After the 2-4 stretch that had preceded Monday night’s win, more than a few analysts (and many fans) had given up on the team repeating last year’s success — that is, to secure the top seed in the playoffs. Some were even questioning whether the Chiefs would even make the playoffs.
But with Monday night’s win in their pocket, the Chiefs are actually well-positioned to make the postseason. I spent some time with the New York Times NFL playoff odds calculator — which has become my favorite postseason prediction tool — to see where the team stands.
Assuming nothing about how the rest of the season plays out, the Chiefs presently have an 87% chance to make the playoffs, a 79% chance to win the division and a 16% shot at a first-round bye.
If the Chiefs lose their games to the New England Patriots and Chicago Bears — but win against the Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos and Chargers, they’d have a 99% chance to make the playoffs — almost certainly with at least one home game as the AFC West champion. There’s a 7% chance they’d land the second seed and get a first-round bye.
But that Bears game doesn’t look as tough as it did at the beginning of the season — while the Raiders have been looking better than expected in recent weeks. If the Chiefs have losses to the Patriots and Raiders — but win the rest of their schedule — they still have a 97% chance to make the dance. There would still be a teentsy-tiny chance at a bye week, but the most likely result (75%) would be a home game as the AFC West winner. Otherwise, the Chiefs would be on the road to start the playoffs.
I could find no scenario where the Chiefs finish the season at 10-6 and aren’t extremely likely to make the playoffs. The worst outcome would be losses to the Raiders and Chargers, which give them a 94% chance at the postseason and a just-above-even chance (54%) to win the AFC West.
In short, the Chiefs can afford two losses and still have an outstanding chance to make the postseason. But the team still absolutely controls its playoff destiny. If the Chiefs finish with only one more loss — to any team — they clinch a playoff berth.
This opens the possibility that should the Chiefs win the next four games, they could rest starters in Week 17 against the Chargers. But unless circumstances align in their favor over the next few weeks — for example, if the Baltimore Ravens or Patriots drop their games to the Los Angeles Rams and Dallas Cowboys in Week 12 — this is unlikely; winning the Week 17 game will substantially increase the probability the Chiefs will get a bye week.
If the Chiefs win their last five games, they have about a one-in-three chance to get the top seed — and an excellent chance (86%) for a bye. With two more not-so-unreasonable events added in — the Cowboys defeating the Patriots this week and the San Francisco 49ers defeating the Ravens the week after that — the team’s chance at the top seed rises to about two-in-three. And their chance at one of the top two seeds would be around 97%.
So regardless of what anybody is saying around the water cooler, this thing isn’t over.