KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The top seed in the AFC and the all-important first-round postseason bye belong to the Kansas City Chiefs.
With a win Saturday at Las Vegas, nobody else in the conference can match Kansas City’s .824 win percentage after tying the franchise record with a 14-win season.
“You’ve still got to take care of business,” Kansas City coach Andy Reid said. “Our guys understand that.”
He planned to give the Chiefs' players some extra time off before returning to the practice facility late next week to get a jump on preparation for the Divisional round.
That's the important part of the bye week, a chance to rest and recover — both physically and mentally after grinding through the last five months.
“I feel like it benefits our defense, just getting some rest,” said linebacker Nick Bolton, who set a franchise record with 180 tackles this season. “Some guys got banged up, dinged up the back half of the season, so it’s an opportunity to get healthy and get fresh.”
Should the Chiefs (14-3) win their playoff opener in the Divisional round, they could still wind up playing the AFC Championship Game at a neutral site, but the conditions for that scenario cleared up considerablywith Kansas City’s win.
If Buffalo wins Sunday against New England and also wins its Wild Card and Divisional playoff games, a Bills-Chiefs conference title game would be at a neutral site.
The NFL approved that change to the postseason rules Friday after deciding to cancel the Cincinnati-Buffalo game, which was halted when Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest Monday at Paycor Stadium in Cincy.
Since Patrick Mahomes became the franchise’s starting quarterback in 2018, the Chiefs have earned the AFC’s top seed three times in five seasons and have earned a playoff bye four times.
This year may have been the most rewarding, especially after the Tyreek Hill trade and the way the rest of the division loaded up to challenge for Kansas City's throne — only to watch Patrick Mahomes and company extend their record for consecutive AFC West titles to seven, which is tied for the second-longest stretch of divisional dominance in NFL history.
“It starts with the organization and the coaches,” Mahomes said. “They’ve set a culture here that started before I was even here. ... Luckily for us, Brett Veach and Coach Reid brought in a lot of guys that were ready to work and wanted to get out there as quickly as possible.”
Kansas City was the No. 1 seed and had a bye in 2018 after finishing 12-4, and again in 2020 after going 14-2.
The Chiefs (12-4) also had a bye in 2019 as the No. 2 but wound up hosting the AFC Championship Game after Tennessee upset top-seeded Baltimore, which had gone 14-2 in the regular season.
Kansas City tied the Titans for the best record in the AFC last season but was seeded second — and missed out on the bye week due to playoff expansion — thanks to a head-to-head loss.
Last year, Cincinnati’s upset of Tennessee led to a fourth straight AFC Championship Game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.
Two weeks from now, Kansas City will face the lowest-seeded remaining team after Wild Card weekend, so coach Andy Reid’s squad wouldn’t face the Bills or Bengals — who are locked into the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds — until the AFC Championship Game.
The Chiefs’ win ensures that a possible AFC Championship Game rematch with the Bengals would be at Arrowhead and not a neutral site.
Before Mahomes’ ascendance, the Chiefs had earned the No. 1 seed twice (1995, 1997) and had only managed a postseason bye four other times — 1995, 1997, 2003 and 2016.