. That's where I'm at and that's how I feel as I stand before you right now."