This chaotic NFL season augurs the most wide-open playoffs in years

Photograph: Jay Biggerstaff/USA Today Sports

If the NFL was hoping to keep more teams in the playoff hunt longer by expanding the regular season from 17 weeks to 18, well, mission accomplished. Week 16’s slate of games is nearly completed, yet much remains unsettled, particularly in the still wide-open AFC. If there’s one team that’s taken advantage of their situation, it would be the Kansas City Chiefs, who are currently the only team in the conference guaranteed a playoff spot.

Related: NFL roundup: Josh Allen and Bills dump Patriots to wrest command of AFC East

It feels like ages ago, but it was only late October when the preseason favorites looked to be in serious trouble. After a demoralizing 27-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans, the Chiefs had stumbled from the gate with a perplexing 3-4 record. Since then, however, they have rattled off eight straight victories and look to be in great shape to make their third straight Super Bowl.

While previous Chiefs teams were famous for outscoring opponents, this Kansas City team has found a more sustainable model of success, as their Patrick Mahomes-driven offense is now balanced by what has become one of the league’s best defenses. It’s to the point, where the Chiefs easily handled the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday despite being without all-world tight end Travis Kelce, who was on the team’s Covid-19 list.

With Sunday’s 36-10 victory over the Steelers, Kansas City became the first team in the AFC to clinch their division, partly thanks to the New England Patriots’ own reversal of fortune over in the East. On top of that, they are one game ahead of the Tennessee Titans for the conference’s top seed.

Coincidentally enough, the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LV opponents also clinched their division on Sunday. The 11-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers have won the NFC South for the first time since 2007. Even before the season began, it felt like a rematch between these two squads was potentially in the cards and it hasn’t looked…

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