Sunday was a good day for the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs beat the Arizona Cardinals, and everyone expected that. The help they got from the Tennessee Titans was not expected.
The Titans dominated the New England Patriots. That’s the Patriots’ third loss, and that’s about as important in Kansas City as it is in Massachusetts. With that, the Chiefs are two games clear of the Patriots, the team that posed the biggest threat to beating the Chiefs for the AFC’s No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. New England has the tiebreaker due to a head-to-head win. That might not matter anymore.
The Patriots and AFC South-leading Texans each have three losses. The Pittsburgh Steelers, the AFC North leaders, have two losses and a tie. The biggest threat to the 9-1 Chiefs getting the No. 1 seed is the Los Angeles Chargers, who are 7-2 and keeping pressure on Kansas City in the AFC West. But the Chiefs already beat the Chargers on the road. Realistically, the Chargers will need to win at Arrowhead Stadium on Dec. 13, a Thursday night. The Chargers lost in the same spot at Kansas City last season.
This is probably the time Chiefs fans are tensing up, because their playoff history is marked with memorable disappointments after great regular seasons. They haven’t won a home playoff game since 1993. And it’s at least worth asking if Arrowhead Stadium in January is the ideal place for this year’s Chiefs team.
Arrowhead is a great home-field advantage, perhaps the best atmosphere in the NFL. But we all know the DNA of this Chiefs team: Score, score and score some more. They’re third in the NFL in yards gained and 29th in yards allowed. And in the playoffs, scoring gets tougher. Defenses generally become more important. Especially outdoors in Kansas City.
Since 1971 the Chiefs have played eight home playoff games. They’ve averaged 16.1 points in those games, and most of them have been played in bad weather. Their highest scoring game, a famous shootout against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts at the end of the 2003 season, also happened on the warmest day. They scored 31 points but lost on a balmy 51-degree day. Every other home playoff game has been less than 36 degrees at kickoff. A 13-3 Chiefs team got upset 10-7 by the Colts in a minus-15 degree wind chill at the end of the 1995 season. At the end of the 1997 season another 13-3 Chiefs team was beaten 14-10 by the Denver Broncos in a cold (wind chill: 20 degrees) and physical game. The Chiefs have lost six home playoff games in a row. Not that what Marty Schottenheimer and Elvis Grbac went through two decades ago has much bearing on the present, but it’s a reminder that the No. 1 seed could be a blessing and a curse for the Chiefs.
Maybe this offense is different. Patrick Mahomes has the type of arm that can cut through the wind at Arrowhead, better than anyone the Chiefs will face. Tyreek Hill will still be faster than anyone no matter the temperature or field conditions. Kareem Hunt is effective if conditions call for a run-heavy plan. It’s just that, as the Chiefs fly toward a No. 1 seed, you’re going to hear a lot of speculation about whether their incredible offense will have the same success in the January cold. It’s a fair question. High-scoring offenses aren’t always at their best in arctic conditions.
For now, the Chiefs can keep basking in the glow of a truly fun and marvelous season. They’ve got perhaps the best and most exciting team in the NFL. When they get to the playoffs, bad weather or not, it’s very likely they’ll be the clear favorite to win the AFC. But as Chiefs fans can tell you, that wouldn’t guarantee anything.
32. Oakland Raiders (1-8, Last Week: 32)
There was a lot to digest in Mark Davis’ long interview with ESPN, but one important takeaway: It seems Davis is still fully behind Derek Carr. He seems to believe the cast around Carr hasn’t helped the quarterback, and that is fair. Now the bigger question: Does Jon Gruden feel the same way?
31. Arizona Cardinals (2-7, LW: 29)
Hey, at least the Cardinals have figured out how to get David Johnson going. That shouldn’t have taken so long.
30. New York Jets (3-7, LW: 24)
One report from Rich Cimini of ESPN on Monday said part of the reason Todd Bowles won’t be fired during the season is there’s no obvious candidate to take over the interim role. First of all, that’s embarrassing that the Jets don’t have anyone on staff who could fill that role for the rest of the season. Second … what? It seems unfair to everyone to keep Bowles around the rest of the season just because you don’t want to give anyone on staff a shot for six now meaningless weeks.
29. San Francisco 49ers (2-8, LW: 28)
Over the last two seasons it seems like the 49ers lead the NFL in soul-crushing close losses. But credit Nick Mullens for giving the 49ers a late lead and almost rallying them for a crazy win at the end. He’s turning into an interesting player.
28. Buffalo Bills (3-7, LW: 31)
What a day for Matt Barkley. Before Barkley was signed on Halloween, he had to wonder what his NFL future was. He failed to make two different teams in each of the past two preseasons. Then on Nov. 11, he threw for 232 yards and two touchdowns in a blowout win. Who knows what happens next, but that has to feel good for him. It was only the second time he had started and won in the NFL.
27. New York Giants (2-7, LW: 30)
Eli Manning has had a historic career, and with the walls closing in on him it was fun to see Manning have at least one more big moment, leading the Giants to a win on Monday night.
26. Denver Broncos (3-6, LW: 26)
The Broncos has back-to-back games against two of the NFL’s best teams, first at the Chargers then they host the Steelers. Either that’s an opportunity for Vance Joseph and his team to start to change the perception about them, or things could get really ugly in Denver. We’ll see how much pride they have.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6, LW: 25)
By keeping Ryan Fitzpatrick in the starting lineup for Week 11, after the team is practically eliminated from the playoff race, the Buccaneers are letting you know how they feel about Jameis Winston.
24. Cleveland Browns (3-6-1, LW: 27)
Nick Chubb looks like a really good back. Don’t forget, the Browns got him with the draft pick obtained for eating $16 million of Brock Osweiler’s contract. We can argue if that’s a prudent investment, but the Browns probably aren’t complaining.
23. Detroit Lions (3-6, LW: 21)
After the Lions beat the Packers and won a road game against the Dolphins, they were 3-3. They had won three of four. Since then they’ve been outscored 86-45 and the closest game was a 12-point loss to the Bears. They trailed that game 34-10 after three quarters. Matt Patricia’s first season started bad, looked good for a few weeks, and now seems to be a total waste.
22. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6, LW: 19)
There are a few teams that fall into the “most disappointing” category, but the Jaguars have a case for the No. 1 spot. They’re in last place of the AFC South and have to go at least 6-1 to have a shot at the playoffs. Coach Doug Marrone has done a poor job this season.
21. Miami Dolphins (5-5, LW: 20)
According to Niners Nation, Frank Gore passed 500 rushing yards for the 14th straight season, an NFL record. While Gore playing more than Kenyan Drake remains endlessly confusing, Gore’s career has been absolutely incredible.
20. Atlanta Falcons (4-5, LW: 14)
Well, that Falcons surge was fun for a moment. The remaining schedule was too tough and he 1-4 start was too steep to drop games like Sunday at Cleveland. The Falcons will still be a tough out the rest of the way but the postseason dreams need to be put on hold until further notice.
19. Cincinnati Bengals (5-4, LW: 13)
Given what we’ve seen from the Bengals at their worst, it seems crazy they’re 5-4. They’ve been outscored by 53 points this season. The 4-5 Ravens have outscored their opponents by 53, a 106-point difference between the second- and third-place teams in the AFC North. The Bengals are a mess and while they have banked five wins and that will help, it’s hard to see them making a real playoff push. That embarrassment against the Saints was telling.
18. Indianapolis Colts (4-5, LW: 22)
The NFL’s best story that’s not getting enough attention is, strangely, Andrew Luck’s comeback. Has everyone forgotten more than a year-and-a-half of speculation over whether Luck would ever be the same? He’s back to a Pro Bowl level.
17. Baltimore Ravens (4-5, LW: 17)
Joe Flacco’s hip injury could open the way for Lamar Jackson to start, and is that the worst thing? The Ravens need some kind of spark. Maybe starting Jackson would provide one.
16. Seattle Seahawks (4-5, LW: 16)
I get wanting to keep the Rams offense off the field, and the Seahawks are running the ball well lately. I still can’t truly comprehend an offensive game plan that centers around minimizing Russell Wilson. Wilson had eight attempts and 39 passing yards in the first half on Sunday against a Rams defense that got torched by Drew Brees the week before. Wilson is one of the best players in the NFL, not a game manager.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (4-5, LW: 9)
The Eagles haven’t looked right all season. The cluster injuries at cornerback are a real concern, and I’m not sure how they overcome that this week at the Saints. But they probably need to pull some upsets if they’re going to make the playoffs.
14. Dallas Cowboys (4-5, LW: 23)
Leighton Vander Esch looks like a really good first-round pick. Since Sean Lee can’t stay healthy, it was important for the Cowboys to think about the future (knowing he’d likely play a lot as a rookie too when Lee was hurt). The Cowboys might have had other needs on offense, but they landed a good player.
13. Tennessee Titans (5-4, LW: 18)
Up and down we go. The Titans looked good grinding out tough wins early on, were miserable for a stretch, then won at Dallas and blasted the Patriots in the span of seven days. You figure out what’s coming next.
12. Washington Redskins (6-3, LW: 15)
Nobody believes in the Redskins, and they’ve given people plenty of reason for skepticism. But they keep picking up wins, getting one on Sunday when they practically had no offensive line. The Eagles are reeling, the Cowboys are 4-5 and offensively challenged … at what point do we just have to admit the Redskins are the favorites in the NFC East?
11. Green Bay Packers (4-4-1, LW: 12)
On Thursday night the Packers play at Seattle, then in Week 12 they play at Minnesota. That’s a tough stretch but the Packers need to make something happen. Having Aaron Jones (145 rushing yards, two touchdowns) becoming a serious difference maker in the offense can’t hurt.
10. Houston Texans (6-3, LW: 11)
The Titans’ win wasn’t great news for the Texans. Tennessee already has a win over Houston this season and is just a game back. It should be an interesting race in that division.
9. Carolina Panthers (6-3, LW: 6)
I think the Panthers are a quality team. But good teams usually don’t get run out of the stadium like they did last Thursday night. I guess we just chalk it up to the random events that happen when teams have only three days rest. But it was concerning.
8. Chicago Bears (6-3, LW: 10)
The Bears allow the lowest passer rating in the NFL, at 79.8. Mitchell Trubisky has a 101.6 passer rating, and the Bears offense ranks ninth in that category. Passing the ball efficiently and keeping the opponent from doing so is a pretty good way to build a first-place team.
7. Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1, LW: 8)
Who would have thought that Minnesota’s game on Sunday at Chicago might be the biggest in the NFC North this season? That’s a pretty good Sunday night matchup.
6. New England Patriots (7-3, LW: 4)
In every key stat, Tom Brady’s numbers are down from last season: yards, completion percentage, interceptions, touchdowns, yards per attempt, passer rating. He’s still a quality quarterback, obviously, but we have to ask if this is Brady showing some age or his lack of weapons (most notably Rob Gronkowski, who was having a very quiet season before missing a couple games due to injury).
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2-1, LW: 7)
Weird things happen on Thursday nights, but beating a good Panthers team 52-21 is a sign the Steelers are in full stride. They’re going to be fun to watch the rest of the way.
4. Los Angeles Chargers (7-2, LW: 5)
The knock on Melvin Gordon before this season was that he wasn’t very efficient. He has taken his yards per carry from 3.9 last season to 5.4 this season. Gordon also has 11 touchdowns in eight games. He has blossomed into a star.
3. Los Angeles Rams (9-1, LW: 3)
Cooper Kupp’s ACL injury is a big blow. The Rams average 124 fewer passing yards per game without Kupp this season. Los Angeles has a lot of good players but they’ll miss Kupp. It’s hard to replace what he can do.
2. New Orleans Saints (8-1, LW: 2)
I can’t imagine what the Saints believe they’re getting from Brandon Marshall. Over his last 26 games, Marshall has 1,078 yards and four touchdowns. He’s 34 and this will be his fourth team in three seasons. Seems like a weird addition.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-1, LW: 1)
Chiefs-Rams in Mexico City is going to be incredible.
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