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Chiefs remain in AFC playoff race despite rough start

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Tennessee Titans Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

With the Kansas City Chiefs earning a win against the New York Giants on Monday night, the playoff picture is as muddled as ever. Here’s a quick recap of each team, starting within the division:

AFC West

The Raiders have looked like they’ve turned it around this season with improved play from Derek Carr. Carr is second in total yards and has led the Raiders to a few come-from-behind victories over the Baltimore Ravens and the Miami Dolphins. But is this the same Raiders team we’ve seen over the years? Just last year, Las Vegas started 5-3 with a win over the Chiefs in Arrowhead before wearing down as the season went along to finish 8-8 and outside of the playoffs. With two matchups against the Chiefs, including a primetime game in Las Vegas in a couple of weeks, their hold on the division is still in question. Their next game will be playing as the visitor to the New York Giants, and New York is hoping to have playmakers Saquan Barkley and Kenny Golladay back for the Noon kickoff.

The Chargers continue to be the Chargers. After a promising 4-1 start, the Chargers have lost the last two games, including a beatdown from the Baltimore Ravens. The more concerning thing for the Chargers is how ordinary standout quarterback Justin Herbert has played. Against a banged-up New England Patriots team, Herbert completed just 18 of 35 passes for 223 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, most of which came in garbage time in the final two minutes as the Chargers trailed by 10 points. Injuries to the defense have also put a strain on them. The Chiefs will travel to Los Angeles on a big Thursday Night game in December that could very well be the deciding game in the division.

After starting 3-0, the Broncos have only won once in the last five games. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been inconsistent all year. When the offense tries to open up to get all its playmakers on the field, their 25th-ranked offensive line doesn’t protect Bridgewater long enough to prevent him from getting hit or throw beyond the first-down marker. The recent trade of Von Miller makes me think that this team is loading up more for the future and not playing for the playoffs this year. The Chiefs will play them after their Thanksgiving bye week at home in Arrowhead and then again in the season finale in Denver in early January.

Division leaders (4)

1. Tennessee Titans: (Chance to make the postseason, according to Football Outsiders: 96.4%)

The Titans have put together four quality wins in a row, including wins over the Chiefs and Buffalo Bills, as well as sweeping the season series against the Indianapolis Colts. The Titans’ team mentality has been to beat you down with a physical brand of football behind MVP candidate Derrick Henry, who now looks to be out for the rest of the regular season with a foot injury. What is their identity moving forward? The other running backs on the team have a combined 11 carries on the season. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and star wide receiver A.J. Brown will have to do more to keep their season alive.

2. Las Vegas Raiders: (Playoff Chances: 62.2%)

3. Baltimore Ravens: (Playoff Chances: 84.8%)

What the Ravens have done with all the injuries they’ve incurred has been nothing short of amazing. But as the season wears on, will those injuries finally catch up to them? In a tough AFC North division, the Ravens still have five remaining games and have difficult games against NFC contenders Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams in the last four games of their season.

4. Buffalo Bills: (Playoff Chances: 98.3%)

The Bills – while being fourth in the AFC currently – are the toast of the AFC right now. They are the best team according to DVOA, boast the best defense according to DVOA and have the most manageable schedule remaining according to DVOA.

Wild Card seeds (3)

5. Cincinnati Bengals: (Playoff Chances: 44.6%)

After a great win against division rival Ravens, the Bengals flopped on the road against the Jets led by backup quarterback Mike White. The Chiefs will play them late in the season on the road in Cincinnati in Week 17, which could be an elimination game for both teams' playoff chances.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers: (Playoff Chances: 48.3%)

Like the Bengals, the Steelers have some impressive wins but have also flopped throughout the season. The offense relies too heavily on Ben Roethlisberger to do everything for the offense, as his age has shown up time and time again. In 2020, this Steelers team started 8-0 before injuries piled up. Will this team be able to last until January? The Chiefs play them in Arrowhead week 16.

7. Los Angeles Chargers: (Playoff Chances: 53.5%)

Outside looking in

8. New England Patriots: (Playoff Chances: 57.2%)

9. Kansas City Chiefs: (Playoff Chances: 48.9%)

10. Cleveland Browns: (Playoff Chances: 44.9%)

Out of the mix

11. Denver Broncos: (Playoff Chances: 26.4%)

12. Indianapolis Colts: (Playoff Chances: 31.9%)

13. New York Jets: (Playoff Chances: 1.2%)

14. Jacksonville Jaguars: (Playoff Chances: 0.3%)

15. Houston Texans: (Playoff Chances: 0.3%)

16. Miami Dolphins: (Playoff Chances: 0.9%)

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