If you were watching Thursday Night Football, it was hard to decide whether to root for the Indianapolis Colts or Houston Texans.
Both AFC South teams defeated the Kansas City Chiefs earlier this season and came into Thursday night’s game with 6-4 records. With a win, each team could take the lead in their division — and both would still hold the most important playoff tiebreaker against the Chiefs: head-to-head record.
But now that we no longer have to decide which team should get our support, let’s see how the 20-17 Texans victory changed the Chiefs’ playoff aspirations.
As before, the Chiefs still control their playoff destiny. Winning their last five games will clinch a playoff berth. In fact, winning just four of their last five will also clinch a spot in the playoffs; the Chiefs can afford a single loss to any of their five remaining opponents and still clinch a postseason berth. Even the worst-case scenario — losses to Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers will almost certainly (a 94% chance) land them in the playoffs — maybe (a 54% chance) hosting a Wild Card game in the first round.
Now that the outcome of the Colts-Texans game is in the books, let’s focus on what will be possible if the Chiefs win their last five games:
On Wednesday, we explained how the New York Times playoff calculator shows that given those five victories, the Chiefs had a very good chance (86%) for a bye. The Texans’ win on Thursday night actually reduced that probability to 81%, because with the win, the Texans themselves increased their own chance at a bye. But because the game was between teams tied for a division lead — each of which were holding tiebreakers against another division leader — it also removed quite a bit of the uncertainty in these probability forecasts.
Now we can identify four upcoming games with big implications for the Chiefs’ playoff prospects: Cowboys-Patriots and Ravens-Rams this Sunday, along with 49ers-Ravens and Patriots-Texans in Week 13.
Both of this Sunday’s games will be available to Kansas City television viewers. Should the Cowboys defeat the Patriots (3:25 Arrowhead Time on WDAF/4), the Chiefs’ chance of a bye week (after five straight wins of their own) jumps to 91%. Should the Rams defeat the Ravens on Monday Night Football (7:15 Arrowhead Time on ESPN), it rises to 93%.
The following Sunday, a 49ers victory over the Ravens in the early games will push that chance to 99%. So even before the Chiefs play their next game (now a 3:25 kickoff at Arrowhead Stadium) the stage could be set for the Chiefs to begin a five-game winning streak that would virtually guarantee a bye week. Any remaining uncertainty could end with the Sunday Night Football game that night; a Patriots victory against the Texans would mean a five-game winning streak would clinch a bye for the Chiefs.
These, of course, are all longshot chances; a successful bet placed on five straight Chiefs wins — combined with these outcomes in the other four other games over the next two weeks — would win you a lot of money.
But on the other hand, the Chiefs’ remaining schedule — with the exception of the game against the Patriots — is pretty favorable; the Chiefs are likely to be favored to win all four of the other games. A couple of the other four wins we’ve laid out here would be upsets — but using FiveThirtyEight’s Elo prediction model, no opposing team is favored by more than a touchdown.
So we wouldn’t recommend going out and placing a bet on the Chiefs securing a bye week. But even if this scenario doesn’t play out, others in later weeks could give the same result — providing that the Chiefs win those last five games.
So it’s your move, Chiefs.