For the first time since the 2020 season, the Kansas City Chiefs, in terms of playoff positioning, will have nothing to play for. They're 100% locked into the No. 3 seed and the Los Angeles Chargers have been eliminated from postseason contention for a while.
What do we know about the AFC Playoff Race heading into the NFL's final week of regular season games?
- The Chiefs are locked into the #3 seed.
- The Ravens have clinched the #1 seed and the Browns have secured the No. 5 seed
- The Dolphins are officially in the playoffs, but their specific seed is still very much up undetermined.
- The Bills have the widest range of potential outcomes. They could be as high as the #2 seed or even miss the playoffs. They would clinch a playoff birth with a win or a loss by either the Steelers or Jaguars. If both Pittsburgh and Jacksonville win in Week 18, the Bills would be in a situation where a loss eliminates them, but a win earns them the #2 seed.
- The winner of the Bills-Dolphins matchup on Sunday Night Football will win the AFC East and the #2 seed in the AFC.
- In terms of the AFC South, the Jaguars win the division with a win over the Titans, but the winner of the Colts-Texans would claim the division in the case of a Jacksonville loss.
- After Cleveland locked up the #5 seed, the Dolphins, Texans, Colts, Steelers, Bills, and Jaguars are eligible for the final two wild card positions.
Since the Chiefs are officially the #3 seed in the AFC, what are the ideal outcomes in Week 18 so they get a favorable draw in the AFC Playoff Picture?
Because the Chiefs are the third seed, here are the teams eligible to travel to Arrowhead for a Wild Card Round matchup as the sixth seed (not factoring in ties):
- Buffalo Bills: Miami beats Buffalo, Jacksonville beats Tennessee, and Baltimore beats Pittsburgh.
- Miami Dolphins: Buffalo beats Miami.
- Indianapolis Colts: Indianapolis beats Houston, Miami beats Buffalo, and Jacksonville beats Tennessee.
- Houston Texans: Houston beats Indianapolis, Miami beats Buffalo, and Jacksonville beats Tennessee.
- Pittsburgh Steelers: Pittsburgh beats Baltimore, Miami beats Buffalo, and Jacksonville beats Tennessee.
Depending on the source, the Dolphins are the most likely team to be the No. 6 seed at the end of this weekend. This is due to them having the simplest path as only one Week 18 game affects whether or not they're in the sixth slot, their own.
In my opinion, the most ideal playoff scenario for the Chiefs would be one that includes the Buffalo Bills missing the playoffs entirely and an underwhelming team traveling to Kansas City for the Wild Card game. This would eliminate a team that's on KC's level (or is even straight-up better than the Chiefs) from the field before the playoffs even start and would also provide them an easier route to the Divisional Round. Due to C.J. Stroud's potential to steal a game, it would be preferable that the Texans not be the team the Chiefs face next weekend.
So what does an ideal Week 18 scenario actually look like? First, the Steelers would have to beat the Ravens early Saturday evening. Second, the Colts will need to take care of business at home against the Texans. Third, the Jaguars need to beat the Titans on the road. Finally, the Dolphins would have to defeat the Bills in the NFL's regular-season finale.
If this scenario goes down, here is how the AFC Playoff Picture would shake out:
1. Baltimore Ravens
2. Miami Dolphins
3. Kansas City Chiefs
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
5. Cleveland Browns
6. Indianapolis Colts
7. Pittsburgh Steelers
This would be the best scenario for the Chiefs. Although the Colts have been scrappy this season with Gardner Minshew, they're certainly a more favorable matchup than Buffalo, Miami, or Houston. Since the Steelers being the #6 seed would involve the Bills making the playoffs, Kansas City fans should hope that isn't the case, though the first-round matchup would be ideal for the Chiefs. Fewer good teams in the playoffs will make it easier to win three straight playoff games, with one or two of those likely being on the road.
In this layout, the Chiefs would ideally roll over the Colts in the Wild Card Round, despite the playoff demons against that franchise. Then, they would either travel to a beat-up Miami (whom they've already defeated this season) or would see one of Joe Flacco (who's been very turnover-prone despite the feel-good story) or a hobbled Trevor Lawrence come to town for the Divisional Round. The Chiefs would then have to take their chances in Baltimore for the AFC Championship unless they get an extremely favorable draw.
Is this a likely scenario? No. The Bills and Texans are both favored to win this weekend, and either winning would mess it up, especially the former. The Chiefs put themselves in a tough position, losing several games they shouldn't have, so there's not going to be an easy path to the Super Bowl this year. Unless they get super lucky with the Ravens losing in the Divisional Round (again) as well as the AFC East winner fizzling out early, they're not hosting the AFC Championship for the sixth consecutive season. They made their bed and now they have to lie in it.
In the end, the specific matchups won't be that important (probably). If they continue to turn the ball over consistently, take dumb penalties, and struggle to score points, it doesn't matter who they face as they're capable of losing to literally anybody. If they do "clean things up", like the team has been saying for months now, they can beat anyone by virtue of having Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid.
Chiefs fans can rest assured their team will be in the playoffs no matter what, and you have one last chance to boost your bankroll for the ride at FanDuel! Just sign up, deposit $10 or more and then bet $5 or more on Chiefs vs. Chargers this week. You'll win $150 in bonus bets, win or lose! Sign up with FanDuel today.