Technically, the Kansas City Chiefs are still in the pole position. Despite being No. 2 overall in the AFC behind the 8-3 Baltimore Ravens, the Chiefs are at 7-3 but hold the competitive edge with an excellent 5-1 record against the conference. But that desirable position at the present moment feels quite tenuous in the face of a list of hurdles looming in the second half of the season.
The good news for the Chiefs is that, as the NFL schedule hits the home stretch, each team is going to be facing some of the same hurdles as well as some unique obstacles. There's not a single contender who looks elite compared to others, and each franchise will have to overcome some significant concerns in the final weeks of the year.
For the Chiefs in particular, we've pared down the team's five greatest challenges remaining in these last couple of months of football. And it all starts with a road trip.
5. A last-second divisional road trip
Feels a bit weird to stick a game against the Los Angeles Chargers on a list of the biggest challenges remaining, but there are myriad factors that come together to make this a date to circle on the calendar.
The Chargers are, of course, still fighting for any scrap of playoff potential they can at this stage of the season, treading water in a pool filled with fellow contenders. They're not the Chiefs and have no claim in reality to dream bigger than, say, a wild-card entrance and exit in the 2023 postseason. However, they also have a very real chance to play the role of a spoiler for the Chiefs.
The season ends in L.A. for Kansas City. In previous seasons, that final Week 18 has carried no more meaning than a chance to rest some key starters or injured players. This season, however, the field is quite competitive for that first-round bye and it's very possible the Chiefs will need a win there to cement their status one way or another. That alone makes this game a big challenge.
This Chiefs game could also be Brandon Staley's swan song with the Chargers, along with a number of fellow Chargers (coaches and players) ready to say goodbye. Certainly, it's the final home game for them all. In other words, this will not be a "normal" game in any way for one side in this battle.
The Chiefs have greater challenges on this list, but don't let anyone tell you that every divisional contest is a wash from here on out.