On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs cruised to a 40-9 win over the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard that the Chiefs have a playoff spot (and the division championship) locked up — but nobody is using the word clinched.
So let’s take a look at what it will take for the Chiefs to starting using that word.
As we’ve done the last several weeks, we’ll use the New York Times playoff calculator to assist us. Here’s the top-line result: with Sunday’s win, the Chiefs have greater than a 99% chance to make the playoffs, a 98% chance to win the division (thereby hosting at least one playoff game) and a 7% chance for a first-round bye.
The Chiefs can clinch both a playoff spot (and the division) with a win this Sunday against the New England Patriots — along with a Raiders loss to the Tennessee Titans.
In fact, that’s true for every week remaining in the season: any Chiefs win combined with any Raiders loss will give the Chiefs the AFC West and a berth in the postseason. The probability that the Chiefs will fail to get another win — and the Raiders will fail to have another loss — is indeed very small.
That doesn’t mean the Chiefs need help to make the playoffs or win the division. Any combination of two Kansas City victories will clinch both — regardless of what Oakland (or any other team) does.
But you shouldn’t take this to mean there is nothing left to play for. While the Chiefs presently have a very low probability to get a bye week in the playoffs, it’s not yet off the table.
In fact, it’s still even possible for the Chiefs to win the first seed. First, that would require the Chiefs to win their four remaining games. Then this weekend, the Buffalo Bills would have to defeat the Baltimore Ravens and the Denver Broncos would have to beat the Houston Texans — and the following week, the Ravens would have to fall to the New York Jets, the Patriots would have to lose to the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers would have to beat the Bills.
Yeah... that set of circumstances isn’t going to line up; it’s less than a 100-to-1 shot. But if it did, the road to the Super Bowl would absolutely go through Kansas City.
But the chance for a first-round bye is still very real. It starts with the Chiefs winning their last four games. Unsurprisingly, a win against the Patriots this weekend is the most important of these, but for the Chiefs to have a realistic chance at a week off, they’ll need all four victories.
By themselves, those four Chiefs wins give them a 58% chance at a bye. Their chance could improve dramatically with help from the Bills, who will play both the Ravens and Patriots in the next three weeks. With wins against those two teams — and a loss to the Steelers in between — the Chiefs would have a 95% chance to get a bye.
That’s just one scenario.
Let’s say that this weekend, the Texans beat the Denver Broncos and the Ravens beat the Bills. Then in Week 15, the Ravens beat the Jets and the Patriots beat the Bengals. Those all seem pretty realistic, right? Then a Titans victory over the Texans in Week 15 and a Bills victory over the Patriots in Week 16 would guarantee a first-round bye for the Chiefs — if they win their last four games.
But if the Patriots win that Week 16 game — and the Ravens also beat the Cleveland Browns that day — then the Chiefs chance for a bye week falls to just 12%. But here’s what’s fascinating: a Patriots loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 17 would still give the Chiefs a bye.
So it looks like there could be playoff implications for the Chiefs in every week of the season — as long as they keep winning.