Upon Patrick Mahomes going down with a knee injury, many were ready to crown the Patriots as AFC champions for the fourth consecutive campaign despite more than half of the regular season left to be played.

Stephen A. Smith, however, believes those folks should hold their horses.

Mahomes reportedly will be sidelined for three to five weeks after dislocating his knee cap early in the Kansas City Chiefs’ “Thursday Night Football” win over the Denver Broncos. While the ailment surely alleviates some resistance on the Patriots’ road to Super Bowl LIV, Smith isn’t ready to bank on New England representing the AFC on the first Sunday in February.

“Think back to when the Patriots played the Giants just last week or so ago,” Smith said Friday on ESPN’s “First Take. “What happened on that Thursday night? Now, the Giants come out and next thing you know the score is tied and the Patriots run away with it, but you get to (Tom) Brady, you cause a strip-sack fumble, you return it for a touchdown, etc. You see these kind of things. If it were against Deshaun Watson, what would that materialize into? If it were against the Colts with that offensive line, their ability to run the football and put you on the sideline because they’re chewing up the clock, what would that do to you? We’ve seen the Patriots lose in Foxboro before in the postseason even when their offense was considered potent.

“So my mentality is, not so fast. Should they be the favorites? Of course, they should. We get all of that. The road to Foxboro, of course. But it is not as if there are not teams — and I said ‘teams’ as in plural — within the AFC that don’t have the necessary ingredients to knock them off. I’ll even go back to Lamar Jackson. Why? Because his ability to run the football from behind center, that is a problem for a team like the New England Patriots. Yes, they can pass cover, but if you’re one of those dudes that will sit up there and run and they got to use somebody to spy on you and he can juke the spy any time he wants to, that’s a problem as well.”

Smith makes some fair points. Even if Mahomes hadn’t sustained an injury in Week 7, were we sure the Chiefs were the team best suited to dethrone the Patriots? Kansas City entered its matchup with Denver having lost back-to-back games against the Colts and Texans, respectively. Considering what we’ve seen of late, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to argue Houston and/or Indianapolis present a stiffer challenge to New England than Kansas City.

Speaking of challenges, a somewhat hobbled Patriots squad will be tested Monday night when they visit the recharged New York Jets, who will be hungry for an upset win over their division rival.

Thumbnail photo via Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports Images