The Kansas City Chiefs and the NFL Playoffs have become synonymous since Andy Reid’s arrival as head coach in 2013, advancing to the winter showdown in all but one season. Following perhaps the most disheartening loss of the season this past Sunday in Nashville, many are beginning to question Kansas City’s ability to turn around what has been a disappointing campaign to date.
Sitting at 3-4, the Chiefs are certainly still in contention, with the top teams all sporting records with two losses. However, it’s a jumbled mess in the middle, and Kansas City will need to wade through the muddy waters to secure a playoff spot.
Even with the NFL expanding the playoffs to seven teams last season, it was no cakewalk for teams hoping to get in. At 10-6, last year’s Miami Dolphins missed out on punching their ticket to the postseason. Yes, the NFL has added a 17th game to the regular season, but the last seed to make the AFC race should finish with a similar record.
While this year’s standings are not nearly as top-heavy as 2020 was, as of now, one should expect at least a 9-8 record would be needed to reach the playoffs. Even then, tiebreakers would play a significant role in determining the final seed.
This is important to note as you peek at the current standings. The Cleveland Browns occupy the No. 7 seed for the final playoff position at 4-3. While they could theoretically tumble as their lineup continues to be decimated by injury, a 5-5 finish would still put them at 9-8. And then there is a litany of other teams contending for the final spot, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, and Indianapolis Colts, that currently either have a better record than the Chiefs or are well ahead in the AFC tiebreaker rules. Kansas City currently has a 1-4 record within the conference.
The hole the Chiefs have placed themselves in with their abysmal AFC record might force them to look beyond a 9-8 finish, as tiebreakers will almost surely not fall in their favor. No, Kansas City will more than likely need to roar back in the second half of their schedule and finish the season at 10-7 to qualify for the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season.
However, the remaining schedule is not kind for the Chiefs. When stacking up current records of upcoming opponents, they have by far the most difficult strength of schedule in the NFL.
Kansas City will need to navigate this tough schedule by finishing 7-3 to reach that 10-7 mark. For a team that lacks consistency and currently finds themselves at their lowest point in the Mahomes era, they will need to make some significant changes quickly to find seven wins on the schedule.
Lucky for the Arrowhead faithful, even as poorly as the Chiefs have played of late, the NFL has gifted them what should be a slam-dunk win this upcoming Monday when the New York Giants visit Kansas City. If the Chiefs lose this game, disregard the rest of this article and turn to the off-season already.
For the sake of our collective sanity, let’s assume the Chiefs prevail on Monday Night Football and find themselves back at .500 with a 4-4 record. They still need to finish with six more wins to reach 10 on the season. Or, perhaps more fittingly, they’ll need to avoid four losses in what surely will continue being the NFL’s most difficult remaining schedule.
The KC defense is an absolute mess and will probably continue to be so. Average offenses have troubled the Chiefs, and they face three elite offenses with three elite quarterbacks in November. The visiting Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys have many wondering which of the two will hang 50 points on the Chiefs in Arrowhead. Honestly, they both could. Sandwiched between those two challenging home games lies a visit to the AFC West-leading Las Vegas Raiders. Division games on the road are already a challenge, and quarterback Derek Carr is playing the best football of his career. Calling this game a must-win might be an understatement.
Unless the Chiefs find a way to drastically improve their defense and stop turning the ball over by November, they could very easily find themselves with a 0-3 stretch, effectively squashing all hope in making the playoffs before Thanksgiving even arrives. However, even in the highly optimistic scenario that the Chiefs squeeze out a victory in that stretch (they might be underdogs in all three), they could only afford to lose a single game the rest of their season.
With two more divisional road games remaining in Denver and Los Angeles, along with a visit to Cincinnati, their outlook sure seems bleak. The Chiefs will need to perform repeatedly at a level they have not reached all season.
The Chiefs still have the game’s best quarterback in Mahomes. They have a Hall of Fame coach in Reid, who has been in this position before and found a way to get his team through adversity. However, a poor start and a daunting schedule make their path to the playoffs a perilous one. In Kansas City, the horrors of Halloween won’t end this weekend.