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Chiefs playoff picture: Destiny in control

Thanks to a win — and a little help from their enemies — the Chiefs now control their own postseason destiny.

Kansas City Chiefs v Chicago Bears Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

After getting past the Miami Dolphins 33-27 on Sunday afternoon, the Kansas City Chiefs have the NFL’s best record. For the first time in franchise history, the team stands at 12-1. Three weeks remain in the NFL season, during which the Chiefs will go on the road to face the New Orleans Saints (10-3) and then play the Atlanta Falcons (4-9) and Los Angeles Chargers (4-9) at home.

Let’s take a look at the team’s current playoff picture. As we have been doing since the bye week, 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

Going into Sunday’s game already in possession of a berth, Kansas City’s win clinched its fifth-straight AFC West title; at minimum, the team will begin the postseason with a home game. But with that win — coupled with the Buffalo Bills’ 26-15 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night — the Chiefs now have an 88% chance to claim the single AFC bye and a 23% chance to win Super Bowl LV.

Some other rating systems give the Chiefs larger probabilities to achieve these goals, but the Sagarin ratings used by the New York Times are a bit more conservative, giving the Saints a 16% chance to win the championship, while both the Steelers and Green Bay Packers have a 10% chance.

Winning the first-round bye

The Chiefs find themselves in an excellent position to claim the AFC’s only postseason bye. In the simplest terms, the bye — and home-field advantage through the postseason — is theirs to lose. No matter what else happens, three wins to close the season will guarantee the road to the Super Bowl runs through Kansas City.

But the Chiefs have some wiggle room, too. Winning two of their last three — as long as one of them is the final regular-season game against the Chargers — will also clinch the bye. In fact, the Chiefs could lose to both the Saints and Falcons and still clinch the bye with a win against the Chargers — provided that the Steelers lose at least one of their remaining games to the Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts or Cleveland Browns.

This is because both teams have only one conference loss. The Steelers have three chances to get to two conferences losses, while the Chiefs have only one. So should both teams finish 13-3 in this way, the Chiefs will own the tiebreaker. In the AFC, only the Buffalo Bills have a shot of finishing the season 13-3 — and the Chiefs already hold the head-to-head tiebreaker against Buffalo.

All of this means that the Chiefs could lock up the bye as soon as this weekend. With a victory against the Saints — plus a Steelers loss to the Bengals and a Buffalo Bills loss to the Denver Broncos, the Chiefs will clinch the bye.

But while such a scenario is possible, it’s not very plausible. So let’s make it a worst-case scenario for Week 15: the Chiefs lose, while the Steelers and Bills win. Then a Week 16 win against the Falcons — along with a Steelers loss to the Colts and a Bills loss to the New England Patriots — will also clinch the bye. But if the Chiefs have also won in New Orleans, only a Steelers loss will be needed for the Chiefs to clinch the first seed.

So thanks to the efforts of Alex Smith, Josh Allen and their teammates over the last two weeks, the Chiefs now control their own playoff destiny — and as long as they win their next two games, it remains quite possible they could also give their starters some rest in the season’s final game. And if they don’t, it still possible they could secure home-field advantage with a single win to close the season.


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 greater than 99% of the simulations, the Chiefs make the playoffs.