How Will the AFC Playoff Picture Shake Out for the Kansas City Chiefs?

The Kansas City Chiefs are ready to defend their Super Bowl title as the AFC's No. 1 seed, but how will the rest of the AFC shake out?
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This weekend signals the conclusion of the Kansas City Chiefs’ regular season in their Run It Back campaign. Before the season, media projections were all over the board, from predictions of a 10-6 disappointment to arguments for an undefeated season.

The reality is that the Chiefs will finish the season with a franchise-best record at either 15-1 or 14-2. This weekend, Kansas City will host the division-rival Los Angeles Chargers in a battle that is projected to feature a lot of backup players getting playing time for both teams.

Veteran quarterback Chad Henne will get the start and many starters have already been ruled out, including wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, right tackle Mike Remmers and linebacker Ben Niemann, with plenty of other regulars still expected to sit.

The Chargers are expected to be without star pass-rusher Joey Bosa and star receiver Keenan Allen. With nothing but pride on the line for either team, there is a question if other players for the Chargers will sit to preserve their long-term health.

With that being said, this will not be the matchup everyone had hoped for after a very close 23-20 Chiefs overtime victory between these two teams in Week 2 of the season. However, it will be a game where Chiefs fans will get a longer look at some young players that could impact the Chiefs' future, including Willie Gay Jr., Khalen Saunders, and DeAndre Baker. Mecole Hardman should get the opportunity to play in the Tyreek Hill role. It may be like a glorified preseason game to close the season, but that doesn’t mean fans can’t enjoy it.

Even though this game won’t be the highlight of the Sunday slate of NFL matchups, there are plenty of other games to keep an eye on, and many have playoff implications. Heading into the final weekend of the season, the Chiefs are the only team locked into their seed at No. 1. Seeds two through seven are all up for grabs.

Key Matchups

Miami Dolphins (current AFC No. 5 seed) at Buffalo Bills (current AFC No. 2 seed)

If the Dolphins win, they are in the playoffs as the top wild card team and would finish as the No. 5 seed and would face the AFC South champion. If the Bills win, they clinch the No. 2 seed. A loss for the Dolphins could knock them out of the playoffs or knock them down in seeding. A loss for the Bills would push them no lower than the No. 3 seed, and only if the Pittsburgh Steelers win. There won’t be any “Fitzmagic” this weekend since Ryan Fitzpatrick has been placed on the COVID-19 list. Rookie Tua Tagovailoa will lead the way for the Dolphins. Some think the Bills could rest some of their key starters for a de facto bye week heading into the playoffs.

Pittsburgh Steelers (current AFC No. 3 seed) at Cleveland Browns (current AFC No. 7 seed)

The Steelers could move up to the No. 2 seed with a win and a Bills loss, but they don’t seem to be concerned about seeding, since the No. 2 seed no longer earns a first-round bye. Pittsburgh will be resting some key staters, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Browns punch their playoff ticket with a win over the Steelers but could still back into the postseason even with a loss.

Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals

The Ravens are on a roll, and the Bengals, while they have played better lately, are still a bottom-five team in the league this season. Baltimore should lock up their wild card spot with a win in Cincinnati this weekend.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts

The Jaguars started their season with a 27-20 win over the Colts in Week 1. Since then, they've lost 14 in a row. I don’t anticipate a repeat this week as the Colts have shown they are worthy of being a playoff contender since that loss early in the year. The Colts will need to get a win and some help to sneak into the playoffs. If Indy wins, they would just need a loss from the Titans to win the AFC South. If the Titans win, the Colts will need a loss from the Browns, Ravens or Dolphins to get one of the final wild card spots. This game will be taking place at the same time as the Chiefs game.

Tennessee Titans (current AFC No. 4 seed) at Houston Texans

The Titans have been in control of their destiny since very early in the season. The fate of the AFC South is in their own hands with a victory over the Texans. The Titans could also miss the playoffs altogether if they lose and the Colts, Browns, Ravens, and Dolphins all win. If the Colts, Dolphins and Ravens all win, the Browns could still lose and win a tie-breaker over the Titans if Tennessee loses to the Texans. This game will also take place at the same time as the Chiefs game, so keep an eye on the scoreboard.

Washington Football Team at Philadelphia Eagles

Yes, this is a battle of two NFC East teams with losing records, headlining Week 17 on Sunday Night Football. Why should this be of interest to Chiefs fans? Alex Smith is on track to be the starting quarterback for Washington. What better way for this comeback player of the year story to conclude than a victory in primetime to lead his team to a playoff berth? There is also the Andy Reid connection to Philly and Doug Pederson is still the head coach for the Eagles, but Alex Smith is the story.

The Chiefs will take it easy during the final weekend of the regular season. Chiefs fans should relax as well. The playoff picture will shake out and the path back to the Super Bowl will be a little bit more clear after the dust has settled from these games. Get your popcorn ready and enjoy the weekend of football ahead. No matter who wins and how the seeding shakes out, the AFC's road to Super Bowl LV runs through Kansas City.