The NFL has returned, and not only will we be rooting for the Chiefs, but we will be rooting against those teams that stand in between us and another Super Bowl championship. This is the weekly piece where I rank exactly which teams we should be rooting against that maximize the Chiefs’ odds of reaching the final game of the season.
But first the rules.
- The rankings and interests are based solely on which outcomes benefit the Chiefs the most. So while some may root for the Bills to beat the Raiders because we hate the Raiders, from the Chiefs perspective it’s best for the Raiders to win and make it easier for the Chiefs to get the top seed.
- NFC vs. NFC matchups won’t be ranked. The only way they impact the Chiefs is if we get down to the 4th tiebreaker for playoff seeding (meaning head-to-head, win-loss record in conference games, and win-loss record in common games are all tied) in which case they factor into strength of victory and strength of schedule. Not only is this unlikely to be relevant, but even if it is, we already know to root for NFC West teams (since that’s who we play this year).
- The Chiefs game won’t be ranked because, duh, we root for the Chiefs to win, and it will always be our most important game.
- I will continue to include AFC teams that are within 3 games of the Chiefs. If a team is more than 3 games back, we’ll assume they’re no longer a threat.
1: Browns over Ravens
2: Texans over Bengals
3: Lions over Chargers
4: 49ers over Jaguars
5: Broncos over Bills
6: Packers over Steelers
7: Jets over Raiders
It’s always an interesting decision on when to shift from rooting rankings to playoff picture. We’re starting to get to the point where it’s obvious who we should be rooting for (Is it even close on any game except for Jets-Raiders (which neither team is likely to effect us anyway)?).
Those AFC North teams are the biggest threat in the conference, so them losing would be best, The Chargers (and to a lesser extent the Raiders) are still hanging around, not yet so far out that it’d require a miracle for them to win the division. But if the Chargers (and to a lesser extent the Raiders) lose this week, we would be very close to that point.
Now that we’re on the other side of the Miami game it’s time to start looking at the playoff picture. Of course the first thing we need to do is win the division, which we’re in an extremely strong position to do already. In fact, our position is so strong that you have to think hard about how we could possibly lose it.
The Raiders might actually have the best shot, but only because we haven’t played them yet. Their path is simple, sweep us which allows them to close the gap by 2 games and gives them the tiebreaker, then have a better record than the Chiefs in the other 6 remaining games. That is absurd. To put it in more concrete terms, let’s say the Chiefs went 3-3 in those other 6 games. That would put them at 10-7 on the season, with the Raiders needing to go 4-2 to also get to 10-7.
The Chargers are better than the Raiders, but since we already beat them they have the tougher path. They would need to beat us in week 18, but before then they’d have to make up 1.5 or 2.5 games on the Chiefs (depending on which games each team won to determine tiebreakers) in their remaining 9 (they have more games since they had their bye already). So if the Chiefs finished 4-4 leading up to week 18, the Chargers would have to be 6-3 at minimum to make it competitive. Then they’d still have to win that week 18 game!
Needless to say, the rest of the AFC West has been so bad that if we somehow didn’t win the division we’d have way bigger problems than snapping our division title streak.
- Chiefs (7-2)
- Ravens (7-2)
- Jaguars (6-2)
- Dolphins (6-3)
- Steelers (5-3)
- Browns (5-3)
- Bengals (5-3)
Tiebreakers: Since we’ll be talking the same tiebreakers for all of these teams, I’ll just list them at the top. They are:
- Conference Record
- Common Games
- Strength of Victory
Plus some others, but it’s very unlikely to get past that point.
Ravens: Baltimore is by far our biggest threat right now. The fact that one of our losses is an NFC loss ends up helping us as conference record is the first tiebreaker here since we don’t play each other. We both have 2 NFC games left, so that’s likely to remain in place. Ironically to get the tiebreaker they’d have to do worse in their NFC games than we do in ours, so not really much of a benefit there.
Our common games are Bengals, Chargers, Lions, Jaguars, and Dolphins. Of those 6 total games, we’re 3-1 and they’re 2-0.
The simplest path for them to pass us is to simply have a better record over the final 8 games. It’s technically possible for them to get the tiebreaker if we have the same record, but one of their losses would have to be NFC while we only lose to AFC teams. The wins and losses in common games would still have to line up for them, but for it to matter they’d almost certainly have to end with a better record there anyways.
Jaguars: We have the tiebreaker over Jacksonville no matter what since we beat them, so they simply need to have a better record than us the rest of the way by 1.5 games. They have 9 games remaining to our 8, so it could look something like they go 8-1 while we go 6-2.
Dolphins: We just got the win and the tiebreaker over them in Germany, so they need to outplay us by 2 games over the final 8. Again if we go 6-2 as an example, they’d need to go 8-0. We’re definitely getting into long shot territory here.
Bengals: You could say the Browns, Steelers, and Bengals are all in the same boat, but let’s be honest, it’s the Bengals we have to worry about. They are 1.5 games back of us, but we still play them which makes it easier on them if they win that game. If they do, all they’d have to do is outplay us by any amount in the other 8/7 games. For example, if we went 6-1, they’d need to go 7-1 to top us.
Of course if we beat them it makes it very difficult for them to pass us, as they’d not just have an extra game to make up but they’d have to overcome the tiebreaker as well. In this case we’d have to go 4-3 and they’d have to go 8-0. Technically possible, but they’d need the Chiefs at 12-5 at best so we probably wouldn’t expect the top seed anyway.
What’s extra interesting here is that it depends on who wins the division. It’s possible that the Ravens, Bengals, and Chiefs all have the same record, and the Bengals have the tiebreaker over the Chiefs, but we get the top seed because the Ravens win the AFC North on tiebreak but lose their tiebreaker to us.