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Chiefs’ Playoff Picture: the AFC West is there for the taking

Let’s see how the Chiefs’ postseason possibilities line up following Week 15’s NFL action.

Kansas City Chiefs v New England Patriots Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs now stand 9-5 after Sunday’s 27-17 road victory over the New England Patriots.

Three weeks remain in the NFL regular season, in which the Chiefs play back-to-back home games against the Las Vegas Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals — and then 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 (up slightly from 99% last week), a 99% chance to win the AFC West (previously 92%), an 11% chance to win the single AFC bye (down from 20%) and an 8% chance (unchanged) to win Super Bowl LVIII.

Two teams now have a better chance to win the championship: the Baltimore Ravens (22%, up from 13%) and the San Francisco 49ers (unchanged at 39%).

Making the playoffs

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

Now that the Chiefs have won another game, it’s simple: defeating the Raiders on Christmas Day will clinch a playoff spot for Kansas City. So will beating the Chargers in Week 18. Should the Chiefs get a lump of coal in their Christmas stocking, defeating the Bengals in Week 17 will almost clinch a berth; it will depend on how some other games play out. (The Patriots defeating the Denver Broncos in Week 16 is one simple example).

Winning the AFC West

Kansas City has only two division games left on its schedule. Winning either of those — the Raiders on Monday or the Chargers in Week 18 — will lock up the team’s eighth consecutive division title. This is actually why winning either of these games will clinch a playoff spot: it also clinches the West. By the same token, losing on Christmas Day — while the Broncos are defeated by the Patriots — will open the door for a victory over the Bengals to clinch the division.

Getting a first-round bye

In Week 15, the Chiefs didn’t get any of the help they needed to secure the No. 1 seed; both the Ravens and Miami Dolphins won their games convincingly. The formula remains the same: the Chiefs have to win out — and then see the Dolphins lose one game and the Ravens lose two.

And it’s in Week 16 where we see the real possibilities that could happen. Miami is only a 1.5-point home favorite over the Dallas Cowboys. (By Neil Paine’s Elo ratings, the Dolphins have just a 53% chance to win). So that game could easily go to Dallas. Meanwhile, the 49ers are five-point home favorites over the Ravens on Christmas night. (Paine gives San Francisco a 67% chance to win).

Then in Week 17, Baltimore and Miami will play each other.

Remember: all Kansas City has to do is tie these two teams — because if the Chiefs win out, they’ll hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Dolphins and a conference record tiebreaker over the Ravens.

Still... it’s a long shot. Even though the Chiefs won on Sunday, their chance to win the top seed has dropped significantly from what it was a week ago — and for a simple reason: the number of games in which Dolphins and Ravens’ games can fall the right way continues to decrease. Even if the Chiefs win out, wins by both the Dolphins and Ravens over the holiday weekend will decrease Kansas City’s chance to claim the top seed to only 2%.

There’s another scenario to consider, though. Let’s say the Dolphins and Ravens both prevail in Week 16 — and Baltimore beats Miami in Week 17. (These are the most likely outcomes for all three of these games). If that happens — and the Chiefs win out — Kansas City will get the No. 2 seed. Then if the Ravens stumble in the Divisional round, Kansas City could still host the AFC Championship.

But as always, the main job is to make it to the dance — and with a victory on Christmas Day, the Chiefs will be going. And playing at home to begin the postseason.

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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