Why the red-hot Chiefs are the biggest threat to the Patriots in the AFC

The Kansas City Chiefs are the most underrated team in the NFL.

There, I said it. They're more overlooked than the Raiders, the Lions, the Texans -- heck, even the Falcons get more attention than them. Yet, all the Chiefs do is win football games, and win a lot of them.

They're 17-2 in their last 19 regular-season games. No team is even close to that mark, which is remarkable. Not even the Patriots can match that, going 14-5 in their last 19 regular-season games. The Chiefs nearly knocked them out of the playoffs last year in their 27-20 loss in the divisional round, but they'd certainly relish the opportunity to do so again this season.

As it stands right now, the Chiefs are the Patriots' biggest threat in the AFC. They own the second-best record in the conference thanks to the fact that they've allowed just 168 points in nine games -- third-best in the AFC.

What makes the Chiefs so dangerous is the fact that they can get it done in so many different ways. Alex Smith went down for a game and a half, giving way to Nick Foles as the quarterback. He came in and executed Andy Reid's game plan to near-perfection, completing 65.5 percent of his passes for 410 yards and three touchdowns.

He didn't turn it over once in 55 pass attempts, showing glimpses of his 2013-self when he threw 27 touchdowns and two interceptions. Not many teams have a backup capable of putting up those sorts of numbers, and it's a testament to Reid's quarterback-friendly offense.

It wasn't just Smith who's gotten hurt either. Jamaal Charles has played exactly three games during the Chiefs' remarkable 19-game run. He's been placed on IR and is likely out for the season, but the Chiefs haven't missed a beat. Since the Chiefs began this hot streak in Week 7 of last season, Charles has rushed for 40 yards. Granted, he's been injured, but how many teams would win 17 of 19 games with its starting running back essentially non-existent? Not many. Just look at the Vikings as an example.

Even with Charles' injury, Smith's brief absence and Jeremy Maclin's recent injury, as well, the Chiefs have remained productive on offense -- against a couple of playoff contenders, too.

They blew out the Raiders 26-10, beat the Saints 27-21, dominated the Colts 30-14, and beat the resurgent Panthers 20-17 on Sunday. They also beat the Chargers in Week 1 thanks to a remarkable comeback in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Granted, those aren't the best teams in the league, but they're fairly talented in their own rights. They've beaten the teams they should've -- usually in dominant fashion -- and lost to two teams with playoff aspirations (Texans and Steelers).

What makes the Chiefs so dangerous is their defense. Justin Houston, an elite pass rusher, hasn't played a game all season. He was there for only five games during the Chiefs' 10-game winning streak last season, yet they continued to dominate without him. They've gotten production from unlikely players like Dee Ford (10 sacks this season) and Phillip Gaines (one interception, two forced fumbles). And even when they seem to be out of the game, the defense comes up big.

With the Chiefs trailing 17-3 in the fourth quarter, they fought back with outstanding play on defense. Eric Berry picked off Cam Newton and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown after making just about the entire Panthers offense missed. That pulled the Chiefs to within three.

After tying it with a field goal later on, Newton and the Panthers had a chance to win it with a game-winning drive. On the first play of the possession, the Chiefs got a huge play from their biggest playmaker: Marcus Peters. He ripped the ball away from Kelvin Benjamin with just 29 seconds remaining. He returned it to Carolina's 29-yard line, setting up a victory-clinching field goal after an 11-yard rush by Spencer Ware.

It's plays like those that keep the Chiefs in games, even when they're out-possessed 35:12 to 24:48.

The Panthers even went on a 20-play, 10-minute drive that ended with a punt thanks to a crucial 12-yard sack on third down from the 28-yard line. Without that timely sack, the Panthers get at least three points out of it and change the complexion of the game.

The Chiefs don't do one thing better than every other team in the NFL, but they do a whole bunch of things extremely well. They protect the football, move the chains in a variety of ways, and run the ball with great efficiency. Oh, not to mention, they have one of the best defenses in football … without Justin Houston. When he returns, watch out.

The Patriots better watch out for the Chiefs, as should every other team in the NFL. They're scorching hot and playing as well as anyone. It's time for everyone to stop overlooking them.