Many lost faith in the Kansas City Chiefs after they dropped five of their first six games during a miserable start that also including losing star running back Jamaal Charles for the season.
After all, no team in 45 years had qualified for the playoffs after starting 1-5.
Now on the verge of a team-record 10th consecutive victory, the Chiefs are heading to the postseason and have a shot at the AFC West title with a win over visiting Oakland as Charles Woodson plays his final game for the Raiders on Sunday.
Kansas City (10-5) locked up a playoff berth with last week's 17-13 win over Cleveland, and a victory over the Raiders (7-8) coupled with a Denver loss to San Diego would give the Chiefs their first division crown since 2010, the AFC's third seed and a home game in the wild-card round.
Not bad for a team that won its opener before dropping the next five. Charles tore his ACL in an 18-17 loss to Chicago in Week 5, but Charcandrick West has averaged 90 yards from scrimmage and scored five touchdowns in the eight games since.
Jeremy Maclin is heading to the Pro Bowl in his first season with the Chiefs, catching 84 passes - one short of his career high set last season with Philadelphia - for 1,034 yards and seven touchdowns. Kansas City didn't throw a touchdown pass to a wide receiver all of last season.
Maclin has caught a TD in four of the last five games for the Chiefs, who joined the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals as the only teams in NFL history to make the playoffs after a 1-5 start.
''It seems like every week we look back at the film and I felt like I could have gone Jeremy's way more,'' quarterback Alex Smith said. "He consistently wins. Even when they try to take him away, he consistently wins. He's that type of player.''
Not everything is going their way, though. Justin Houston hasn't played in the last four because of a hyperextended knee, and fellow Pro Bowl linebacker Tamba Hali missed the Browns game with a broken finger.
With both out last week, the Chiefs failed to record a sack for the first time since a Week 4 loss to Cincinnati. Houston and Hali have combined for 14 of Kansas City's 41 sacks that are tied for fourth-most in the league.
''I mean, you're talking about two Pro Bowl guys, best rushers in the NFL, on the same team,'' linebacker Derrick Johnson said. ''When they get back, that's a plus. But it's always the next man up."
Both are questionable for Sunday. Houston practiced for the first time in more than a month Friday.
"We'll see how that goes. They've both been rehabbing and working hard," Reid said. "They were both driving me crazy on the sideline (in practice) like they wanted to be in there. We'll see."
The biggest remaining question for the Raiders is whether or not they'll move to Los Angeles after the season. They haven't made the playoffs since winning the Super Bowl in 2002, although an 8-8 campaign could be considered a success after winning 11 games over the previous three years combined.
Second-year quarterback Derek Carr has emerged with 31 touchdowns passes and hooked up with Michael Crabtree for an eighth TD in last Thursday's 23-20 overtime win over San Diego.
The result was especially thrilling for Woodson, who played for the last time in Oakland after announcing he'll retire after the season.
''Charles is one of the greatest players to ever put on a uniform,'' coach Jack Del Rio said. ''He's a great Raider. To be able to send him out the right way, to be able to cap off a special evening like this, our last home game of the year ... I'm just really proud of the effort.''
Oakland will face another tough challenge in the last game of Woodson's career, and it'll do so without the services of fullback Marcel Reece, who will serve the first of a four-game suspension.
Reece, who was selected for his fourth straight Pro Bowl but will be ineligible to compete, received the penalty for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
''He's a part of what we do, but it's not like we're taking out 50, or 60 or 70 percent of our offense when we remove him," Del Rio said. "We'll get the next guy up and be ready to roll.''
The Chiefs have won four of the last five meetings, including a 34-20 victory in Week 13 as Maclin caught a pair of touchdown passes. Carr had two TDs but also threw a career-high three interceptions.
Oakland has lost the last two meetings in Kansas City after winning the previous six.