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AFC playoff picture: How the Chiefs secure a first-round bye

The Chiefs didn’t get the help they needed in Week 15 — but it’s Week 16’s games that will matter most.

NFL: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Denver Broncos 23-3 during a snowy Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, advancing their record to 10-4 on the season.

As we’ve done during previous weeks during the run-up to the postseason, let’s examine where the Chiefs stand in the playoff race.

As you know, last week, the Chiefs clinched their fourth-consecutive AFC West championship and a berth in the playoffs — including at least one home game.

Following Sunday’s games, the current if-the-season-ended-today scenario has the Chiefs with the No. 3 seed behind the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots. The Houston Texans have the fourth seed, followed by the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Throughout the playoffs, the highest-seeded team always hosts the lowest-remaining seed. So in the Wild Card round, the Chiefs would host the Steelers, while the Texans would host the Bills. The top two seeds would sit out, waiting to play the winners of the Wild Card games.

But with two games to go, there’s still plenty that could happen to change all of that.

The Chiefs are the team that is best-positioned to improve their playoff seeding. Using the New York Times playoff calculator, we see that they currently have a 20% chance to snag a first-round bye. Those aren’t very good odds, but they’re much better than any other team’s chance to get into the top tier. The Bills have a 3% probability, while the Texans’ chance is less than 1%. For the Steelers — or any other team on the outside looking in — it’s flat-out impossible.

But as we have previously laid out for you, if the Chiefs continue to take care of business — by defeating the Chicago Bears this Sunday and the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 17 — their chance at a bye would be 50%. That’s down from 62% last week because the Chiefs got no help from the Ravens or Patriots, who (unsurprisingly) won their Week 15 games against the New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals. With their victories, the Chiefs’ chance at the first seed is down to 5% — even if they win out.

But the scenario we laid out for you last week is still in play. Should the Bills defeat the Patriots in Foxborough this Saturday (3:30 pm Arrowhead Time on NFL Network), the Chiefs will be in control of their own destiny; wins against the Bears and Chargers will clinch a bye. The Patriots are favored by 6.5 points — meaning the Bills have about a 3-in-10 chance to win.

But even if the Patriots win, there would still a 25% chance for the Chiefs to secure a bye by winning their last two games. The three remaining games with meaning to the Chiefs will be the Ravens against the Cleveland Browns this weekend, along with the Steelers at the Ravens and the Miami Dolphins at the Patriots in Week 17. Two Ravens losses (or a Patriots loss) would still give the Chiefs a week off to begin the postseason.

But if both the Ravens and Patriots win this weekend, winning out only gives the Chiefs a 15% chance at a bye week, opening the possibility that even with a win against the Bears this Sunday night, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid could rest his starters in Week 17 against the Chargers.

What would you do?


If the Patriots, Ravens and Chiefs all win their Week 16 games, do you think the Chiefs should rest their starters against the Chargers?

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