Chiefs eying win at San Diego and with rival Broncos help, AFC West championship

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Week Sixteen saw the Kansas City Chiefs not only eliminate their division-rival Denver Broncos from playoff contention; they did so in heart-stopping fashion on Christmas Night for their home crowd. And now, the Chiefs need help from the Broncos to win the AFC West for the first time since 2010 (the only time in the 12 prior seasons Denver, who had won the division five consecutive years, or San Diego didn’t win the division). There’s still work to be done by the Chiefs, who will look to finish with a 6-0 division record with their 11th straight AFC West win ay San Diego today in a West Coast kickoff.

With a win, and a Raiders, who lost QB Derek Carr to a broken leg in the closing moments of their win over the Colts last week, loss, the Chiefs would win the AFC West and slide up from the No. 5 seed to the 2 seed and a first-round bye and a home playoff game. If they lose, then they stay where they are.

First, back to the Denver win.

I usually don’t put much stock into opening drives, but the first KC drive was a hint at what was to come.  The drive started with two plays of 4 yards (1 run, 1 pass), then 28, 18, -1, and 14. On first and goal from Denver’s 10, Alex Smith kept the ball on a read-option fake and trotted into the end zone. It was a dominant start, and while there was game left to be played, it showed that Kansas City, who locked up a playoff berth with the Ravens loss to the Steelers earlier in the day, wasn’t happy just making the playoffs, and wanted more.

As if that weren’t bad enough for Denver, Kansas City’s next four possessions gained 224 yards, one turnover, and fourteen points. After a Broncos punt, Tyreek Hill took a counter run and blasted 70 yards for a touchdown. It marked his third rushing score of the year, and a consecutive week with a rushing touchdown – both over 68 yards. The Chiefs were rolling, and “the best defense in the AFC” had no answer.

After Denver intercepted Alex Smith, which led to a short touchdown run by Justin Forsett, the Chiefs got on the board again. Smith emptied out the backfield, flipped a pass to Travis Kelce, and he raced 80 yards barely touched for another touchdown.  It was his longest catch of his career, and put him over 1,000 receiving yards for the first time. The Chiefs would lead 21-10 at halftime in a game that seemed much worse after Denver failed to convert on a fourth down, fake field goal run. That lead would increase slightly, with two second half field goals, but other than that, there wasn’t too much excitement.

Then, on third and goal from Denver’s 2 yard line with just under two minutes to play, the crowd started chanting for Dontari Poe, and Andy Reid complied. Lining up in a heavy set, he started running toward the line of scrimmage, and then out of nowhere jumped up and threw to tight end Demetrius Harris. It was hilarious, and Poe became the heaviest player to throw a touchdown pass and Kansas City would go to win 33-10, and with it clinched their tenth win over an AFC West opponent in the last two seasons. The last two years also marked the first time since 1968 and 1969 that the Chiefs have had back-to-back 11 win seasons.

In a weird scheduling quirk, the Chiefs played the Chargers on the first and last week of the regular season. In Week One, the Chiefs won a 33-30 overtime thriller. I don’t expect this contest to be as tightly fought, given how both teams have come along since. Kelce has finally been let loose, while Tyreek “The Freak” Hill shows off his speed in incredible ways. He needs to work on his hands though, as he’s yet to catch a pass in two weeks while being targeted eight times.  Jeremy Maclin, despite being KC’s No. 1 target on paper, will finish with career lows, but he missed a lot of time this season, and besides, he’s going to the playoffs. Who’s to be upset with that? Spencer Ware is 79 yards away from 1,000 on the ground, and despite his lowly three touchdown rushes, he’s been a consistent threat on the ground in Jamaal Charles’ stead. The Chiefs offense is peaking at the right time, and remember, Smith threw for 363 yards on this defense the first time. Hopefully, for KC fans, the same situation won’t occur where he needs to throw so often, but it does show that Smith finds plenty of holes in this unit. For the Chargers, they’ll be without Melvin Gordon, but still possess plenty of juice on that side of the ball. Tyrell Williams has 989 yards and 7 scores, while Phillip Rivers has over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns…again, but he has thrown 20 picks. With much change expected, I think he’ll try to go out on a positive note, but the Chiefs defense has been quite stout recently, with and without Justin Houston. He’ll be out Sunday, but Dee Ford has been KC’s biggest surprise. He had seven hurries against Denver, and the Chargers have a poor offensive line. You do the math. Marcus Peters hasn’t had an interception in what feels like forever, but teams just won’t target him. Rivers is risky, so there’s a chance the streak ends, but I don’t feel it. On the other hand, waiver pickup Terrance Mitchell has been absolutely stellar covering the opponents No. 2 receiver, and with teams struggling to complete on Peters, they’ve been having a hard time going the other way as well. The Chargers should try to run the ball against a Chiefs team sans-Derrick Johnson, but without Gordon that may not happen and the Chargers are down to their sixth RB this season, Ronnie Hillman.

With a chance to win the division and a first round bye still possible, KC has everything to play for and San Diego has nothing to play for, other than the potential it could be their last game in San Diego? Also kicking off at 3:25, will be Oakland (12-3) and Denver (8-7). With nothing to play for, fear was Denver would not be highly motivated for this one, going from Super Bowl winner to missing the playoffs, and would they want to help the Chiefs? Now, the Raiders have Matt McGloin at QB instead of the Pro Bowler and young stud Carr, and reports are this will be Gary Kubiak’s final game as Broncos head coach, citing health concerns. So, go out and win one for him, Donkeys. If they fail to achieve their task, the Chiefs will be an 11 or 12-win No. 5 seed, with a road game at Houston (again) in the Wild Card round next week. If the Chiefs win and Denver loses, they’ll be the first team since the 2010 Raiders to go undefeated inside the division not to win the division (ironically, that Raiders team went 2-6 outside the division, and missed the playoffs at 8-8).

However, the Chiefs will win. They have everything to gain with a win, which would allow this banged up team (Houston, Ware, Gaines to name a few) to get rest AND guarantee a home playoff game. The Chiefs are dangerous at home, where it’s cold and the fans are hot. Rivers keeps turning it over, and they just lost to the previously winless Browns. Chiefs 28, Chargers 16

***

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