What can Chiefs gain vs. Raiders?


The game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders has been flexed into the Sunday afternoon spot. It makes sense as this is usually a hard fought and hard to predict divisional game. And in K.C.’s record setting winning streak, and the contest is certainly worthy of being highlighted. But how much is still on the line in this game?

I have been traveling through multiple states for Christmas and New Year’s. But when I saw the Denver Broncos were losing to the Cincinnati Bengals in the third quarter of Monday Night Football I made sure to find a TV catch the end of the game. I was very much looking forward to saying that this weekend would see the Chiefs on top of the AFC West. However, that was not to be.

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With the Denver win, it almost certainly has assured itself of taking the division crown. Technically, the Chiefs could still win it, but that would require Denver losing to one of the worst San Diego teams in recent memory. A team who managed only a field goal in each of their contests against Kansas City (the total score from those games was 43-6). Stranger things have happened in the NFL, but I am not holding my breath. The division appears out of reach, but that was preferred by some analysts anyway.

The Chiefs home wins this season (not including the London game which the NFL counted as a home contest) have been by an average of 7.25 points. Their road victories are by an average of 17.4 points without taking the London game into account, and 20.33 points if the win over Detroit is included. So while dethroning the Broncos would have been great, playing on the road does not seem to phase this team very much.

Practically, the question has now become where the Chiefs will travel on Wild Card weekend. Currently, their postseason would start where the regular season started – in Houston. Assuming Kansas City takes care of its own business against the Raiders, then they are guaranteed of maintaining the fifth seed in the AFC and taking on the AFC South champion. And even if the Texans lose to the Jaguars and the Colts beat the Titans, Houston will still take the division via tiebreaker.

The Chiefs also end up in the fifth seed if they fall against the Raiders and the Jets drop their game in Buffalo. The Bills have been playing rather poor football of late, losing three of their last five games, including losses to the Redskins and Eagles of the woeful NFC East. However, they did manage to beat the Jets on the road back on Nov. 12. So while New York will rightfully be favored, there is a shot that K.C. could misstep against the Raiders and still maintain their current seeding.

Where things get a little more interesting is if the Chiefs lose to Oakland and the Jets win over Buffalo. That would push Kansas City into the sixth seed and have them playing a rematch against either Denver or Cincinnati. And because the Broncos just gained the head-to-head tiebreaker, it would most likely be the Bengals slated on Wild Card weekend.

That is guaranteed unless the Broncos lose to San Diego and Cincinnati beats Baltimore. But as noted above, a Bronco loss to the Chargers seems like a fairly far fetched idea, especially with a first round bye on the line.

Mathematically then, the Chiefs may end up as a three, five, or six seed. Practically speaking though, they are looking at either the fifth or sixth seed, and more likely the fifth. So how much is really on the line versus Oakland?

The answer is not as much as would have been if Denver had lost on Monday, but still something substantial. Practically speaking, a win should lock up a trip to Houston, and a loss opens the door for starting the season in Cincinnati. The Chiefs have played at both of those locations this year and had markedly different results. The most obvious being that they beat the Texans in Week 1 and never made it into the end zone against the Bengals in Week 4.

And even though the Bengals have been without Andy Dalton for three weeks, they are still the fourth overall rated offense, as opposed to the Texans 24th-rated offense according to pro-football-reference.com. The Bengals also rank first in team defense, while Houston ranks 12th. So while none of these teams are going to be quite the same as they were in those early season match-ups, there is still plenty of reason to favor maintaining the fifth seed and playing the Texans.

That is not to say the Bengals would turn in a similar result as the last time they played the Chiefs however. Two of Cincinnati’s four losses have come in the last three weeks while Dalton has been out with injury. And one of their previous losses, with Dalton still at quarterback, was against the Texans. Add to that the impressive turnaround orchestrated in K.C. in the interim and a rematch in Paul Brown Stadium might look very different. But all the same, I think I’d rather end up in Houston.

This final week of the season is not likely to be for the division, but it is still fraught with meaning all the same.