The AFC West will be the main focus of a potentially wild, inaugural Week 18 of the NFL season. These games will be featured as standalone matchups this weekend, starting with the Kansas City Chiefs playing at the Denver Broncos on Saturday afternoon.
The Chiefs will be seeking their 13th straight victory over the Broncos. After the Chiefs won an ugly 22-9 game in windy Kansas City just over a month ago, they continued riding a winning streak until it was broken last week against the Cincinnati Bengals. During that winning streak, they also had victories over their other AFC West foes, the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers.
However, the Broncos' only victory in that time frame came against the Detroit Lions. Meanwhile, they also lost to the Bengals to pair with losses against the Raiders and Chargers. It hasn’t been a pretty second half of the season for Denver.
The Broncos come into the game with nothing but pride to play for, as the team can’t make the playoffs. Their starting quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, is injured. This one could get out of hand quickly if the Broncos' defense doesn’t show up in a big way.
The Chiefs' offense looked unstoppable in the first half at Cincinnati before slowing down in the second half. The defense showed it could get pressure but individual matchups between Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and whoever was trying to cover him didn’t pan out as the Chiefs would have liked. If the Chiefs play a similar game against the Broncos, it will likely be a blowout victory for Kansas City.
The Chiefs showed they have some things they can work on before the playoffs, and having a game on Saturday will give them an extra day to rest and prepare compared to the rest of the AFC playoff field.
The other two AFC West teams, the Chargers and Raiders, will battle for one of the final AFC Wild Card spots. There are a number of combinations where each team could land if they win, including being placed anywhere from the final wild card team as the seventh seed to the top wild card team as the fifth seed.
If the games play out as expected, and the favorites win, the final seeding in the AFC would be:
This is how the standings look as of Friday as well. With that said, it never seems to be that simple. There will likely be an upset or two.
The Bengals will be resting Joe Burrow and possibly other key players for the playoffs. Unfortunately for the teams that want to get ahead of the Bengals, the Browns (who will be facing the Bengals this weekend) won’t have quarterback Baker Mayfield as he’s opted to have season-ending surgery. That game will likely be an ugly battle of the backups.
It’s also intriguing because anything could happen. If the Bengals lose and the Buffalo Bills win, they would flip spots in the standings. If the Bills get upset by the New York Jets and the New England Patriots beat the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots would win the division and the Bills would be a wild card team.
The craziest scenario for the Bills would be if they lost while the Colts, Chargers, and Patriots won. That would knock the Bills all the way down to the final wild card spot as the seventh seed and could set up a wild card weekend matchup with the Chiefs in Kansas City.
Assuming the Titans beat the Texans and hold on to the one-seed and the Chiefs beat the Broncos and hold on to the two-seed, the Chiefs could face any of the potential wildcard contenders: Patriots, Bills, Colts, Chargers, Raiders, Steelers or Ravens.
In the wildest of all scenarios, the Raiders could lose to the Chargers and still get in as the final wild card team. For this to happen, the Jacksonville Jaguars would need to beat the Colts and the Ravens would need to beat the Steelers. This would be a fun scenario if you want to see the Raiders come to Arrowhead on wild card weekend.
No one wants to think about the Chiefs losing to the Broncos, but if that does happen, the Chiefs could slip as far as the 4 seed if the Bengals and Bills both win this weekend. Of course, the easiest solution to not care as much about wild card games would be for the Chiefs to win and the Titans to lose, setting the Chiefs up with the lone bye and top overall seed in the AFC.
Week 18 could be one with seed placements being tossed around until the Chargers and Raiders wrap up on Sunday Night Football. It could also be boring and the favorites could sail into the playoffs, maintaining their current seeding.
Whatever happens, all eyes will be on the AFC West from start to finish. By the time the weekend is over, we will know the path the Chiefs have ahead of them as they try to navigate their way back to a third straight Super Bowl appearance.