You've all seen the video highlights of Bills WR Stevie Johnson dropping a spectacular 50-yard pass into the endzone during last weeks' overtime battle with Pittsburg. A short while later, the Steelers kick the winning field goal. I know, I know...I can hear you asking, "So Rrusty, WTF does a mediocre receiver on a struggling Buffalo team have to do with the Chiefs playoff hopes?"
Follow along after the jump and we'll take a trip down the rabbit hole...
Six months ago, the words "Chiefs" and "Playoffs" were only used in sentences that also had "no way in hell" somewhere. Now, the fever has fully engulfed us and it is wonderful. We have led our division for ALL 12 WEEKS of the current season! And I can hear you all now: "Crap, Rrusty! We are a lock for the playoffs. Why are you wasting our valuable time and Thorman Bros. electrons on IF we will make the playoffs?"
Jim Mora playoffs (via rayz0818)
In my earlier life, I was an engineer (not a train driver...the other kind). I drive a tractor through fields of green in Oklahoma now, but my days of analyzing the world through math still remain. Here are some numbers to start with:
16 - The number of teams playing in the AFC
6 - The number of AFC playoff spots up for grabs
4 - The number of playoff spots reserved for the top team in each AFC division
2 - The number of teams that will enter the playoffs without winning their division
Obviously, the Chiefs are totally in control of grabbing the AFC West winner slot and I hope that happens with a solid beat-down of the Chargers next week. But a 1-game lead with 5 games left to go in the regular season is mighty thin and I have to face the possibility that we might need to grab one of the wildcard spots for our chance at immortality this season. A few more numbers:
8-3: Record of the AFC North leaders Steelers and Ravens
7-4: Record of the AFC West leader KC Chiefs
There is a ton of football left to go this season, but looking at schedules and teams, I am about 99% certain of the following math theorem:
Jets + Patriots = 1 division champ (13-3) + 1 wildcard winner (12-4)
Which produces a new unsolved equation:
2 AFC wildcard playoff spots - 1 AFC East wildcard winner = X
In order to solve for the unknown element "X", the first step is to identify the best places to concentrate and to eliminate the possible answers that are most unlikely to solve the equation:
- Since division winners use the guaranteed slots, we are only concerned about each divisions SECOND place finisher. Since I have already established in my theorem that the Pats and Jets get the top 2 East spots ---> Dolphins and Bills out
- Based on current records and only 5 games remaining, we can safely eliminate all teams currently with 7 or more losses ---> Bills, Browns, Bengals, and Broncos out (apparently a bad year for "B" teams!)
- Since we are evaluating the possible wildcard chances for the Chiefs, I am assuming we are the 2nd place team in the West ---> Raiders and Chargers out of wildcard race (one in 1st, other in 3rd)
So lets look at what is left:
AFC South: The co-leaders are at 6-5 and the Texans and Titans are nipping at their heels 1 game back. The Colts and Jaguars play against each other Week 15. That guarantees at least 1 more loss for one of them meaning the best case for the division 2nd place team is 10-6. Parity in this division should take its toll with 6 inter-divisional games remaining in the South. Hard to see the second place team doing any better than 3-2 for the last 5 weeks putting them at 9-7 or 8-8.
Parity in the South + Inter-divisional battles = 1 Division Champ + 0 wildcard winner
This now leaves only 2 teams to challenge the Chiefs for the final wildcard slot:
Yep. The Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburg Steelers. One of these 2 will win the North. Which one? I don't know, but Sunday night will go a long way towards answering the question. That match-up adds a 4th loss to one team assuring us that 12-4 is the top record possible for 2nd in the North. Each face another tough team in Week 15 (Saints at Ravens, Jets at Steelers). Both also have Cleveland on their closing schedule, so 11-5 or 10-6 is a definite possibility for the North 2nd place finisher.
This entire season, the pundits have all been concentrating on the lack of any team going deep into the season undefeated and that no team is stepping forward and putting a stranglehold on their division race. But many have been overlooking the fact that 3 divisions in the AFC may have second place teams with records of 10-6 or better! They are overlooking the math:
East 2nd place + North 2nd Place + West 2nd Place = 2 Wildcards + 1 team with 10 or more wins missing the playoffs
That is the equation that scares me. The Chiefs are 7-4. If we win out, the wildcard won't apply because we win the West. To enter the wildcard race, we must lose 1 or more of the last 5. That means our best possible wildcard record would be 11-5. Second place in the East looks like a lock to go 12-4. Second place North will do no better than 11-5, but based on their schedule could easily go 11-5. So it all comes down to this:
1 AFC team with 11 wins and only 5 total losses may watch the playoffs.
Which finally brings us back to Stevie Johnson. Johnson makes that catch and Pittsburg has 5 losses instead of 4. Pittsburg is tied with the Chiefs in the wildcard race instead of having a 1 game lead. The whole equation changes....but he didn't and so here we are...
2 AFC Wildcard Playoff Spots - 1 AFC East Wildcard Winner = X
Who will be "X"?