The AFC West will turn out exactly how we thought it would in early October.
The Kansas City Chiefs saved themselves from what would have been an embarrassing collapse after a 5-0 start. The Los Angeles Chargers fell apart just when it looked like they’d recover from an 0-4 start to make the playoffs.
The Chiefs didn’t clinch the AFC West on Saturday night with a 30-13 win to improve to 8-6, but it’s close. They are 8-6, lead the Chargers by a game and own the tiebreaker with two games to go. The Oakland Raiders are still hanging around at 6-7, but the Chiefs will win the tiebreaker over them too.
The Chiefs lost six of seven after that great start to the season, but when they needed a win on Saturday night, they looked like the team that was so good a few months ago.
The defense was very good, led by cornerback Marcus Peters. Peters’ play trailed off during the losing streak, then he was suspended by coach Andy Reid for last week’s game after he threw an official’s flag into the stands. On Saturday night Peters was on a mission. He made four enormous plays: An interception and a long return late in the third quarter to set up a field goal, a forced fumble in the fourth quarter, and a nice tackle on a third down to force fourth-and-short. Philip Rivers threw an interception on the next play. And then with the game all but over, Peters sealed the win with another interception in the final two minutes. The Chargers had one turnover in their four games leading up to Saturday night. They had four turnovers in a four-possession stretch in the second half Saturday, falling apart like they have too often over the past few years.
The Chiefs’ offense looked familiar too. Kareem Hunt looked like the rookie sensation he was in September. He had 206 total yards and his second touchdown of the night put the game away with 3:57 left. Tyreek Hill made yet another big play, a 64-yard touchdown catch. Alex Smith wasn’t exactly dominant like he was when the Chiefs were 5-0, but he was efficient. That wasn’t always the case during the losing streak. Everything clicked with Kansas City on Saturday night, and that’s a great sign as they head toward the playoffs.
This is the beauty of the NFL. Teams can change without warning. Even the Chargers aren’t totally dead in the playoff race, but they probably need the Tennessee Titans to lose out and still get some other help, doing so while dealing with a lot of injuries from Saturday night’s game. The Chiefs’ path to the playoffs is very clear now. With one more win, or one loss by the Chargers and Raiders, they clinch the division title. And for all they went through the past couple months, they’re still dangerous. The Chargers were playing very well going into this game, and the Chiefs handled them. Kansas City played well early this season, and they played very well in demolishing the Raiders last week and again against Los Angeles on Saturday.
This Chiefs season has had some extreme peaks and valleys, but with two weeks left Kansas City seems to be a near lock to win a division title. And if they finish that job, maybe the best version of the Chiefs — the one we saw Saturday night — will stick around for January too.
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