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The AFC Playoff Race

By Connor Kelly

Coming out of the bye week what can we expect?

Coming off a comprehensive win in Wembley stadium and  with no Chiefs game to watch it’s understandable that your focus would turn to the future of the season. How far could this team go? What are the limitations? So to stave off the bye-week boredom I’ve decided to take a look at the state of the chiefs, the rest of the schedule and investigate what are the best and worst case scenarios.

So where do the Chiefs stand in general? We saw a strong showing from the defence and the offence against the Lions, but the Lions are not a particularly strong team so there is only so much you can take away from that game. The defence showed a bit more variety with DB blitzes, more variety in their covers and players from all levels making plays (6 sacks from across all three levels of the D). However this was not a game where the defence were really pushed so its not that surprising to see that level of production, upheaval in the OC and I-line coaching for the Lions did not get them up to scratch for the game.

The Chiefs offence looked to get back on track. Charcandrick West looked good coming just shy of 100 yards rushing, Alex Smith showed some wheels and there was an excellent misdirection play using De Anthony Thomas which is the type of use we’ve been waiting to see coming out of him. Alex smith ran for 78 yards and a TD, the backfield accounted for 3 more scores and 2 TDs through the air. That being said it is far easier to be inventive and see this productive when you’re playing a defence in the level of disarray that we saw from the Lions.

Chark

So the Chiefs look better on both sides of the ball, but how far could they go this season. Is this too little too late for the season or can we still salvage some glory?

Well first off we are not winning the division, there is no catching the Broncos right now so that is off the table so what we are focusing on are the two Wildcard spots that are up for grabs. The division winners will almost certainly be New England, Broncos, Bengals and whoever manages to fail the least amount in the south (read Colts). We can also take as given that the mess that is the AFC South will only be sending one team to the post season so we are looking at competitors for the wildcard spots from the other three divisions. Who are the main contenders?

The teams most likely are

Steelers – 5-4 Loss of Bell is big and Ben does not look 100% healthy after the injury but with Broncos, Bengals, Seahawks and two tough in division games against the browns it’s hard to see this team getting too far beyond 9 or 10 wins. With Ben likely out for a few weeks after injuring himself against the Raiders there is a strong chance that they could fall off further.

Bills – 4-4 After a fast start the team are coming back to earth with a bang. Their offence without Tyrod Taylor is significantly less potent so they’ll be happy to see him coming back. They looked markedly improved this weekend with him back in the lineup. However, their schedule ahead includes Jets twice, patriots, chiefs, eagles and the cowboys (with Romo back). A frisky team with potential but I’m not sure they have the ability to see through that schedule.

Jets – 5-3 An injury to Ryan Fitzpatrick’s non-throwing hand will be a concern in New York and questions are being asked of this defence following the beating that the Raiders laid down on them last week. A major factor for all of the East teams is that they will cannibalise each other, two games vs Bills, dolphins to play, Pats to play, Dallas with Romo in prime time. Again this is a spot where I could see anything from 7-9 wins depending on divisional games but splitting games could leave all the east teams out of the wildcard race. Jets are the most likely to compete for it.

Dolphins – 3-5 A similar story to the jets, promising WC team (post firings) but injuries and possibly waiting too long to move on from Joe Philbin will leave them at home come January. Again, matching up against two other AFCE Wild Card hunters will harm their collective chances but I’d say a 7 to 8 win season will be the end result. The polish is coming off their new coaching scenario after a quick turnaround and with Wake out for the season I think they fall behind the other three teams in their division.

Raiders – 4-4 Who would have thought at the start of this year that the Raiders would be in the picture for a WC spot? This is a team that has found a legitimate QB in Carr, a great WR in Cooper, a running game in Murray and a chip on their shoulder from years of being AFC basement dwellers. They’ve taken down the Jets, they were dangerously close to beating the Steelers. I think this one comes down to the head to head matches between the chiefs and the raiders, as splitting games could well mean both teams are at home in January. 8/9 wins that could climb to 10 if they sweep the Chiefs. This is a main competitor for that number 6 spot in the postseason.

Chiefs – 3-5 Chiefs are in a hole at 3-5 but looking a bit stronger than they have in recent games. Hopefully this can translate into the rest of the season. A loss to the Broncos after the bye is likely pushing the team to 3-6, but the back end of the season looks very winnable. An injury riddled chargers team twice, a rudderless Bills team, the Browns and a Ravens team that lacks a viable receiver should bring our season total to 8-6. The remaining two games on the schedule are against the resurgent Raiders team, which means these two games will decide the fate of the Chiefs season. Making the wild card this way would take guts and luck, pulling at least 6 if not 7 wins from our final 8 games against some teams that will be equally as hungry. But does this mean it’s impossible? No, the Chiefs win rage is likely between 8 and 10 wins putting them right there in the mix with these teams.

The AFC East hopefuls are trading wins with each other which could result in none of them ending up with enough for a wildcard. The Bengals are slowing down the Steelers and theyre carrying a few injuries but they are still highly likely to take a wildcard spot. An interesting aside is that the chiefs currently hold the tie breaker against the Steelers meaning that if it runs exceptionally close that could come into play. The AFC South is going to have one team and one team only through which leads me to believe, the last WC spot is going to come down to two teams… the Chiefs or the Raiders.

This was not a season that I thought could continue into the post season but the more I look at the AFC the more it seems that the Chiefs still have a shot. The biggest obstacle standing in front of us is a division rival who we play twice in this back half of the season. In fact, the Chiefs get to finish out their regular season at home against the raiders. These games are normally great divisional battles but in a spot where it will likely have a direct effect on the postseason, I’ll be waiting with baited breath for this matchup on the 3rd of January.

 

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