In Week 13, the Kansas City Chiefs notched a 22-9 victory over the Denver Broncos to advance their record to 8-4. Five weeks remain in the NFL season. The Chiefs will face the Las Vegas Raiders (6-6) at home, the Los Angeles Chargers (7-5) on the road, the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1) at home and the Cincinnati Bengals (7-5) and Broncos (6-6) 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, the Chiefs have a 90% chance to make the playoffs (up from 84%), a 68% chance to win their sixth-straight AFC West championship (up from 62%), a 13% chance to win the single AFC bye (10%) and a 10% chance to win Super Bowl LVI (10%). One AFC team — the New England Patriots (14%) — has a better chance to win the championship. Three NFC teams — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers — all have at least a 12% 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 90% 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.
By simply winning their next two games — both of them against AFC West teams — the Chiefs’ chance to make the playoffs rises to above 99%. With a third win among any of the last three games, the Chiefs are locked into the postseason. Any combination of three wins in the last five games will almost guarantee making the playoffs; a couple of them — for example, the Chiefs beat the Chargers, Steelers and Broncos — lock up a postseason berth.
Winning the AFC West
By winning their last three division games, the Chiefs will win the AFC West. With victories in the next four games, they could afford a loss to Denver in Week 18. They could also handle a loss to the Raiders this Sunday as long as they win the other four games.
But because the Chargers still hold a head-to-head tiebreaker from their Week 3 victory over Kansas City, the Chiefs must win next week’s Thursday Night Football matchup against Los Angeles — or else they can’t win the division without also winning their other four games and the Chargers losing at least one of their other four, which are against the New York Giants, 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 five of its remaining games. By itself, that improves the team’s chance for a bye to about 3-in-4.
With those five wins, they would need five losses by four other teams. Over the weekend, two of those losses took place: the Baltimore Ravens lost to the Steelers, and the Buffalo Bills lost to the Patriots. Now Kansas City needs at least one more loss by the Ravens, Patriots and Tennessee Titans to open their door to the bye week.
The Ravens will play the Cleveland Browns this weekend, and the Titans will face the Jacksonville Jaguars; the Patriots will be idle. A Ravens loss to the Browns is a distinct possibility — but the Titans are heavily favored over the Jaguars. It’s Week 15 where things get interesting: the Patriots are on the road against the Colts, the Titans play the Steelers at Heinz Field, and the Ravens host the Packers; all three of those games could go either way.
None of that will matter unless the Chiefs win against the Raiders and Chargers; a loss to either of those teams reduces their chance to win the bye to well below 50%. But by the end of Week 15, Kansas City can control its own destiny for the first seed.
The final word
The Chiefs have a firm grasp on the steering wheel to reach the postseason and win their sixth-straight AFC West title. But while they got some of the help they needed in Week 13, getting the first-round bye will very likely require them to be perfect the rest of the way — and see just a few more favorable results.