KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs need to bring a sense of urgency to their meeting rooms and practice field on Wednesday as they begin preparations for Sunday’s game against the New York Giants.
The difficulty of their path through the postseason depends on it.
It’s going to be difficult for the Chiefs to blow their lead and not win the division championship, even considering how they’ve played over the past four games. The Raiders, who have upcoming games against the Patriots, Cowboys and Eagles, plus a December game against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, have a decidedly more difficult remaining schedule than Kansas City. The Chiefs have one game remaining against an opponent with a record above .500, that being a Week 12 game at Arrowhead against the Buffalo Bills, currently 5-4.
The Chargers and Broncos can’t be taken seriously as contenders given the way they’ve played in recent weeks.
The push for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs — or even just a first-round bye — is more problematic. The Chiefs trail the Steelers and Patriots, each at 7-2, by a game. Climbing past even one of those teams, particularly the Steelers, will be a chore for the Chiefs. Pittsburgh beat Kansas City last month at Arrowhead. The Chiefs own the tiebreaker over the Patriots thanks to a season-opening victory in New England.
Pittsburgh and New England have remaining schedules that are more difficult than that of Kansas City, but not by much. The Steelers and Patriots will meet in Week 15 in Pittsburgh, and they each have two additional games remaining against teams currently above .500. The Steelers play against the Titans and Packers. The Patriots have two games against the Bills.
Also in the AFC, Tennessee and Jacksonville are both 6-3. The Titans would win the AFC South if the season ended today, thanks to their September victory over the Jaguars, but the teams will meet again on the final day of the regular season.
The Chiefs would be the AFC’s No. 3 seed if the season ended today. They would be ahead of the Titans because of a better record in conference games.
But being the No. 3 seed would be a dubious prize for the Chiefs. They wouldn’t get a first-round bye and would face the No. 6 seed (currently the Bills). If they survived, their path to the Super Bowl would then include a game at either Pittsburgh or New England and, if they win, most likely a road game against the other.
Consider the Chiefs’ playoff schedule if they can secure the No. 1 seed: a week off, a divisional home game against any of several possible opponents but probably not the Steelers or Patriots, and if Kansas City wins that matchup, the AFC title game at Arrowhead.
That’s why merely making the playoffs can’t be enough for the Chiefs this season. Their postseason, in a sense, begins Sunday in New Jersey.