Early in the season, the Kansas City Chiefs looked like they had taken a step back from the past three seasons. They weren't bad, but they weren't very good either.
By the start of the new year the Chiefs will be right back where they've normally been since Patrick Mahomes became their starting quarterback, looking down on the rest of the AFC.
The Chiefs won the AFC West when the Los Angeles Chargers lost early Sunday, and have an inside track toward the No. 1 seed in the conference. The Chiefs absolutely demolished the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-10. The Steelers are limited this season, but it was still a fantastic performance.
Only the No. 1 seed in each conference gets a bye, making it a huge advantage. More importantly, the Chiefs look like a Super Bowl team yet again.
Chiefs dominate Steelers
The Chiefs' struggles early this season were real. The defense was really bad. The offense wasn't terrible but nowhere near the past three seasons. Kansas City was 3-4 and that poor record was earned.
It started to turn. First the defense came to life and dragged the team back into AFC West contention. The offense has followed. That combination has led to eight straight wins, and a sixth straight AFC West title. That's the longest current streak of division championships in the NFL.
On Sunday the Steelers were outclassed. Mahomes didn't have Travis Kelce but just spread it around to everyone. He didn't even rely heavily on Tyreek Hill, hitting two touchdown passes to Byron Pringle and another to Mecole Hardman. Had the Steelers been more competitive, he would he thrown for more.
The Steelers weren't competitive because the Chiefs defense shut them down. Pittsburgh didn't score until they took a field goal to avoid the shutout in the third quarter, trailing 30-0. The Steelers scored a meaningless touchdown late, but the rest of the game they did next to nothing on offense.
It was an impressive performance, continuing a hot streak.
Chiefs back to the Super Bowl?
In Mahomes' first season as starter, the Chiefs lost the AFC championship game in overtime. Then they won a Super Bowl, and lost a Super Bowl. That means Mahomes is three-for-three when it comes to making at least the conference championship round.
At this point, it would be an upset if the Chiefs aren't back in the NFL's final four. If Kansas City gets the No. 1 seed, as they should, it would need just one home win to make he AFC championship game. Given how the Chiefs are playing, you wouldn't pick anyone in the AFC to win at Arrowhead Stadium in January.
The Chiefs haven't been dominant all season, as we're used to. That's fine. They're dominant now, closing in on the top seed in the AFC and looking like another Super Bowl is in their future. It'll be hard to doubt Mahomes and the Chiefs ever again.