Breaking Down the Chiefs Playoff Chances

After digesting Sunday and Monday's NFL games today, it occurred to me that this Kansas City Chiefs team not only can make the playoffs, but be a factor in determining who will ultimately win it all. Most of the playoff dominos are falling into place, and the Chiefs do indeed control their own destiny, but there are several different scenarios that could take place.

Although nothing is certain in the NFL, it's pretty safe to say the Indianapolis Colts will win the AFC South. They moved to 11-0 after defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers, no one except the Jacksonville Jaguars is even close, and they just lost their starting quarterback Sir Byron Leftwich.

Even with Sunday's loss to the Chiefs, the New England Patriots will more than likely win the AFC East, and will be the only representative from that division. The Denver Broncos have been stellar and regrettably masterful in this season as they currently lead the tough AFC West by two games and squarely have a post-season slot locked up. That leaves the 7-4 Chiefs battling the Cincinnati Bengals (8-3), the Jacksonville Jaguars (8-3), the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4) and the San Diego Chargers (7-4) for the remaining two wild card spots.

Of the those teams with a realistic shot at making the playoffs, the Jaguars are the only team that could stumble once along the way and be in solid shape for a wild card seat. In fact, other than the Colts, the Jaguars have a fairly benign schedule. However, they do have to play the rest of the season without their starting quarterback, Byron Leftwich, who's out with a broken ankle, and will be without running back Fred Taylor for a spell. With divisional games at home against the Colts and the frisky Tennessee Titans, and traveling to the desperate Texans, the Jaguars easy remaining schedule looks way more difficult than it appeared before last Sunday's games now that David Garrard is the teams starter the remained of the 2005 season.

On paper, it would appear the Chiefs have the toughest remaining schedule, but realistically, the Steelers have a higher degree of difficulty on the road to playoffs. The Steelers are in a dogfight with the Bengals for the AFC North crown. After losing to the Colts on Monday Night, the Steelers host a confident Bengals team looking to avenge an early season loss. From there, the Steelers host a red-hot Chicago Bears club, and then they have to face a resurgent Minnesota Vikings team. There are at least two losses lurking there, and possibly three. The Steelers are good, but the remaining schedule will prove too tough for them to overcome.

Meanwhile, in the AFC West, three teams could make the playoffs. While the Steelers and Bengals are fighting it out up north, the Chiefs, Broncos and Chargers will be slugging it out. The Chargers start off with a tough game against the dangerous Raiders team then get a little bit of a break. Then they have a tough stretch against the Colts and the Chiefs on the road, and wrap up the season against the Broncos. The Chargers are going to have a tough time avoiding at least two losses in that stretch.

Having said all that, the Chiefs can make the playoffs, but the Chiefs have put themselves in a tough spot. Without a couple of bad losses earlier this season to the Eagles and Bills, the Chiefs would be tied for the division lead. Winning out will guarantee the Chiefs a playoff spot and a shot at the division if Denver stumbles one more time.

Of course that's easier said than done, and as schizophrenic as this Chiefs team has been, that's going to be a tough proposition. The Chiefs still need to get better at rushing the passer, and left tackle Willie Roaf has to stay healthy for the balance of the season. Last Sunday against the Patriots, the Chiefs showed a team that could make some serious noise in the postseason, and if they continue to play that way, they could win the division.

I know that's a huge statement, but it's definitely possible. Although they've been excellent this season, the Broncos haven't won the divisional crown yet. Not only do they have to have to play the Chiefs Sunday, but they wrap up the season with games against the Raiders at home and they travel to the Chargers.

Winning out would give the Chiefs a playoff spot and put them in position to win the division, if in fact, Denver stumbles. That may be wishful thinking, and is very unlikely, but if the Chiefs beat Denver Sunday, it's a big step towards making it a reality. Beating the Patriots was a huge confidence booster for this Chiefs team, and is the kind of win that brings a team together.

Bottom line-the Chiefs will make the playoffs. The Cincinnati Bengals will win the AFC North, and the Broncos will ultimately win the AFC West. The Chiefs will make the playoffs as a wild card team, along with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

If the Chiefs defense continues to improve, the Chiefs will be able to ride Larry Johnson, Trent Green and Tony Gonzalez to success in the playoffs.

Whether or not they can go all the way, remains to be seen. But at least they know where they'll stand if they do. At stake is a seat atop the AFC West and a first round bye in the playoffs.

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