Last night, the Kansas City Chiefs blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead against the Los Angeles Chargers to lose 29-28. In a gutsy move, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn opted to go for two after his team scored a touchdown with four seconds left in the game to cut the Chiefs’ lead to one point.
Quarterback Philip Rivers, for the second consecutive play, hooked up with wide receiver Mike Williams, who was wide open in the end zone.
More importantly, the win improved the Chargers to 11-3, while dropping the Chiefs to 11-3. They are now tied atop the AFC West, with the division winner likely to obtain home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The loser will have to play Wild Card weekend on the road, possibly at Pittsburgh or Baltimore.
So, who actually leads the AFC West? Who’s got the leg up in the final two weeks of the season? To determine that, we have to take a look at the NFL’s tiebreaker procedures for divisions.
The NFL lists 12 tiebreaker procedures to determine a division winner if two teams finish with the same overall record, with the twelfth and final procedure being a coin toss. Thankfully, we only have to go two deep to determine who currently leads the AFC West. We’ll also take a look at the third tiebreaker just in case that comes into play.
The first tiebreaker is head-to-head record. That’s moot here, as the Chiefs defeated the Chargers 38-28 to open the season. With last night’s thrilling victory, the Chargers knotted the season series at 1-1.
The second tiebreaker is “[b]est won-loss-tied percentage in games within the division.“
Heading into last night, the Chiefs had defeated the Chargers in Week One. They’ve also swept the season series against the Broncos. In Week 13, they survived a scare in Oakland. They have remaining one game with the Raiders. After last night’s defeat, the Chiefs are now 4-1 in the AFC West.
Before last night’s win, the Chargers were 2-2 against the AFC West, with losses against the Chiefs and one against the Broncos in Week 11. Now, the Chargers stand at 3-2 in the AFC West with a final match-up in Denver to end the season.
That’s it. After looking at merely two tiebreakers, it’s clear the Chiefs still lead the AFC West.
Of course, there are still two more games to play for each team. What happens if, say, the Chiefs were to crumble against the Raiders in Week 17 and the Chargers lose next week against the Ravens? At that point, we’d have to move on to the third tiebreaker, which is “[b]est won-loss-tied percentage in common games.” At this point, that tiebreaker scenario looks like this:
|Kansas City Chiefs||Los Angeles Chargers|
|San Francisco 49ers||Win||Win|
|Los Angeles Rams||Loss||Loss|
The Chiefs currently lead this tiebreaker, too. If the scenario I spelled out in the preceding paragraph occurs, then both teams would finish 12-4 and 4-2 in the division.
Based on this third tiebreaker, the Chiefs’ total record in common games would be 9-2, with the Chargers finishing 8-3.
Overall, it boils down to this: the Kansas City Chiefs, and their fans, need not worry–yet. If the Chiefs take care of business next week in Seattle and the following week hosting the Raiders, the Chiefs will not only win the AFC West, but secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
If the Chiefs slip in one of the next two games, for them to have a chance at the division (forget about home-field advantage, unless the Patriots lose again), they’ll need the Chargers to also lose at least one game.
Neither the Chiefs nor Chargers have easy roads to finish the season. But of the two schedules, the Chiefs have the advantage, with the Raiders so clearly out of things. Heck, the Raiders would be better off losing their remaining games to secure a better draft pick.
The Chargers, meanwhile, face not one, but two teams fighting for playoff spots. The Ravens are looking to take the AFC North, while the Broncos’ recent surge has them in the battle for the final AFC Wild Card spot.
So, rest easy, Chiefs fans. Last night’s loss stings, sure, but everything remains the same as it was as of Thursday afternoon: the Chiefs are the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
They still control their destiny.
Which might be the scariest thing of all.