Chiefs closing gap on Broncos in AFC West
KANSAS CITY, MO. — Six weeks into the season, the Kansas City Chiefs just wanted to win a game.
Six weeks later, they were beginning to think playoffs.
Now? The AFC West is a real possibility.
After dispatching injury-riddled Baltimore on Sunday for their eighth consecutive win, the Chiefs are a game back of swooning Denver.
And with games against lowly Cleveland and Oakland at Arrowhead Stadium to finish the regular season, their first division title since 2010 is within sight.
"Everybody knew what this team was capable of," wide receiver Jeremy Maclin said. "Now we're kind of putting it together, (but) we still have a way to go before we get to where we want to be."
A ways to go, sure. But they've also come a long way.
This is the same team that fumbled away a win over the Broncos in Week 2, then was dismantled by Green Bay and Cincinnati.
And that lost consecutive games to Chicago and Minnesota for a 1-5 start, one that led fans and pundits to question coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey.
But starting with a victory over Pittsburgh, the Chiefs (9-5) have started to resemble the team that most pegged for the playoffs in training camp.
Alex Smith went more than 300 passes without an interception, Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware have filled in admirably for the injured Jamaal Charles and an opportunistic defense is scoring as many touchdowns as it's been giving up.
That's not hyperbole, either. Tyvon Branch returned a fumble 73 yards for a score against the Ravens on Sunday, while Marcus Peters took an interception back 90 yards for another.
The Chiefs only allowed two touchdowns, one of those on a desperation throw before halftime.
"Our guys are playing with a lot of energy and a lot of confidence," veteran linebacker Tamba Hali said. "We're on a mission. It's been tough sledding up to this point."
Still, the result is eight straight victories, the third-longest win streak in franchise history, and one that has brought the Chiefs headlong into the thick of the postseason discussion.
If they win out, the Chiefs only need Denver — losers of two straight — to fall to Cincinnati or San Diego in the final two weeks. Kansas City holds the tiebreaker by virtue of its division record, so it would earn the division title over the Broncos (10-4) if they finish with the same record.
Then again, the Chiefs' postseason potential may be better if they earn a wild card. They would have to play on the road, but the opponent would likely be Houston — a team they've already beaten — or Indianapolis, which has struggled since quarterback Andrew Luck's injury.
By winning the division, the Chiefs would stay at home, but could face Pittsburgh again.
In a sign of just how much momentum the Chiefs have these days, nobody seems to be thinking about missing the playoffs entirely.
But if they lose one of their final two games, and the Jets and Steelers win both of their remaining games, Kansas City could still sit this one out.
All those scenarios will play themselves out eventually. But the fact that Kansas City is merely contemplating a playoff future speaks to just how far Reid's team has come in eight weeks.
"We just put our heads down. We try to do that every week," Reid said. "I like the football team. I like the makeup, even during that (losing) time. We have some character guys. It's just winning or losing in this league is a small margin between it. I felt like we were close, but you have to do it."
Lately, the Chiefs have been doing it well.
NOTES: Reid said that he has not heard reports that LB Justin Houston (hyperextended knee) would be out for the rest of the regular season. "I think I would probably know that," Reid added. ... Ware (ribs) could return this week after missing the Ravens game, Reid said. ... Reid has won 29 games in his first three seasons in Kansas City, matching Marty Schottenheimer (1989-91) for the most by any Chiefs coach in their first three seasons.