As many exciting, big-time plays there were in the Kansas City Chiefs 31-21 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, our biggest cause for celebration came from a game being played 1,400 miles away.
Arrowhead Stadium erupted as the fans saw Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick throw the game-winning touchdown against the New England Patriots in Foxborough. Fans clearly understood the significance of earning the AFC’s second seed — and with it, a postseason bye.
I speak from personal experience. I left the stadium high-fiving other Chiefs fans, exclaiming “Fitzmagic!” and “Two seed!”
But I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. Exactly two months ago, I wrote an article detailing why the Chiefs and their fans shouldn’t be concerned about playoff seeding.
Me: “We shouldn’t worry about seeding” a few months ago— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 29, 2019
Also me when the Chiefs got the 2 seed: pic.twitter.com/vLglxIubSA
At the time, the team’s 5-3 record didn’t make it likely they’d earn a first-round bye. My premise was that when healthy, the Chiefs would be as dangerous as any playoff team. They could, therefore, be trusted to beat any opponent they would face — no matter when or where.
Now that the Chiefs are (mostly) healthy, it looks like that part of my premise was right.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate when the road to a championship gets easier. The excitement for earning the second seed is absolutely justified.
1. It’s math
It’s really that simple.
Mathematically, the Chiefs now have a higher probability of winning the Super Bowl. Going into Week 17, FiveThirtyEight.com, gave the Chiefs a 10% chance to win the Super Bowl — the same as the Patriots. But now with the two seed, the Chiefs have a 14% chance to win the championship. The Patriots’ probability has fallen to just 3%.
Las Vegas oddsmakers have also recognized the easier path. At OddsShark.com, the odds for the Chiefs to win the title went from +650 to +375. Oddsmakers figure the Chiefs are the second-likeliest team to win.
It’s not hard to understand why this is true. A postseason bye means the Chiefs must win just three games (instead of four) to claim the championship; teams without a bye have one additional opportunity to slip up.
The Chiefs were already coming into the postseason playing hot — but now, they have fewer games to worry about — and a mathematically higher chance to achieve their ultimate goal. That’s worth getting pumped-up about.
2. Rest during Wild Card weekend
There were probably some Chiefs fans — and maybe even some members of the teams — who questioned the wisdom of starters playing in Week 17. The unlikely upset the Dolphins pulled in Foxborough justified that decision — but it did come at a cost: rookie starting safety Juan Thornhill suffered a torn ACL and will miss the remainder of the season.
There is good news, though: Thornhill’s replacement will get an extra week of practice and coaching to get ready. Whether we see more of Armani Watts or Kendall Fuller — or see some other combination of players in the secondary — defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will have extra time to formulate a plan and get players ready to execute it.
The extra time will be beneficial for other positions, too.
The offensive line should be at full strength for the Divisional game. Left guard Andrew Wylie missed the last two games with an ankle injury. Whether he’s a starter or a reserve, he should be ready to contribute in the divisional game. Starting left tackle Eric Fisher has not looked like the same player he was in 2018. It’s unclear whether the surgery he had earlier this season is still affecting him — but another week to recover certainly can’t hurt.
The defensive line will also benefit. It sounds like defensive end Frank Clark is past the illness with which he struggled for a few weeks. But the week off should help him continue to get back to his full strength and endurance. Defensive tackle Xavier Williams — who just recently returned from injured reserve after an ankle injury — will have an extra week to get back into game-shape and be a key piece in the defensive line’s rotation.
3. Potential opponents
For the last few weeks of the regular season, it seemed inevitable that in their first-round Wild Card game, the Chiefs would face a rematch with the last team that beat them: the Tennessee Titans.
There were reasons to be concerned about playing them again. The Titans are one of the hottest teams in the league, they have the NFL rushing champion and they have a surprisingly dominant history against the Chiefs — and head coach Andy Reid.
Earning the second seed helped reduce the chance the Chiefs would play Tennessee — and prevented the matchup from even being possible in their first postseason game.
In the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, the teams with bye weeks are not automatically playing the winner of a specific game. The number one seed faces the lowest seed remaining after the Wild Card round. The number two seed faces the highest remaining seed.
Since the Titans hold the lowest seed, this means the only possible opponents for the Chiefs’ first game are the Patriots, Buffalo Bills and Houston Texans. If the Titans beat New England in the Wild Card round, they will travel to Baltimore to play the Ravens.
Personally, I think the best matchup for the Chiefs would be the Patriots. The Chiefs just beat them in Foxborough — and it could be argued that they’re playing even better than they were for that game. Houston and Buffalo are capable teams but have obvious weaknesses the Chiefs should be able to exploit.
For the Chiefs, I believe the Titans are the AFC’s most dangerous postseason opponent; the Chiefs got a big benefit by not having to play them in their first game. If they do play the Titans, it will be for the AFC Championship... at Arrowhead.
Another thing to consider is the toll a physical game with the Titans could take on the Patriots. Even if New England wins, they will be roughed up and fatigued when they head to Kansas City.
4. Andy Reid’s success after a bye-week
By now, it’s been well-documented how well Reid prepares for games after a bye week. I’ll just leave you with a few statistics from Reid’s coaching career:
- In regular-season games immediately following a bye, Reid is 17-3.
- In divisional round games after a bye, he is 4-1 — with a 36-point total differential.
- In home playoff games, he is 8-6 — with a 64-point total differential.
Given what we saw as the season concluded, we should have had confidence that the Chiefs could succeed when beginning from any playoff seed. But there’s no way to downplay the importance of the postseason bye the Chiefs have earned. No matter how you slice it, it is a huge boost for the team as they begin their run at Super Bowl LIV.