The only way the Chiefs are going to win the AFC West is to continue their success against … the AFC West.
Two weekends of games remain in the NFL season, and last week’s results shifted control of the division from the Chiefs to the Raiders.
Win out, and the Raiders, who are 11-3, take the AFC West and receive a bye in the first round of the playoffs. The Chiefs, 10-4, need to finish at least even with the Raiders to claim the division because they hold the tie-breaker advantage.
The good news for the Chiefs? They own AFC West opponents, at least for the past two years.
The Chiefs ride a nine-game division winning streak into Sunday night’s game against the Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium. They end the regular season a week later at San Diego.
The streak is the third longest in franchise history and a victory on Sunday will match the second-longest streak.
Division games count the same in the standing as any other game, but …
“All divisional games are different,” tight end Travis Kelce said. “They mean that playoff berth. Win your division and you’re in the playoffs.”
Guaranteed. The Chiefs’ team record for consecutive division victories is 12, which occurred from 1994 to 1996 and included the only season in franchise history that the Chiefs went undefeated in the division. In 1995, when the AFC West included the Seattle Seahawks, the Chiefs went 8-0 on their way to a 13-3 finish and division title. Their 10-game streak included seven games during the 1997 season, another division-title year.
Coach Andy Reid sidestepped a question this week about the Chiefs being constructed specifically to beat the Broncos, Raiders and Chargers.
“That’s not necessarily how you build your team,” he said.
It just seems that way for the Chiefs, who are 9-1 against the AFC West and 12-8 against everybody else over the past two seasons. Quarterback Alex Smith can’t put his finger on the difference in winning percentage.
“I wish I knew what the one thing was,” Smith said. “These are huge games. The division is extremely competitive with a ton of rivalries, none bigger than this.”
The current streak started after one of the most painful losses of 2015, the 31-24 setback to the Broncos at Arrowhead on a Thursday night in the second week of the season. Denver scored two touchdowns in a nine-second span to take a 31-24 lead with 27 seconds remaining.
That triumph gave the Broncos and NFL-record 13th straight road division victory. The streak would reach 15 before being snapped. In those years (2011-’15), the Broncos dominated division opponents and won five division championships. The streak began with Tim Tebow as the quarterback.
The NFL record for consecutive division victories is 16 by the Indianapolis Colts from 2012 to 2015.
The Chiefs started the current streak against the Broncos. They intercepted Peyton Manning four times in a 29-13 victory at Denver and went on to sweep the Raiders and Chargers to finish 11-5 and reach the playoffs.
It’s taken some incredible finishes this season to keep the streak alive.
In the opener against the Chargers, the Chiefs fell behind by three touchdowns early in the third quarter but pulled out a 33-27 overtime triumph for the biggest comeback in franchise history.
Another comeback was required at Denver on Nov. 28, when the Chiefs fell behind by eight with three minutes remaining, only to tie the game with 12 seconds left, and win it in overtime on a Cairo Santos’ field goal that caromed off the upright.
Especially impressive about the Chiefs’ streak is the AFC West’s strength. The Broncos won last season’s Super Bowl. This year the division could wind up with three playoff teams.
One difference between games like Sunday’s and other division games is the unspoken intensity during the build up.
“We all get it,” Smith said. “That’s the nature of having played against a lot of these guys over a bunch of years. It’s a lot of same faces and people. I try not to build it up too much because you can’t peak too soon. We all know what it’s going to be like.”
Chiefs’ AFC West winning streak
Longest Chiefs division winning streaks
Current longest division winning streaks
10: Texans, AFC South
9: Chiefs, AFC West
4: Ravens, AFC North
3: Falcons, NFC South