Everything is relative, which means the ambitious use what they have to see what they want, which in turn means that sports fans are never satisfied.
So it is that the Chiefs’ best four-year run since the 1990s is largely met with nerves, impatience, and insecurity that there will likely be no first-round playoff bye and that the Patriots still exist.
In some years, this Chiefs team would’ve been good enough to earn a first-round playoff bye with a win as a strong favorite at San Diego on Sunday. In most years, that body of work would be enough to earn a division championship.
But in this year, they may not be good enough for either, not to mention a home playoff game, which means a week full of cursing Alex Smith’s end-zone interceptions and the prospect of a 13th consecutive game week and the reward perhaps being another trip to Pittsburgh.
Anything from an AFC West championship to the conference’s last playoff seed remains possible, and we’ll go through what that all means here, but not without acknowledging that none of it is as important in reality as it feels at the moment.
By now you know the Chiefs’ path to the AFC West title, and the conference’s No. 2 seed. Beat the Chargers on Sunday, and hope the Broncos have enough to beat the Raiders before an offseason on the beach.
The Chiefs are around a 5 1/2 -point favorite, and the Broncos a 1 1/2 favorite. A rough translation of those odds shows about a 38 percent chance of both teams winning.
So, unlikely, but not drastically so.
The Chiefs could also be the No. 6 seed, if they lose to the Chargers and the Dolphins beat the Patriots, though that’s very unlikely (7 percent, using the same rough translation).
But we’re basically talking about the No. 2 or No. 5 seed. The better seed means a bye, and then likely playing the Steelers at home. The No. 5 seed means playing at Houston, and then likely at the Patriots (unless the Dolphins won at Pittsburgh).
According to Kevin Bradley, Bovada sportsbook manager, the Chiefs would be 7-1 to win the AFC as the No. 2 seed and 10-1 as the No. 5 seed. In theory, that’s the difference between a 12.5 percent chance and 9.1 percent.
Essentially, not much difference.
The Chiefs would be a field goal favorite at the Texans, a 2 1/2 -point favorite against the Steelers at home, and they would be a 7-point underdog at the Patriots. If it comes to it, they would be a 6 1/2 -point favorite at the Raiders.
We can get further into the minutia. If the Super Bowl is the only thing that matters, the biggest advantage of the No. 2 seed isn’t the bye or the home game, but the week off.
Justin Houston is still not past the bizarre knee injury that robbed him of the end of last season, and if an extra week to recover is the difference between him playing or not, it could be the difference between the Chiefs advancing or not.
Spencer Ware, Phillip Gaines, Chris Conley, and Justin March-Lillard have also been on the injury report, and with the most recent week off coming in early October, surely everyone on the roster could benefit from a recharge.
If you’re focused on matchups, the No. 5 seed may actually be better if Oakland is the top seed. The Chiefs should beat the Texans, and have already won twice against the Raiders, who would be without the terrific Derek Carr.
Everyone instinctively wants a home playoff game, and home teams have won 34 of 50 playoff games the last five years, including 23 of 30 after the wild-card round.
But Chiefs fans do not need to be reminded that home teams can lose playoff games, too, and the Steelers are a particularly brutal matchup — Le’Veon Bell against a suspect run defense without Derrick Johnson, Antonio Brown lined up away from Marcus Peters, Ben Roethlisberger negating some of the Chiefs’ pass rush, and a group that generally doesn’t commit turnovers.
But, some of this is a bit like worrying about the color of your next car.
It has nothing to do with whether you actually get where you want to go.
The Chiefs’ home-field advantage is generally overrated.
We can see it anecdotally, in the Chiefs not winning a home playoff game since the 1993 season, and we can see it with numbers — the Chiefs are 6-2 at home and 5-2 on the road this season, and 37-42 at home and 34-46 on the road over the last 10 seasons.
This team blew games against the Bucs and Titans at home, and has played most of its best games on the road — wins at the Raiders, Broncos and Falcons.
This team has not been defined by where they play, in other words, and they haven’t even been defined by who they play — 6-2 against teams currently above .500, and 5-2 against teams currently below .500.
This team has been defined by how they play.
A bye would be nice — but more important will be their ability to generate pressure on the quarterback.
Everyone would prefer a home game — but far more important will be their success in giving Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce space and opportunity.
Maybe you hate the idea of facing the Steelers — but ducking good teams is no way to get to the Super Bowl.
As sports fans, we tend to obsess in the moment over things that won’t seem as important in the future.
In 10 of the last 11 seasons, at least one team has made its conference championship without the benefit of a bye. In 2010, 2011, and 2012, the eventual Super Bowl champion did not have a bye.
There should be few places in the NFL where this is better understood than Kansas City, where far too many 13-3 seasons have died at Arrowhead Stadium.
But maybe the best way to think about it is like this: the Chiefs have shown themselves flawed enough to choke a home playoff game (if the season ends on a Smith end-zone interception there is not enough padding on the walls in Kansas City), and they’ve shown themselves good enough to play in the Super Bowl without a bye (wins at Denver, at Atlanta, and against the Raiders with Derek Carr is as good a three-week stretch as anyone in the NFL).
Or, think about it like this: if the Chiefs get that bye, will you be certain they’ll win their divisional game?
And if they don’t, will you be certain they can’t win in Houston, and after that, perhaps, Oakland?
The Chiefs have played their best four games of the season over the last five weeks, with the Titans loss mixed in the middle. That’s what’s important here. Not whether the Chiefs have to play next weekend, or where they play after that.