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Friday, January 20, 2017

Preview: Chiefs looking to earn a first-round playoff bye by defeating Chargers on New Year's Day

The Chiefs will open Sunday with a shot at the AFC West title.

Image

Courtesy of Wikimedia

Wikimedia

Dec. 31, 2016

On New Year’s Day, the Chiefs will travel to San Diego to take on the Chargers and close out the regular season. This game, along with the other AFC West matchup between the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos, will be crucial in deciding playoff seeding in the AFC. With both having clinched playoff berths, the Chiefs and Raiders are still competing for the AFC West divisional title.

What’s on the line for the Chiefs

The Chiefs currently sit at 11-4 and are among the six AFC teams who have already clinched playoff spots. The only question now is where these teams will be seeded. Depending on the outcomes, the Chiefs will either end up the No. 2 seed with a first-round bye or the No. 5 or No. 6 seed as one of two wild card teams.

In order to win the AFC West, the Chiefs will not only need to win, but they’ll need the Raiders to lose in Denver. Winning the AFC West would mean a first-round playoff bye and home-field advantage in the divisional round. As a wild card team, the Chiefs wouldn’t get a first-round bye and would have to play all their playoff games on the road. The difference between the No. 2 seed and a wild card spot for the Chiefs is huge. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, a first-round bye would give the Chiefs a 20 percent chance of making it to the Super Bowl, while a wild card spot would leave them with just a 6 percent chance.

Last time the teams met

The Chiefs and Chargers last met on opening weekend back in September, when the Chiefs defeated the Chargers 33-27 in overtime. Trailing 27-10 in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs scored 17 unanswered points to tie the game and ultimately win with a touchdown in overtime. This victory was the largest comeback in the history of Kansas City Chiefs football.

The first half was a struggle for Kansas City, with the offense only putting up three points off of a 47-yard field goal by Cairo Santos.

In the second half, the Chiefs were behind 24-3 before the roaring comeback. With two minutes left in the third quarter, the Chiefs finally got into the endzone, with Tyreek Hill scoring a touchdown off a six-yard pass. In the fourth quarter, the team was able to fight back and added two more touchdowns and a field goal to tie the game at 27.

In overtime, the Chiefs marched down the field for a 75-yard scoring drive that culminated in an Alex Smith two-yard rushing score, which ended the game.

Playoff Scenarios

The AFC’s other playoff teams are the New England Patriots, Pittsburg Steelers, Houston Texans, Miami Dolphins and the Oakland Raiders. The only teams who have clinched both a spot and seeding are the Steelers, No. 3, and the Texans, No. 4. Here are the three separate first-round playoff scenarios for the Chiefs.

Winning the AFC West and Earning a First-Round Bye As previously mentioned, should the Chiefs win in San Diego and the Derek Carr-less Raiders lose in Denver, the Chiefs win the AFC West title and gain the No. 2 seed. In this scenario, the Chiefs would have Wild Card weekend off while the Steelers, Texans and the two wild card teams battle it out to advance to the divisional round. This would also mean that the Chiefs would be guaranteed a home game at Arrowhead in the divisional round. Kansas City would face the higher-seeded of the winning teams from the first round, while the lower-seeded team would travel to face the No. 1 seeded New England Patriots.

Playing the Houston Texans as the No. 5 seed (9-6) The Texans are locked in as the fourth seed in the AFC, so the Chiefs could potentially travel to Houston to play if they end up being the fifth seed. In September, the Texans beat the Chiefs in strange fashion. Both teams kicked four field goals, and Houston ended up winning on the only scored touchdown of the game, 19-12. In terms of competition, this would be the ideal team for the Chiefs to play as a wild card.

Playing the Pittsburgh Steelers as the No. 6 seed (10-5) If the Chiefs fall to the Chargers and the Dolphins defeat the Patriots, the third-seeded Steelers would be the Chiefs’ first-round opponent. In October, the Steelers beat the Chiefs 43-14. The Steelers exposed the Kansas City defense, as Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger shined with five touchdowns and 300 yards.

Injury Report

Linebacker Justin Houston will not play this game because of a knee injury. Houston did not play in the game against Denver last weekend after having swelling in his knee after the game against the Titans.

Running back Spencer Ware left the game in Denver in the second half with sore ribs and was unable to return to the field. He will be a gametime decision.

Wide receiver Chris Conley exited Sunday’s game in the second quarter after hurting his ankle. Conley’s absence was brief, and he returned to the field, where he had one catch for eight yards. He is still on the injury report, and his return status has not yet been decided.

Cornerback Phillip Gaines is listed on the injury report with a knee injury. He has been limited in practice this week, and his status for Sunday’s game is questionable.

Linebacker Tamba Hali suffered an injury to his knee and has struggled in practice this week. He was limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday and did not practice on Friday. His status has not been determined for Sunday's game.

The Chiefs kickoff at 4:25 p.m. Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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