The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the New England Patriots 23-16 on Sunday afternoon. Since the Tennessee Titans also defeated the Oakland Raiders 42-21, that means the Chiefs have not only clinched their fourth-straight AFC West championship — something they’ve never done before — but they’re also guaranteed a playoff berth and at least one home game in the postseason.
In the current if-the-season-ended-today picture, the Chiefs have become the third team to clinch for the postseason, moving up to the third seed — just ahead of the Houston Texans. The Buffalo Bills have the fifth spot, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are sixth in line for the AFC playoffs.
As we’ve done in previous weeks, let’s take a look at the playoff picture with an assist from the New York Times playoff calculator:
We now know the Chiefs will make the playoffs and play a game at home. But is it still possible that the team could get a bye week?
It most certainly is.
The Chiefs’ biggest hurdle — defeating the Patriots at Foxborough — is now behind them. With that victory — and the rest of Sunday’s results — the Chiefs have a 62% chance to secure a bye week to open the postseason. That’s slightly better than what it was going into Week 14.
But that probability carries an important caveat: the Chiefs must win their last three games.
Without those three wins to close out the season, the Chiefs have only a 23% chance at a bye. With a loss to another AFC team, that falls to below 10%. They could better afford a loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 16 — that one would give them about a 1-in-10 shot — but those are still longshot odds; there’s just aren’t too many realistic scenarios where the Chiefs can get a bye without taking care of business in the last three weeks.
So let’s start with that assumption: the Chiefs win their last three games. With that, here’s what has to happen for the Chiefs to clinch a postseason bye:
The Buffalo Bills have to defeat the New England Patriots in Week 16. That’s it.
Even if the Patriots beat the Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens defeat the New York Jets this Sunday — both of which seem likely — all it will take is for the Bills to beat New England the following week.
This simple scenario is possible because the Texans fell to the Denver Broncos on Sunday, which gives their head-to-head tiebreaker over Kansas City less power over the Chiefs’ destiny. Before, we had to account for the possibility the Texans could win a bye. But if the Chiefs win out, the tiebreaker will no longer matter.
But if the Patriots beat the Bills, things get tougher. Then the Chiefs will have to depend on things like the Ravens closing the season by dropping two straight against the Steelers and Cleveland Browns — or a Patriots loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 17.
So let’s root for the Bills to win in Foxborough — and for the Chiefs to take care of their own business. But even without those things, the Chiefs are in the dance.