With each passing week, the AFC playoff picture gets a little clearer for the Kansas City Chiefs — but with five weeks left to play, there’s still some uncertainty.
Here’s how it looks after Monday night’s game, when the Texans defeated the Titans to advance to 8-3. With the victory, the Texans remain the number three seed, as the Patriots hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over them.
But it also raise some unpleasant realities for the Chiefs, which we’ll address in a moment.
AFC Playoff Picture November 27
|Chiefs (1)||9-2-0||West Champ|
|Patriots (2)||8-3-0||East Champ||Head-to-head|
|Texans (3)||8-3-0||South Champ|
|Steelers (4)||7-3-1||North Champ|
|Chargers (5)||8-3-0||Wild Card #1|
|Ravens (6)||6-5-0||Wild Card #2||Conf win pct|
|Dolphins||5-6-0||Conf win pct|
|Bengals||5-6-0||Conf win pct|
|Broncos||5-6-0||Conf win pct|
The Chiefs control their own destiny. Since they lead every other team in the conference by at least one game, winning the next five games — at Raiders, Ravens, Chargers, at Seahawks and Raiders — will give them the number one seed.
The Chiefs could even drop any one of their remaining games — finishing the season at 13-3 — and occupy the top seed in at least 90 percent of scenarios.
The loss that could hurt them the most is still the Week 15 game against the Chargers at Arrowhead. Had the Chiefs won their game against the Rams a week ago tonight — since the Chargers had conveniently lost to the Broncos — that would have given them some extra breathing room because only the Chargers stand a reasonable chance to win the AFC West. Since they didn’t, a Chargers victory in Week 15 gives the Chiefs the least chance to finish at the top — but would still give the Chiefs the top seed nine times out of ten.
That’s how big that Chargers loss last week turned out to be. It directly affected three of the main tiebreakers for the Chargers — their record in the division. among common opponents and within the conference. Meanwhile, the Chiefs’ loss — coming as it did against a non-conference opponent — could only affect one of those tiebreakers.
So... thanks, Broncos.
But here’s the bad news: these rosy scenarios all presume the Patriots do not win out. Their remaining schedule is Vikings, at Dolphins, at Steelers, Bills and Jets. Since the Patriots hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Chiefs, should New England win all those games — and the Chiefs lose any one of their remaining games — the overwhelming probability is that the Chiefs will be the number two seed in the playoffs.
With the Texans’ win over the Titans on Monday night, another unpleasant scenario must be considered. Should the Patriots and Texans win out — Houston’s remaining schedule is Browns, Colts, at Jets, at Eagles, Jaguars — the Chiefs could end up without a bye if they lose any remaining conference game. A loss in either Raiders game would create a 10 percent chance the Chiefs would play at home in the wild card round. But losses to either the Chargers or Ravens would make this likely — something north of a 75 percent chance.
So what happens if the Texans win out, and the Patriots don’t? This seems more likely, as the Texans’ schedule looks easier. Even with a worst-case loss — that is, a conference loss — the Chiefs would still get a first-round bye, but it would likely be as the number two seed.
So unless (or until) the Patriots and/or Texans stumble, the pressure will be on the Chiefs to win the rest of their games.