During the Chiefs abysmal 1-5 start, it’s no secret that even the most ardent Chiefs fans had likely come to terms with the fact that they would likely be served yet another lump of Christmas-time coal this holiday season. The team had just lost its fifth straight game, its best offensive weapon in Jamaal Charles and fans were jumping off the bandwagon faster than a Star Wars fan buys a movie ticket on opening weekend.
“I’ve been on some pretty good teams over the years,” inside linebacker Derrick Johnson said after the win Sunday. “It just seems like this team, when the other opponent makes a mistake, we capitalize off it. Big time.”
So with only a few shopping days left until Christmas and the Browns and Raiders left on the schedule, the odds seem to be heavily in the favor of the Chiefs making only their fourth playoff appearance in the last ten years. Only the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals were able to make it to the playoffs after starting 1-5, and yet, Kansas City seems like an almost certain participant.
After starting 1-5 and blowing fourth quarter leads to both the Broncos and Bears, the Chiefs played host to the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that rolled into Arrowhead on October 25th without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger On the heels of a breakout game by running back Charcandrick West, the Chiefs were able to knock off the Steelers 23-13 in a game that would prove to be pivotal in both ending the losing streak and future playoff scenarios.
In the seven games that followed, the Chiefs have also been able to produce a more well-balanced offense using running backs Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware to their advantage. Quarterback Alex Smith has been helped out immensely by the off-season signing of Jeremy Maclin, who is 15 yards away from being Smith’s first ever 1,000 yard receiver. Maclin has added new dimension to this offense and the typical predictable Smith has felt more comfortable taking shots downfield to his top target.
Defensively, the turnovers have been the catalyst, as all-world pass rusher Justin Houston has been sidelined with a knee injury that he suffered in week 12. The pass rush has certainly suffered, but this defense has been relentless in causing turnovers and rookie corner Marcus Peters could likely be a shoe-in for NFL defensive rookie of the year with his seven interceptions (two of which were returned for touchdowns).
With two games to go the Chiefs are currently the 5 seed in the AFC playoffs. There is a scenario in which they could still win the AFC West if Denver (11-4) were to lose one of its final two games and the Chiefs win out. Of course, the Chiefs must keep winning themselves as there are currently three teams vying for two wildcard spots. Pittsburgh currently owns the 6th spot but the Jets are still very much alive at 9-5 as well.
We know that New England has already clinched a first-round bye and that wrapping up the 1 seed is very likely. The Bengals travel to Denver next week with A.J. McCarron at quarterback in hopes of remaining the 2 seed.
Would merely making the playoffs be enough for Kansas City? Riding this nearly improbable wave of momentum into a post-season birth would be astounding given the start, but most Chiefs fans certainly want more. It has been 21 years since the team last won a playoff game and if Kansas City remains the 5 seed and travels to Houston/Indianapolis then things would look promising for that demon to be exercised.
Arguably, the two teams playing the best football heading into the post-season could in fact be wildcard teams in Pittsburgh and KC. With Denver’s quarterback situation, Andy Dalton’s season in doubt, a banged up New England team and a below average division winner coming out of the south, there is no question that the road to the Superbowl is as wide open as ever.
Follow Clint Switzer on Twitter: @cswitz77