Alex Smith's strong play has Chiefs among AFC favorites at midseason

Here's a look at the first half of the season for the Kansas City Chiefs and a preview of what to expect in the second half:

First-half snapshot: The Chiefs set themselves up for a big second half by winning their first five games. Their offense has been more productive than at any time since Andy Reid arrived as head coach in 2013. But the defense has been a problem. The Chiefs have been consistently sloppy against the run and have allowed many big pass plays. Grade: Above average

Midseason MVP: The Chiefs would be lost without quarterback Alex Smith, who is on pace to set personal single-season bests for, among other things, touchdown passes and yardage. The Chiefs have surrounded Smith with the best supporting cast he’s had since arriving in Kansas City in 2013, and Smith has responded by playing so well that he’s not only the Chiefs’ MVP, but a strong candidate for the league-wide award. Running back Kareem Hunt and linebacker Justin Houston would be worthy candidates if Smith wasn’t so far ahead of the field.

Best moment: The fourth quarter of the season opener at New England seemed at the time like something from an alternate universe. The Chiefs dominated the final period against the defending Super Bowl champions, scoring 21 points to win, 42-27. The Chiefs had 252 yards and three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, and on defense they had three sacks and a stop on fourth-and-1. All things seemed possible for the Chiefs afterward.

Worst moment: The Chiefs had the chance to extinguish the Oakland Raiders from the division race in Week 7 when they held a nine-point lead going into the fourth quarter. But the Chiefs allowed a field goal and then an 85-yard touchdown drive -- that score coming on an untimed down after time had expired -- to give the Raiders a 31-30 win. The Chiefs stopped the Raiders on the two previous plays, but Oakland was given second and third chances because of Kansas City penalties.

Second-half outlook: The Chiefs have a comfortable lead in the AFC West, so it seems likely they’ll win back-to-back division championships for the first time in franchise history. Their offense is solid and will score enough points to be a contender for the AFC’s top playoff seed, an honor that would allow them to play at Arrowhead Stadium. However, it’s difficult to see them beating out either the Patriots or the Steelers in the conference playoff hunt if their defense doesn’t make significant improvements.