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Chiefs Playoff Scenarios: We Did the Math So You Don't Have To

With a weekend of NFL action ahead, the Chiefs could find themselves with any number of opponents across from them in the first week of the playoffs.

Now that we're entering the final week of the 2021 regular season, the first-ever Week 18, the playoffs are approaching and the scenarios are finally starting to narrow into something comprehendible. There are still many different things that can happen, as eight different games this week can affect the Chiefs' seeding and potential wild card opponent. Let's take a look at both the most likely and most wild potential scenarios for the Chiefs heading into next week!

Images and stats via the ESPN Playoff Machine and The New York Times' Interactive Playoff Picture.

Scenario 1: Mahomes vs. Herbert IV


This scenario is, in my view, the most likely one for the Chiefs. The results that would need to happen are all of the most likely results: the Chiefs win against the Broncos, the Titans win against the Texans, the Colts win against the Jaguars and the Bills win the AFC East with a Bills win against the Jets or Patriots loss against the Dolphins. This is also one of the most challenging scenarios for the Chiefs, as I consider the Chargers as a top-three threat to the Chiefs in the AFC with the Bengals and Bills. Justin Herbert is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, putting up a season which I would argue has put him in the top-five for the MVP race.


The Chiefs and Chargers can also face off in a 3/6 matchup, but that would require a less-likely scenario, including the Broncos beating the Chiefs, the Browns beating the Bengals, the Bills beating the Jets and the Jaguars beating the Colts. This would be an unbelievable matchup to kick off the playoffs, with two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL dueling for the third time this season after splitting the first two games.

Scenario 2: Chiefs get the one-seed and first-round bye

Chiefs 1 Seed Odds NYT Week 18

This is the favorite and simplest scenario of the group, but also unfortunately not a likely one. First, the Chiefs have to win against the Broncos. That seems simple enough! Then the Chiefs only need one more result to get back to the AFC's one-seed and the playoff bye, which sounds great until you remember it would require the Houston Texans to defeat the Tennessee Titans with a potential return of Derrick Henry. As improved as the Texans have been of late, I believe we're going to have to prepare for Chiefs football next week. 

Scenario 3: The easiest wild card matchup for KC

There are plenty of teams who the Chiefs could play in the wild card round, assuming they play in it. Their potential opponents as the three-seed would be the Colts (39% odds of being the six-seed), Raiders (25%), Patriots (20%), Chargers (15%) and Bills (2%). Their potential opponents as the four-seed would be the Patriots (56% odds of being the five-seed), Raiders (23%), Colts (20%), Chargers (1%) and Bills (<1%).

The easiest scenario, besides the chance to face the Raiders for the third time, finally pops up for the Chiefs in the scenario that they get the two-seed. The seven-seed possibilities include the Chargers (38% odds of being the seven-seed), Colts (22%), Patriots (15%), Steelers (8%), Bills (7%), Raiders (6%) and Ravens (3%).


The Steelers, who the Chiefs just dominated in Week 16, have an 8% chance of making the playoffs and being the seven-seed. For the Steelers to make the playoffs, they need a win against the Ravens and a Colts loss to the Jaguars. Oh, and the Chargers and Raiders would need to not-tie. If the Chargers and Raiders tie, the Steelers are knocked out.

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Scenario 4: Speaking of the Raiders...


The Raiders enter Week 18 with a 55% chance of making the playoffs, which seems wild considering they are currently entering the week outside of the playoff picture and as an underdog. But if they win, they're in. However, even if they lose to the Chargers, they have an 11% chance of making the playoffs. With a loss, the Raiders would need a Ravens win against the Steelers and a Jaguars win against the Colts. Obviously, the second result seems unlikely, but any given Sunday...

With the Raiders being one of the two most likely teams to get either the five- or six-seed, there is a real shot the Chiefs play the Raiders next week if they end up losing to the Broncos, and they could still play Vegas if they win. 

Scenario 5: Who can still get the one-seed?

Currently, three teams of note are still in a solid position to be in play for the one-seed, with the Titans just needing to win, the Chiefs needing a win and a Titans loss, and the Bengals needing a win along with a Chiefs loss and a Titans loss. However, there is one other team that can take the top spot: the 10-6 New England Patriots.


With a win against the Dolphins, a Bills loss against the Jets, a Chiefs loss against the Broncos and a Titans loss against the Texans, the Patriots would jump from the five-seed to the one-seed in the final week of the regular season, even if the Bengals ended up winning their game against the Browns. In this scenario, the Chiefs would be either the three- or four-seed, depending on the Bengals' result, and would likely play the Chargers/Raiders winner or the Colts, with the Bills falling from the four-seed to the seven-seed unless the Jaguars beat the Colts. 

Scenario 6: The Chiefs' worst-case scenario

Chiefs 4 Seed Odds NYT Week 18

Noting that the Chiefs have already clinched the AFC West, the lowest seed the Chiefs can fall to is the four-seed, and they currently have a 15% chance of that happening. If the Chiefs lose and the Bengals win, those odds increase to 94%, then just needing the AFC East division-winner to win in Week 18. For the Chiefs to then face the Chargers (as the five-seed) would require the Patriots winning, the Bills losing and the Colts losing.


This is the worst-case scenario for the Chiefs. Just marvel at how terrible of a draw this would be: KC gets the Herbert and Brandon Staley-led Chargers in the wild card round, likely Derrick Henry and the Titans in Nashville in the divisional round and then, if they made it to the AFC Championship, a probable road matchup against one of two high-performing young quarterbacks, one of which would likely be snowy and against a great defense. That would be a gauntlet.

In total, there are four different seeds the Chiefs can find themselves in and six different opponents they can face next week. There are even more scenarios, but these are the most likely ones as we look ahead to the Chiefs' next playoff campaign.

Images and stats via the ESPN Playoff Machine and The New York Times' Interactive Playoff Picture. For more Kansas City Chiefs analytics and analysis, follow @SIChiefs and @WichitaChiefSam on Twitter.