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A way-too-early look at the AFC playoff picture

The Chiefs have backed themselves into a bit of a corner in the AFC; what is the path to the playoffs and division?

NFL: JAN 19 AFC Championship - Titans at Chiefs Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Well, here we are.

Just six weeks ago, many of us were talking about how this Kansas City Chiefs team was the most of the Patrick Mahomes era — and wondering how the Chiefs could grab the coveted No. 1 seed throughout the playoffs.

After some close losses and close wins — and a blowout loss at home — the Chiefs are on the outside looking in at the AFC playoff race. They will need help to get out of the corner they’ve backed themselves into, as they trail by two games to the division leaders and do not have the head-to-head tie-breakers.

Each week, I’m going to break down the playoff road for the Chiefs, as they battle to get out of the cellar of the AFC West and into a potential Wild Card spot. I will also reference Football Outsider’s DVOA metric. DVOA rankings are a better estimate on how a team is truly performing because it takes into account the game situation (for example: garbage-time points) as well as the opponent.

AFC West

Team Record DVOA
Rank
Next 3
Chargers 4-1
(2-0)
1st AFCW
1st AFC
11 (Ovr)
7 (Off)
18 (Def)
29 (ST)
@BAL
(+3.5)
BYE
NWE
Raiders 3-2
(0-1)
2nd AFCW
6th AFC
25 (Ovr)
27 (Off)
13 (Def)
19 (ST)
@DEN
(+3)
PHI
BYE
Broncos 3-2
(0-0)
3rd AFCW
7th AFC
18 (Ovr)
18 (Off)
10 (Def)
24 (ST)
LVR
(-3)
@CLE
WAS
Chiefs 2-3
(0-1)
4th AFCW
11th AFC
14 (Ovr)
1 (Off)
32 (Def)
5 (ST)
@WAS
(-6.5)
@TEN
NYG

Outside of the major road test for the Chiefs, the biggest game next week is the Los Angeles Chargers going to Baltimore to play the Ravens.

The unique rushing attack from the Ravens could grind down a Chargers’ defense that allowed 42 points against the Browns this past week. The Chargers’ rushing defense is only worse than — you guessed it — the Chiefs, according to DVOA.

On the other side of the ball, quarterback Justin Herbert has emerged as an early contender for MVP. The Chargers' offense will look to utilize their passing attack against a Baltimore secondary still riddled with injuries. Lastly, each coaching staff is known for its use of analytics in its decision-making throughout the game. It may come down to which head coach makes the first mistake.

We get another division game in Los Vegas Raiders hosting the Denver Broncos. With both teams 3-2, neither side getting a win really helps the Chiefs. Both teams began 3-0 before losing in consecutive weeks. Denver is at home and only has the typical three-point home advantage in the eyes of bettors.

Las Vegas will be trying to put the Gruden drama behind it and get back to football. It will be interesting to watch who rises from this game with a victory.

Other AFC contenders

Team Record DVOA
Rank
Next 3
Bills 4-1
(1-0)
1st AFCE
3rd AFC
1 (Ovr)
12 (Off)
1 (Def)
16 (ST)
@TEN
(-5)
BYE
Miami
Ravens 4-1
(0-0)
1st AFCN
2nd AFC
8 (Ovr)
9 (Off)
22 (Def)
2 (ST)
LAC
(-3.5)
CIN
BYE
Titans 3-2
(2-0)
1st AFCS
4th AFC
26 (Ovr)
21 (Off)
27 (Def)
25 (ST)
BUF
(+5)
KAN
@IND
Bengals 3-2
(1-0)
2nd AFCN
5th AFC
12 (Ovr)
16 (Off)
7 (Def)
9 (ST)
@DET
(-3.5)
@BAL
@NYJ
Browns 3-2
(0-0)
3rd AFCN
8th AFC
6 (Ovr)
6 (Off)
12 (Def)
4 (ST)
ARI
(-2.5)
DEN
PIT

Outside of Chargers-Ravens, the best game of the week may be the Buffalo Bills, again in primetime in Tennessee against the Titans.

The Bills came into Arrowhead and beat down the Chiefs and will look to do the same in Tennessee on Monday night. The overall team speed of the Bills’ defense gave the Chiefs issues all night, but will it be able to stand up to running back Derrick Henry, as the Titans continue to lean on their strength as a bruising offense.

This may be one of the last tests for the Bills, as the rest of their schedule is comprised mostly of AFC East matchups and matchups against the NFC South, which is not meeting expectations outside of Tampa Bay. Any Bills’ loss will be a welcomed sight to the Chiefs.

Chiefs outlook

The Chiefs still need a lot of help, but it's still early in the season. They need to handle their business at this point and start stacking wins together if they plan on making the playoffs. The teams ahead of them need to beat up on each other a little, but as far as picking winners, it is still too early to tell.