After defeating the Atlanta Falcons 17-14 on Sunday afternoon, the Kansas City Chiefs will finish the season with the NFL’s best record. Currently 14-1, they’ll finish no worse than 14-2 — a record no other team can match. As such, they hold the AFC’s first seed — and its only postseason bye.
In their final regular-season game, Kansas City will face the Los Angeles Chargers (6-9) at Arrowhead Stadium. In terms of the postseason, this game is truly meaningless — not only to the Chiefs and Chargers but to the rest of the league’s teams. What happens at the Truman Sports Complex on Sunday will have no bearing on any other team’s postseason prospects. So the game has now been rescheduled for 3:25 p.m. Arrowhead Time and will be broadcast on FOX instead of CBS.
That isn’t to say, however, that the game will have no meaning to the two teams involved. While the Chiefs will certainly want to minimize risk, they will also want a victory in order to maintain their momentum going into the playoffs. Chargers players will be playing for professional pride — remember, they nearly knocked off the Chiefs in Week 2’s overtime loss — and also to give their popular head coach Anthony Lynn a better chance to retain his job.
How we start
But for the Chiefs, what happens after that? If the season were to end today, here are the seven AFC playoff seeds:
- Kansas City Chiefs* (14-1)
- Buffalo Bills* (12-3)
- Pittsburgh Steelers* (12-3)
- Tennessee Titans (10-5)
- Miami Dolphins (10-5)
- Baltimore Ravens (10-5)
- Cleveland Browns (10-5)
Teams marked with asterisks have already clinched their respective divisions. So Wild Card Weekend would have the Bills hosting the Browns, the Ravens on the road against the Steelers and the Dolphins traveling to Nashville to play the Titans.
So in the Divisional round, the Chiefs would face the lowest-seeded survivor — probably the Ravens.
How we could end up
But as we know, the season isn’t ending today. Let’s take a look at how Week 17 might play out.
The first three seeds will probably stay close to where they are; neither Pittsburgh nor Buffalo can fall below the third position. In Week 17, the Bills only have to defeat the Dolphins to wrap up the second seed, while the Steelers would need a victory over the Browns and a Buffalo loss to trade seeds with the Bills. Call it about a 7-in-8 chance the second and third seeds remain the same.
The odds favor Tennessee hanging on to the fourth seed, too. The Titans only need to beat the Houston Texans to clinch the AFC South — and with it, the fourth seed. That’s probably around a 3-in-4 chance.
But the Indianapolis Colts — currently on the outside looking in — are also 10-5. Should the Titans lose — and the Colts beat the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday — the Colts would claim the division and the fourth spot. Tennessee would then land anywhere from the fifth seed to out of the playoffs.
Should the Dolphins beat the Bills, they’ll claim the fifth seed. But the Ravens have the most likely path to lock it down; should the Dolphins lose, the Ravens only need to beat the Cincinnati Bengals to lock it up. Otherwise, the Ravens could find themselves with either of the last two seeds — or be out altogether.
For the last two seeds, no obvious paths remain — just as you would expect when five of the eight teams involved have 10-5 records.
That said, the Browns have the most likely road to elimination in Week 17. A loss to the Steelers — combined with a Colts victory and losses by the Texans, Dolphins or Bengals — puts them on their sofas for the postseason. (At least Baker Mayfield’s sofa is... you know... right there in the stadium). Even this, however, is probably about a 50-50 proposition.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins and Colts also have coin-flip chances to take one of the last two seeds.
Should they miss out on the fifth seed by losing to Buffalo, Miami could land the sixth with losses by any two of the Browns, Ravens or Colts — or the seventh seed with any two wins by those three teams.
There’s a similar story for Indianapolis. If they can’t get the fourth seed, they can get the sixth seed with their own win against Jacksonville and two losses among the Dolphins, Ravens and Browns — or the seventh with two wins among those clubs.
So assuming that the most-likely paths are traveled, here’s how it would play out:
- Kansas City Chiefs*
- Buffalo Bills*
- Pittsburgh Steelers*
- Tennessee Titans*
- Baltimore Ravens
- Indianapolis Colts
- Miami Dolphins
In this scenario, the Bills would host the Dolphins (for the second straight week) the Colts would play the Steelers at Heinz Field and the Ravens would play Tennessee in Nashville. The Chiefs would then be likely to open the postseason against the Colts — or maybe the Ravens.
The problem is that the most-likely paths will not all be traveled — either in the final week of the regular season or in Wild Card weekend. One or two upsets in Week 17 — or the following week — and this whole tower of Jenga blocks will come tumbling down.
But at least now, you can watch Week 17’s games and have an idea of where the pressure points are.