During the Kansas City Chiefs’ just-concluded eight-game winning streak, there were multiple weeks in which the team needed favorable results in a game or two in order to improve their chances to claim the AFC’s only postseason bye.
Many of these desired outcomes were upsets — and yet, they kept happening. In one week, the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens, and the New England Patriots defeated the Buffalo Bills. The next week, the Cleveland Browns won over the Ravens. And the week after that, the Indianapolis Colts beat the Patriots and the Steelers defeated the Tennessee Titans.
Combined with the games that the Chiefs had won by then, they controlled their own destiny. All they had to do to clinch the AFC’s first seed was win their final three games against the Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos.
And the next week — before the kickoff of the following game against the Steelers — there was another improbable result: the Houston Texans defeated the Los Angeles Chargers. At the final gun of their 36-10 victory over Pittsburgh, the Chiefs were AFC West champions.
So after this string of unlikely events, perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise that there would be a bump in the road. On Sunday afternoon in a Week 17 matchup, Kansas City fell to the Cincinnati Bengals 34-31 on a last-second field goal.
No ... the team’s dream of entering the postseason holding the AFC’s first seed isn’t dead. But it will require a victory over the Broncos next Sunday and a Titans loss to the Texans. The chance this will happen is relatively small — depending on which rating system you want to use, somewhere between one-and-four and one-in-seven — but it’s hardly impossible.
But rather than engage in a complete flight of fancy, let’s look at the here and now.
If the AFC postseason started today (Monday, Jan. 3), the Chiefs (holding the second seed) would play the seventh-seeded Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium. The third-seeded Bengals (now AFC North champs after their win against Kansas City) would host the sixth seed: the Colts. And the fifth-seeded Patriots would travel to upstate New York to play the fourth seed: the Bills.
Interestingly, two of these three matchups would pit two teams from the same division against each other for the third time this season — and in both cases, the two teams split their previous games. Only the Bengals and Colts would be playing each other for the first time this year.
Of course, the Wild Card round will not be played this coming weekend — and there’s a lot that could change before the postseason arrives.
Going into Week 18, three AFC teams — the Steelers, Ravens and Las Vegas Raiders — can still make the playoffs. According to PlayoffStatus.com, the Raiders are the most likely of the three to do so. They have roughly a one-in-three chance to get either the fifth or sixth seed and about a one-in-20 chance to earn the seventh seed. Both the Ravens and Steelers can only make the seventh seed — but the odds are against them. The Steelers now stand at around one chance in 20, while the Ravens are something closer to one-in-30.
The top four seeds are hardly set in stone, either. The AFC East’s winner won’t be decided until Week 18. The Titans have about a four-in-five chance to hold on to the first seed — and while it’s highly unlikely, they could still fall as far as the fourth position. The Chiefs are likely to hold on to the second seed — but they have about the same chance of being the first seed as they do of ending up as the third or fourth.
So the Chiefs could end up playing any one of six different teams in the first round of the playoffs — or they could be at home, watching six other teams fight to survive.
We’re on to Week 18.