In Week 14, the Kansas City Chiefs humiliated the Las Vegas Raiders in a 48-9 beatdown at Arrowhead Stadium, advancing their record to 9-4. Four weeks remain in the NFL season. On this week’s Thursday Night Football, Kansas City will play the Los Angeles Chargers (8-5) on the road. Then they’ll play the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-6-1) at home — and finish the season against the Cincinnati Bengals (7-6) and Denver Broncos (7-6) on the road.
Let’s take a look at the team’s current playoff picture. Just as we have done in previous seasons, we’ll use the New York Times playoff calculator to help us figure out what’s on the horizon.
The big picture
As it stands right now (before Week 14’s Monday Night Football game between the NFC’s Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals), the Chiefs have a 97% chance to make the playoffs (up from 90%), a 70% chance to win their sixth-straight AFC West championship (up from 68%), a 23% chance to win the single AFC bye (13%) and a 13% chance to win Super Bowl LVI (10%). One AFC team — the New England Patriots (13%) — has the same chance to win the championship. Just one other team — the NFC’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14%) — has a better chance to win.
These percentages begin with the Sagarin ratings for each NFL team. This system determines the relative strength of every team, which 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 97% of the simulations, the Chiefs make the playoffs.
Making the playoffs
The playoff calculator also allows us to assume the outcome of any remaining game and then see how it changes things.
With a victory against the Chargers — and just one more win in the last three weeks — Kansas City will lock up a postseason spot. Even with a loss to the Chargers, any two victories in the last three weeks will give the Chiefs at least a greater than a 99% chance to make the postseason. Some such scenarios — for example, Kansas City loses to both the Chargers and Steelers but defeats the Bengals and Broncos — clinch a playoff berth.
Winning the AFC West
By winning their last two division games against the Chargers and Broncos, the Chiefs will win the AFC West. With victories in the next three games, they could afford a loss to Denver in Week 18 and still win the division.
But because the Chargers still hold a head-to-head tiebreaker from their Week 3 victory over Kansas City, the Chiefs must win on Thursday night in Los Angeles — or else they can’t win the division without winning their last three games and the Chargers losing at least one of their last three, which are against the Houston Texans, Broncos and Raiders.
Getting a first-round bye
Any believable scenario for Kansas City to skip the Wild Card round begins with winning all four of its remaining games. By itself, that improves the team’s chance for a bye to slightly better than 3-in-4. Losing any one of their last four games drops that chance to about 1-in-4; they’d need multiple games to line up exactly the right way.
With those four wins, the Chiefs would still need some help — but with each passing week, they need less. In Week 13, the Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills both lost their games. On Sunday, the Ravens helpfully lost to the Cleveland Browns 24-22, checking off the third of the five losses the Chiefs needed. So now, all Kansas City needs is for both the Patriots and Tennessee Titans to lose at least one of their last three. If that happens, the Chiefs will control their own destiny to win the first seed.
Over the weekend, the Patriots had their bye week — and the Titans (as expected) beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 20-0. But in Week 15, the Patriots face the Indianapolis Colts and the Titans play Steelers. Per DraftKings Sportsbook, the Colts are favored by 2 points in Indianapolis, while the Titans are favored by 1.5 in Pittsburgh.
None of that will matter unless the Chiefs win on Thursday night. But by the end of Week 15, Kansas City could control its own destiny for the first seed.
The final word
The Chiefs continue to have a firm grasp on the steering wheel to reach the postseason and win their sixth-straight AFC West title. In Week 14, they got a little more of the help they needed to have a shot at the AFC’s the first-round bye — but even if they get the rest, they will still need to win out.