The Kansas City Chiefs now stand 9-1 after defeating the Las Vegas Raiders 35-31 on Sunday night. Six weeks remain in the NFL season, in which the Chiefs will face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-4) this Sunday afternoon, the Denver Broncos (4-6) at home, the Miami Dolphins (6-4) and New Orleans Saints (8-2) on the road and the Atlanta Falcons (3-7) and Los Angeles Chargers (3-7) at home.
Let’s return to the team’s current playoff picture. As usual, we’ll use the New York Times playoff calculator to help us figure out what to expect. More details about how it works are included at the end of the article.
The big picture
As it stands right now, the Chiefs have a greater than 99% chance to make the playoffs, a 96% chance to win their fifth-straight AFC West championship (thank you for the final drive on Sunday, Mr. Mahomes), a 36% 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 (15%) and the Saints (15%) are right behind the Chiefs.
Making the playoffs
The playoff calculator allows us to assume the outcome of any remaining game and then see how it changes things.
Almost any combination of two wins on the Chiefs’ remaining schedule will clinch a playoff berth. Winning any two of their remaining AFC games will put them in the dance. But there is a small number of two-win finishes that will require a little bit of help. For example, should the Chiefs only win against the Broncos and Falcons, they would need the Dolphins to defeat the New England Patriots in Week 15. Or if they were to defeat only the Saints and Falcons, they would need the Baltimore Ravens to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars that same week.
But in the short term, winning the next two games — or any two of the next three — will clinch a postseason berth.
Winning the AFC West
With Sunday’s win, the Chiefs have the division firmly in their hands; the Raiders are the only team with a reasonable chance to challenge for the title. The Chiefs can lock it down with a sweep of their three remaining AFC games. Winning their division games against the Broncos and Chargers — along with any Raiders loss — will also bring it home. They can also clinch with wins in the next two weeks — but that would require the Raiders to lose to the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets in those weeks. That would be a tall order.
But with a third win — in fact, any three wins through the rest of the season — only one Raiders loss is needed for the Chiefs to clinch the West. So the Raiders’ home game against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 14 could end up being very important.
Getting a first-round bye
Here, the Chiefs have the same problem they faced a week ago: those pesky Steelers keep on winning. Even running the table through the last six weeks of the season only gives the Chiefs a 90% chance at the AFC’s only postseason bye.
Should the Chiefs pull that off, a Steelers loss to the Ravens on Thursday (or the Buffalo Bills in Week 14) would clinch a Chiefs bye. Otherwise, the Chiefs would need two Steelers losses (along with that 6-0 finish) to claim the top seed.
As before, any Chiefs loss would make getting a bye significantly more difficult. In terms of the bye, the best-case Kansas City loss is now against the Buccaneers on this Sunday. With that 6-1 record to finish the season, the Chiefs would need that Week 12 Ravens win (or the Week 14 Bills win) and at least one more Steelers loss to clinch the bye.
So on Thanksgiving... Go Ravens!
About the New York Times playoff calculator
The calculator begins with the Sagarin ratings for each NFL team. This rating system determines the relative strength of every team. These ratings 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.