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Chiefs Playoff Picture: There’s a clear path to the bye week

Let’s show how the Chiefs’ postseason possibilities line up following Week 12’s NFL action.

Kansas City Chiefs v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs now stand 8-3 after notching a 31-17 road win in Las Vegas on Sunday afternoon.

Six weeks remain in the 2023 NFL season, in which the Chiefs go on the road against the Green Bay Packers, face the Buffalo Bills at home, go against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, play back-to-back home games against the Las Vegas Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals and finish the season with a road matchup versus the Los Angeles Chargers.

Let’s take a look at the team’s current playoff picture. We’ll once again 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 a greater than 99% chance to make the playoffs, a 99% chance to win the AFC West, a 46% chance to win the single AFC bye and a 14% chance to win Super Bowl LVIII. No other AFC team currently has a better chance to win the championship — although the Miami Dolphins are right behind the Chiefs at 13%. Meanwhile, the calculator gives two NFC teams — the San Francisco 49ers (22%) and Philadelphia Eagles (15%) — a better chance to win the Super Bowl.

Making the playoffs

The playoff calculator allows us to assume the outcome of any remaining games and then see how it changes things.

Right now, it’s fairly simple: with any four victories in the next six games, Kansas City is locked into its ninth consecutive playoff spot. We can almost say that any combination of three wins in the final six will clinch a berth — but not quite. We can say, however, that we weren’t able to find a three-win combination with a playoff probability of 99% or less — so with any three wins, making the postseason would be a near-certainty.

Winning the AFC West

Kansas City has only two division games left on their schedule. Winning both of those — against the Raiders in Week 16 and the Chargers in Week 18 — would obviously improve their chance to clinch the division. Winning those two matchups (and any two others) would lock up the West. Winning the next four (including the Raiders game) would also clinch.

It’s possible for the Chiefs to wrap up the division in the next two weeks. They would have to win their Week 13 and Week 14 games. Then the Patriots would have to beat the Chargers (and the Houston Texans beat the Broncos) in Week 13 — followed by the Chargers defeating the Broncos in Week 14.

Getting a first-round bye

At this moment, the Baltimore Ravens hold the AFC’s top seed — but that’s only because they haven’t yet had their bye week. That is now underway. The Chiefs hold the conference record tiebreaker over the Ravens. So if Kansas City beats the Packers on Sunday, it will be back on top of the AFC — because it also holds head-to-head tiebreakers against the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Dolphins.

To put it more simply, the Chiefs are in control of their own destiny: winning their last six games will give them the top seed. Since they hold tiebreakers over the top contenders (and have two more AFC games remaining than the Ravens do), there is some room for error.

That’s why Kansas City’s probability of winning the No. 1 seed is close to 50% — and is more than twice that of any other AFC team. But until we see more losses among the other contenders, the Chiefs will still need to remain focused on winning out. That starts at Lambeau Field on Sunday night.

About the New York Times playoff calculator

The calculator begins with an Elo rating (and betting market information) for each NFL team. This data is used to determine the relative strength of every team. That, in turn, is used to figure out the probability that each team will win each of its remaining games. The remainder of the season is simulated tens of thousands of times — and the results of these projections give us the probabilities quoted in this article.

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