By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Football fans around the country couldn’t take their eyes off the wild shootout playing out on the field of the Los Angeles Coliseum on Monday night. And when it finally concluded, members of the Patriots organization could all let out a collective fist pump.
That’s because when Patrick Mahomes chucked his third interception of the evening, it ensured that the Chiefs would be the team that picked up a loss on this night. And in losing that game, the Chiefs have left things wide open in the AFC playoff picture.
The team that stands to benefit the most from that loss would be the New England Patriots, the team that’s currently outside of the top two playoff spots and the first-round playoff bye that accompanies them. Heading into Monday night, the Patriots were firmly in the mix to earn themselves a first-round bye. But with Kansas City’s loss, a run that results in New England nabbing the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC is back on the table.
There remains, of course, a lot of football between now and New Year’s to determine that final ranking. Ultimately, any chatter of seeding in November may end up proving to have been a fruitless endeavor.
But as it stands now, the Chiefs are 9-2, the Steelers are 7-2-1, and the Patriots are 7-3. The Patriots have a tremendously easy schedule to close out the season, with two games against the 3-7 Jets and a home game against the 3-7 Bills. If they can win the games they should win, and if they can beat the Steelers head-to-head in Week 15, then they’ll find themselves with a first-round playoff bye.
Meanwhile the Chiefs will be idle next week, enjoying a well-earned bye weekend. It’s essentially a double bye, as they’ll travel to Oakland to handily defeat the 2-8 Raiders in Week 12. After that, they’ll host the 5-5 Ravens and the 7-3 Chargers on a Thursday night. Though the Chargers stumbled last week against the Broncos, that’s a team in L.A. that will possibly be playing to jump into a virtual first-place tie in Week 15. After that, the Chiefs will travel to Seattle to face the 5-5 Seahawks. The season ends with a home date against the Raiders.
1. Kansas City, 9-2
2. Pittsburgh, 7-2-1
3. New England, 7-3
4. Houston, 7-3
5. Los Angeles Chargers, 7-3
6. Baltimore, 5-5
7. Cincinnati, 5-5
8. Miami, 5-5
9. Indianapolis, 5-5
10. Tennessee, 5-5
While the Chiefs will be favored in all five of those remaining games, Monday night’s loss means they won’t have much — if any — room for error going forward if they want to secure the No. 1 overall seed. That’s because, of course, the Patriots own the tiebreaker with the Chiefs, based on the head-to-head victory back in Week 6.
So, if the Patriots go 6-0 to end the season, they’ll just need one more loss from Kansas City in order to leapfrog the Chiefs and steal the No. 1 seed.
Short of that, the Patriots can still earn themselves the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye without going 6-0. Most likely, if they go 5-1 (and beat the Steelers head-to-head), it’ll be enough to earn the No. 2 seed in the AFC. That’s because the Steelers still have to play the Chargers (7-3) and make a trip to New Orleans to face the 9-1 Saints. A divisional matchup with Cincinnati (5-5) to close the season won’t be a picnic, either.
It’s within the Patriots’ control to earn the tiebreaker over Pittsburgh with a head-to-head win in Week 15. If the Steelers win that game, then certainly, the Patriots will need some help from other teams if they want a weekend of rest in early January.
(The Texans, on the strength of a somewhat random seven-game winning streak, find themselves in this mix as well. But the Patriots also own the tiebreaker over Houston, in the unlikely event that it comes into play.)
While the unexpected does happen every single week on just about every football field around the country, the odds at this point do seem to favor the Patriots being able to climb past the Steelers in the standings to at least secure a home game during the divisional round of the playoffs. But with Monday night’s loss by Kansas City, it’s much more of a realistic possibility for New England to climb all the way to the top of the AFC standings before the playoffs begin.