The NFL playoff picture is going to make some rapid developments on Sunday with 24 teams still mathematically in contention for a postseason spot, so there are serious implications from the Chiefs tough matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals.
So far this NFL season there have been plenty of bumps, plenty of surprises, and quite a few different teams that have been considered the #1 team in the league. But fast forward to today and it’s become clear that the Chiefs and the Packers are sitting pretty above the rest of the league.
Although, Sunday’s week 17 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals may be the Chiefs’ toughest test since they began their league-leading eight game win streak.
The Bengals are 9-6 (.600) and are currently sit at first place in a very competitive AFC North. And if Cincinnati were to beat Kansas City Sunday afternoon then the Bengals would finish as AFC North champions for the first time since 2015 when they had eight pro bowlers on their team.
A win is not the only way Cincinnati can clinch the AFC North title, they can also win the cutthroat division if:
- CIN tie + BAL loss or tie OR
- BAL loss + CLE-PIT tie
That would punch the Bengals’ first ticket to the playoffs since that same 2015 season when they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 18-16 in the Wild Card. But there are also ways where Cincinnati can clinch a playoff berth but not win their division:
- CIN tie +
- LAC loss + LV loss + MIA loss or tie OR
- LAC loss + LV loss + NE loss OR
- LAC loss + LV tie + MIA loss or tie + NE win OR
- LAC loss + LV tie + NE tie + MIA tie + BUF win or tie OR
- LAC loss + LV tie + NE loss + MIA win + BUF win or tie OR
Meanwhile, the Chiefs are #1 in their AFC West division and #1 in the entire AFC after starting the season 3-4 and placing last in the AFC West at one point. This comes as no surprise to faithful members of #ChiefsKingdom but to the sports commentators and analysts that called the Chiefs time of death two months ago this is the biggest turnaround of the season.
So Sunday’s game between the Bengals and the Chiefs–just the 30th meeting between the two franchises–is equally important for both team’s playoff berths.
But what about the rest of the league? How does this heavy-duty AFC matchup affect the rest of the NFL’s playoff chances?
For starters the Chiefs would lock up the AFC’s number one seed, a first-round bye, and home-field advantage with a victory over Cincinnati Sunday. But they would also need a loss or tie by Tennessee against Miami. The Chiefs can also secure home-field advantage and a first-round bye if they tie Cincinnati and Tennessee loses to Miami.
Should the Chiefs lose then the Bengals are not only AFC North champions but the door to the AFC’s number one seeding is still open for Tennessee and possibly even Buffalo or New England.
No team in their right mind wants to travel to Arrowhead in mid-January but add in the extra week–or possible two weeks–of rest for Kansas City and they easily become the toughest matchup for any AFC playoff team.
Who would the Chiefs even play out of the thirteen remaining AFC teams vying for playoff berths?
Tennessee Titans or Indianapolis Colts
Based off this week’s victories Kansas City’s first playoff matchup could be Indianapolis (9-6) who could clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday afternoon OR:
- IND tie + BAL loss + NE loss or tie OR
- IND tie + BAL loss + MIA loss or tie OR
Since Indianapolis lost both their matchups against their division rival Tennessee Titans it is going to be hard for them to win their AFC South division but it is still possible if they were to win out (against Las Vegas and at Jacksonville) and if the Tennessee Titans lose out (against Miami and at Houston).
But Tennessee could nip all that talk in the bud if they simply win against Miami Sunday afternoon OR:
- IND loss OR
- TEN tie + IND tie
And no matter what happens with the division title the Titans can still clinch a playoff berth this weekend with:
- TEN tie OR
- LAC loss or tie + BAL loss or tie OR
- LAC loss or tie + NE loss or tie OR
- BAL loss or tie + NE loss or tie OR
Both AFC North teams would be tough outs if it came down to it but Tennessee without their superstar running back Derrick Henry has been a different team. During the eight weeks where Henry was healthy and on the field the Titans averaged 147.6 rushing yards per game, in the seven games since he had foot surgery they have averaged 128.7.
Henry’s replacement, D’Onta Foreman, has picked up the slack extremely well but he does not compare to Indianapolis’ MVP-candidate running back Jonathan Taylor who has the most rushing touchdowns (27) for a Colts running back over their first two years.
Both teams are major running threats, both teams have great pass catchers, and both have stable quarterbacks that can make deep throws when needed. Both would be tough for Kansas City, but Arrowhead is a tough stadium in the cold, brisk January weather.
Buffalo Bills or New England Patriots
Much like Kansas City the Patriots had a poor opening to the season, starting off 2-4 and dropping games to Miami and Tampa Bay by less than a field goal, but they have surged to 9-6 under the leadership of rookie quarterback Mac Jones.
Buffalo is also 9-6 but after starting the season as Super Bowl favorites out of the AFC they have been quite a disappointment in games that matter. That is why it is impossible for them to clinch the AFC East (for the second year in a row) until week 18.
While the AFC East championship is only Buffalo’s if they win both their games–against the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets–they can still clinch a playoff berth this weekend through a lot of different combinations:
- BUF win + BAL loss or tie OR
- BUF win + LAC loss or tie + LV loss or tie OR
- BUF tie + MIA loss or tie + LAC loss + LV loss OR
- BUF tie + MIA loss or tie + LAC loss or tie + BAL loss + PIT loss or tie OR
- BUF tie + MIA loss or tie + LV loss or tie + BAL loss + PIT loss or tie OR
- BUF tie + NE loss or tie + LAC Loss + LV loss OR
- BUF tie + NE loss or tie + LAC loss or tie + BAL loss + PIT loss or tie OR
- BUF tie + NE loss or tie + LV loss or tie + BAL loss + PIT loss or tie OR
- BUF tie + LAC loss + LV loss + BAL loss + PIT loss or tie
So Buffalo has plenty of outs, many of them requiring the infrequent ending of a tie. But what about New England?
New England can regain the AFC East title that they held for sixteen of the last nineteen seasons if Buffalo drops one of their final two games and the Patriots win against Jacksonville and Miami.
Since the division title is still a week away for New England they’ll simply be looking for the playoff berth that can still come this weekend against Jacksonville. New England can clinch their 10th playoff berth in the last 11 seasons if:
- NE win + MIA loss or tie OR
- NE win + LV loss or tie OR
- NE tie + MIA loss + LAC loss or tie OR
- NE tie + MIA loss + BAL loss or tie OR
- NE tie + LV loss + BAL loss + PIT loss or tie OR
- NE tie + LV loss + LAC loss or tie + BAL loss or tie + MIA win + BUF win
(Note: There are other clinching scenarios for New England that involve multiple tie games)
New England would be happy to have the playoff spot but knowing Bill Belichick’s mindset they’re looking for more than that and will likely play with that mindset during their final two weeks.
Meanwhile, Buffalo is looking to build off their two-game win streak and ride into the playoffs with a division title and the confidence that they had when they beat Kansas City back in week five.
While all eyes of Chiefs Kingdom are going to be on the Cincinnati game there should still be a concerted effort to see the rest of the AFC’s games to see just how tough of a road the Chiefs will have to their third straight Super Bowl appearance.
The Colts, the Bengals, the Patriots, the Bills, and the Ravens are all legitimate threats that want nothing more than to knock off the defending AFC champions in the playoffs, but based off Sunday’s games they may be looking at attacking that goal in the cold, windy, extremely loud Arrowhead Stadium.