If you’re a Kansas City Chiefs fan, you’re probably alternating disappointment with relief.
The Chiefs’ magnificent 10-game winning streak was not enough to catch the Denver Broncos, whose once five-game lead over KC had been whittled to one going into Sunday.
The Chiefs needed to defeat arch-rival Oakland and hope the Broncos would be upset at home by injury-ravaged San Diego.
The Chiefs held up their end of the bargain with a 23-17 victory — a third straight home game not decided until the final play — while the Chargers’ Philip Rivers put a monumental scare into Denver.
However, ancient warhorse Peyton Manning wobbled off the bench to direct the Broncos to a comeback win to give Denver the top seed.
But in the long run, didn’t this work out better for the Chiefs? Sure, they lost out on a chance to host a first-round game against Pittsburgh and have to play Houston on the road. But who would you rather defend — Houston’s Brian Hoyer or Pittsburgh’s playoff-savvy Ben Roethlisberger?
Unless you’re out of your mind, you’d take your chances with Hoyer and the Texans. Remember, too, Kansas City already defeated Pittsburgh this year, but that came when Big Ben was on the sideline and it was still a competitive game with Landry Jones piloting the Steelers.
The Chiefs already have defeated the Texans this year, but that came way back in the first week of the season and the cast of characters for both teams has changed dramatically.
It also should be noted the Chiefs actually have played their best football on the road. The wins at Houston, Denver, San Diego, Baltimore and London were perhaps the most complete performances of the season. They were 6-3 away from Arrowhead (the Detroit game was considered a home game, but played in England) and were much more prolific offensively in those games.
With Houston, you have to deal with one-man wrecking ball J.J. Watt, but the Chiefs doubled him for most of the first meeting and he wasn’t that much of a factor. Watt is the best defensive player on the planet and you can bet he’ll have his motor wide open, which means the KC offensive line will have its hands full.
The Chiefs’ playoff game Saturday may be more mental. They’re going to hear a lot in the coming days how they’ve gone the longest of any NFL team without a playoff win. But many of this team had nothing to do with that, though there are still several key players who remember the angst after the playoff loss at Indianapolis two years ago.
The AFC certainly is wide open. Denver is probably the favorite now that Manning is back at the helm to re-energize the Broncos, who also have the best defense among the six teams. New England’s offensive line is so beat up and its receiver corps has been decimated, which could send it out early. Cincinnati’s playoff woes are well chronicled, while Houston doesn’t have enough talent. Look out for Pittsburgh, if it can get its defensive problems worked out.