AFC Playoff Picture, Week 18: Chiefs lock up the #3 seed

How does the AFC playoff picture look after the 17th week of the NFL season and where do the KC Chiefs stack up?

Dec 31, 2023; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs place kicker Harrison Butker (7)
Dec 31, 2023; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs place kicker Harrison Butker (7) / Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

After failing to beat the Raiders on Christmas to win the AFC West, the Kansas City Chiefs got a much-needed bounce-back win over the Cincinnati Bengals to clinch their eighth straight division title.

Coming into the week, the scenarios for the Chiefs were pretty straightforward. If they won, the AFC West crown was theirs and they would be no lower than the #3 seed in the AFC. If they lost, they risked their division title for another week (assuming at least one of Las Vegas or Denver won on Sunday).

As it turned out, they won, locked up both the AFC West and the #3 seed (since Buffalo beat New England). Because their seeding is locked into place, the Chiefs have a lot of flexibility heading into their regular-season finale against the Chargers on Sunday.

Despite the loss in Week 16, K.C.'s spot in the standings didn't change as they stood pat as the #3 seed. Where are they after their win versus the Bengals?

AFC playoff picture, Week 18

1. Baltimore Ravens (13-3)

2. Miami Dolphins (11-5)

3. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)

4. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-7)

5. Cleveland Browns (11-5)

6. Buffalo Bills (10-6)

7. Indianapolis Colts (9-7)

In the hunt: Houston Texans (9-7) and Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7).

The Browns dominated the Jets on Thursday Night Football to clinch their first playoff birth since 2020. The Colts beat the Raiders to keep their playoff hopes alive and eliminate Las Vegas from contention. The Ravens dismantled the Dolphins to lock up the AFC's #1 seed. The Bills escaped the Patriots after a rough start to the game. The Texans dominated the Titans to set up a showdown with Indianapolis in Week 18.

The Chiefs locked up the AFC West and the #3 seed behind six Harrison Butker field goals in the victory over the Bengals. The Broncos were eliminated from playoff contention despite beating the Chargers. The Steelers kept their faint playoff hopes alive with a win in Seattle. The Jaguars shut out the Panthers as Carolina secured the worst record in the NFL.

After an eventful Week 17, the #1, #3, and #5 seeds in the AFC have been officially locked up by the Ravens, Chiefs, and Browns, respectively. It would be surprising if Kansas City or Cleveland played starters in Week 18 since they're both locked into their playoff position and will both have to play on Wild Card weekend.

Baltimore will likely rest starters but they may play them for a little bit to avoid rust off a three-week break. The Ravens were in the same position in 2019 and sat their starters in the final week, but lost in their first playoff game to Tennessee, who went on to lose to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship that year.

The Miami Dolphins have also clinched their playoff spot, but their specific slot is still very much undetermined.

It's no secret at this point, but this version of the Chiefs is the weakest in the Mahomes era. The odds of making another Super Bowl run are very low but not impossible. We've seen the Ravens lose in the divisional round as the #1 seed in recent years and it wouldn't be shocking to see Miami or Buffalo lose in the first two rounds. If the Chiefs take care of business in the Wild Card and Divisional rounds, they could host their sixth straight AFC Championship Game, but the odds are stacked against them.

According to Team Rankings, among AFC teams, the Ravens are the clear favorites to win Super Bowl LVIII at 23.9%. They're followed by the Bills (8.9%), Dolphins (7.4%), Chiefs (5.4%), and then the Browns (2.2%). The favorites to capture the final three playoff spots in the AFC are the Bills (96.3%), Jaguars (78.3%), and Texans (58.9%). All three teams are in with a victory, while the Colts (54.5%) are also in with a Week 18 victory, but the Steelers (12.0%) will need to win as well as a loss by either the Jaguars or Bills to clinch a wild card spot.

Barring very weird results in the AFC playoffs, the Chiefs are not going to host yet another AFC title game. It isn't impossible the #4 seed Los Angeles Rams did host the NFC Championship in the 2021-22 playoffs. In addition, if Kansas City will advance to Super Bowl LVIII, they'll likely have to play the first true road game in the Patrick Mahomes era and their first one since the 2015-16 season.

If the Chiefs are going to make another deep playoff run, they will need to figure it out on offense. Yes, they played (relatively) well against the Bengals, since they had zero pre-snap penalties and flashed a more explosive passing game, but it's not enough to restore the full trust of fans. They still had a turnover and Marquez Valdes-Scantling is still seeing a significant workload, despite his numerous drops.

If the Chiefs can clean up the giveaways and get solid play from their wide receivers, they have a chance. If not, they might as well start booking vacations for late January and early February. Hopefully, an unofficial bye week will serve them well.