Chiefs set sights on AFC West title, easier playoff path
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) There was no shortage of smiles inside the Kansas City locker room after the Chiefs unceremoniously dumped the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos from the AFC playoff picture Sunday night.
Nor was there a sense of accomplishment.
The Chiefs knew even before kickoff they had locked up a wild-card spot, thanks to Pittsburgh rallying past Baltimore earlier in the day.
But their 33-10 rout of the Broncos kept alive their hopes of winning the AFC West, and with that comes a first-round bye and at least one home playoff game.
''Everyone just has to stay on task. We have so much ahead of us,'' Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones said.
''We can still win the division, you know? Our hopes are farther than the playoffs. We want to win the division and clinch the bye. Our mind is on the next game. We are on to San Diego.''
The Chiefs (11-4) are a game back of Oakland (12-3) in the division race, but they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker by virtue of two wins over the Raiders earlier this season.
So, if the Chiefs win their regular-season finale at San Diego and the Broncos beat Oakland - which will be without quarterback Derek Carr, who broke his leg on Saturday - in a game that will be happening simultaneously, coach Andy Reid's crew will win its first division title since 2010.
Earn all the trappings that come with it, too.
And that sure beats opening the postseason on the road without getting a week off.
''We always want to play at home,'' said Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, whose team is playoff-bound in back-to-back seasons for the first time since making it every year from 1990-95.
''You hear opposing coaches, opposing players, talk about what a difficult place this is to play,'' he said. ''We want to be able to bring that playoff game to Arrowhead. We want our fans to experience it.''
As it stands, the Chiefs are the No. 5 seed and would head to Houston for the first round. It would be a rematch of last year's playoff opener that Kansas City won in a rout.
But the ramifications of that playoff seed quickly became evident the following week, when the Chiefs were forced to hit the road.
They played competitively in New England, but were done in by injuries and a few miscues that cost them dearly against a team virtually impossible to beat at home.
The Chiefs would avoid a similar trip to Foxborough until at least the AFC title game if they can win the AFC West. That would allow them to ascend to the No. 2 seed in the conference.
''We want to get that 2 seed,'' Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill said, ''and get that bye.''
Ah, yes, the bye. The Chiefs certainly could use the extra week off in early January considering the growing number of guys dealing with nagging late-season injuries.
Top pass rusher Justin Houston was held out of Sunday's game with swelling in his surgically repaired left knee, though Reid dismissed it as ''part of how this thing goes.''
Cornerback Phillip Gaines was also inactive with knee trouble, and running back Spencer Ware bruised his ribs during the game.
The week off would also be helpful for linebacker Justin March-Lillard, who returned last week from injured reserve.
March-Lillard had surgery to repair a broken bone in his hand and still needs time to get up to speed, but his return would fortify a defense sorely missing linebacker Derrick Johnson.
The veteran ruptured his Achilles tendon a couple of weeks ago and is done for the season.
All of which is why Reid delivered a simple message to the Chiefs after their impressive victory over the Broncos, one that resonated with everyone in that smiling locker room.
''Keep working. We have a lot to do,'' Chiefs defensive tackle Dontari Poe recalled his coach saying. ''We are in the dance now, and we have some stuff to do when we get there. So keep working.''
Notes: Ware was due to have an MRI on his ribs, but coach Andy Reid said Monday the results were not yet available. Reid also said that Houston would be evaluated again before Wednesday to decide whether he will practice this week.
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