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Bengals game might be the most important of Chiefs’ season – AFC West

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Shortly after their last-second loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday night, the Kansas City Chiefs didn’t see their promising season unraveling.

They saw the game for what it was in the moment — a three-point defeat on the road against the two-time defending AFC champions.

“I feel like if we had the ball last like they did, we would have gone down and scored and won, too,” running back Kareem Hunt said. “We can take this loss. I mean, you never want to lose. We’re going to learn from this, go study and make sure it [doesn’t] happen again.”

For now, at least, that’s the proper attitude for the 5-1 Chiefs to take after their first loss of the season. But they should be aware of the dangers that can follow.

Just last season, the Chiefs started 5-0 before an innocent-looking loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Chiefs then lost five more in their next six games to fall to 6-6 before righting their season and claiming the AFC West title by winning their final four games.

The Chiefs also started 9-0 in 2013 but finished 2-5. They were 7-3 at one point in 2014 before a three-game losing streak took them out of realistic playoff contention.

So the Chiefs are familiar with prolonged slumps. That’s why next Sunday night’s game against the 4-2 Cincinnati Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium might be the most important of the season for the Chiefs.

“This team has got great character,” cornerback Orlando Scandrick said. “It’s one of the best groups I’ve been around my whole 11-year career. We’ll be fine. I’m not worried about it at all [given] the way this team works, the way this team prepares. If we handle our business the way we’re supposed to handle our business, there is a good chance we’ll see [the Patriots] again.”

The Chiefs could have left themselves some margin for error by finding a way to win the close game against the Patriots. At 6-0, they would have had a commanding lead in the AFC West and for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Their nearest competitors in the division, the Los Angeles Chargers, are 4-2, and every other AFC team has at least two losses.

At 5-1, the Chiefs’ lead over their division and conference rivals is more precarious. But they can re-establish a larger sense of control by beating the Bengals. They would be 6-1 heading into one of the easiest three-game stretches of their schedule: home games against the Broncos and Cardinals and a road game with the Browns.

The Chiefs would do well to take advantage. This easier stretch of schedule ends in Week 11 in Mexico City, where they face the Rams, who — by beating the Broncos on Sunday while the Chiefs lost to the Patriots — are the NFL’s last remaining unbeaten team.

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