The Kansas City Chiefs have come out of their Week 10 bye with a 8-1 record. Seven weeks remain in the NFL season, in which the Chiefs will face the Las Vegas Raiders (6-3) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3) on the road, the Denver Broncos (3-6) at home, the Miami Dolphins (6-3) and New Orleans Saints (7-2) on the road and the Atlanta Falcons (3-6) and Los Angeles Chargers (2-7) at home.
Let’s take a look at the team’s current playoff picture. Just as we did last season, we’ll use the New York Times playoff calculator to help us figure out what’s on the horizon.
The big picture
As it stands right now, the Chiefs have a 99% chance to make the playoffs, an 87% chance to win their fifth-straight AFC West championship, a 34% chance to win the single AFC bye and a 16% chance to win Super Bowl LV. No other team currently has a better chance to win the championship — although the Pittsburgh Steelers (14%) and New Orleans Saints (13%) are right behind the Chiefs.
These percentages begin with the Sagarin ratings for each NFL team. This system determines the relative strength of every team, which are then used to figure the probability teams will win each of their remaining games. Using this data, the remainder of the season is simulated tens of thousands of times — and the results of these projections give us our answers. So — for example — in 99% of the simulations, the Chiefs make the playoffs.
Making the playoffs
The playoff calculator also allows us to assume the outcome of any remaining game and then see how it changes things.
Any combination four wins on the Chiefs’ remaining schedule will clinch a playoff berth. In fact, most combinations of any three wins will lock up a spot in the postseason. But I could not find a single three-win combination where the team’s chance to make the playoffs fell below 99% — and in most cases, it was better than 99%.
Here’s an example: suppose the Chiefs lose their most-difficult remaining games — against the Raiders, Buccaneers, Dolphins and Saints — and defeat the Broncos, Falcons and Chargers. Their chance to make the playoffs would be greater than 99%. But if the Minnesota Vikings beat the Chicago Bears in Week 10’s final game on Monday night, this three-win scenario would clinch a postseason berth for the Chiefs. So would a Baltimore Ravens loss to the Tennessee Titans — or a New York Jets victory over the Broncos — in Week 11... and so on.
Short answer: if the Chiefs go at least 4-3, they’re in. If they go 3-4, they’re almost certainly in.
Winning the AFC West
With the Raiders at 6-3 (and holding a win against the Chiefs), it’s obviously essential for the Chiefs to win in Las Vegas this Sunday night in order to win the division. By itself, a win boosts the Chiefs’ chance to 96%, while a loss drops it to 74%. Beating the Raiders (and winning their other remaining division games) pushes their chance to win the West above 99%. Add in another Chiefs victory — or any Raiders loss (except to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 14) — and the Chiefs will finish on top.
Getting a first-round bye
This is the time of year where we would normally say that a team with an 8-1 record controls its own destiny to land a postseason bye — that is, if they win the rest of their games, they’ll be assured of a week off to begin the postseason. But since the NFL’s expanded playoff format now allows only one team to get a bye — and the Steelers now stand 9-0 after defeating the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday — it’s not that simple.
Should the Chiefs take care of business — finishing the season 7-0 — they’ll have a 91% chance to land the #1 seed. Given that 7-0 finish, Steelers losses to the Ravens in Week 12 (or the Buffalo Bills in Week 14) would clinch a Chiefs bye. Of course, other Steelers losses would improve the Chiefs’ chance to claim the top spot — but by themselves, only losses to the Ravens or Bills (combined with a Chiefs 7-0 finish) would clinch it.
But that also means any Chiefs loss would make getting a bye significantly more difficult. In terms of the bye, the best-case Kansas City loss would be to the Falcons in Week 16. With that 6-1 record to finish the season, the Chiefs would need that Week 14 Bills win (or the Week 12 Ravens win and at least one more Steelers loss) to clinch the bye.
The final word
All of these scenarios start at one place: defeating the Raiders in Las Vegas this Sunday night. Before the season began, it’s unlikely likely most Chiefs fans would have considered this contest to be one of the season’s key games.
But... here we are. Welcome to Raider Week.