The Kansas City Chiefs now stand 13-3 after their 27-24 victory over the Denver Broncos on New Year’s Day.
For Kansas City, one regular-season game remains: a road game against the Las Vegas Raiders (6-10) that will now be played at 3:30 (Arrowhead Time) on Saturday.
Let's take a look at the team's current playoff picture. As always, we'll use the New York Times playoff calculator to help us figure out what to expect. More details about how it works are included at the end of the article.
The big picture
As it stands right now, the Chiefs have clinched a playoff berth and locked up the AFC West. They have a 41% chance to win the single AFC bye and a 16% chance to win Super Bowl LVII. The Buffalo Bills have a 19% chance and the Philadelphia Eagles are tied with Kansas City at 16% — while the San Francisco 49ers (14%) and the Cincinnati Bengals (10%) trail the Chiefs.
Getting a first-round bye
Buffalo and Cincinnati are the only teams that can deny Kansas City the top seed.
If the Bills (now with a 46% chance at the bye) win their final two games (on the road against the Bengals on Monday night and against the New England Patriots at home) they’ll claim the top seed.
But if the Chiefs beat the Raiders on Saturday, a single Buffalo loss confers the bye to Kansas City. This means that if the Bengals win on Monday night, the Chiefs will control their own destiny for the No. 1 seed. If the Bills win (increasing their chance at the bye to 82%), Kansas City will need a win over the Raiders and a Buffalo loss to New England to get the AFC’s bye.
The Bengals (with a 13% chance for the bye) have the hardest path to the top. By winning their last two games (at home against the Bills on Monday night and at home against the Ravens in Week 18), they can claim the No. 1 seed — but only if the Chiefs lose to the Raiders. Winning Monday night’s game increases Cincinnati’s chance at the top seed to only 26%.
So just as we told you a week ago, Monday Night Football carries enormous stakes for all three teams. DraftKings currently has Buffalo favored by 1.5 points — and FiveThirtyEight.com favors Cincinnati by half a point.
What if there is a tie on Monday night?
Some have suggested that the ideal scenario is for the Bills and Bengals to tie on Monday night. While this is unlikely, it is a possibility.
If Monday’s game ends in a tie, the Chiefs would still have to beat the Raiders to get the first seed — unless the Bills lose in Week 18. In that case, what happened in Vegas would stay in Vegas: Kansas City would get the bye no matter what happened in its final game. And that’s why the Chiefs are playing on Saturday instead of Sunday: they won’t know the result of Buffalo’s final game. The NFL wants Patrick Mahomes and his teammates to go all-out against a division rival in a nationally-televised game.
But here’s the best part of a Monday night tie: if it happens, the Bengals will lose their chance at the first seed. It would go to either Kansas City or Buffalo — and there would be about a four-in-five chance it would be the Chiefs.
About the New York Times playoff calculator
The calculator begins with the Sagarin ratings for each NFL team. This rating system determines the relative strength of every team. These ratings 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 99% of the simulations, the Chiefs make the playoffs.