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NFL playoff picture: Can Alex Smith and the Chiefs break through?

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The Chiefs beat the Raiders to take over the AFC West lead. Time to update where things stand in the AFC playoff picture.

The AFC got things going on Thursday Night Football with a monster matchup between the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs hosted the game and pulled out a narrow 21-13 victory.

Kansas City jumped on top 21-3, in the first half, and seemed set to cruise to victory. Alex Smith was dropping dimes and looking as good as I have ever seen him. He would finish the game 17 of 26 for 264 yards with a touchdown and an interception. However, the Raiders managed a late second quarter touchdown to cut the lead to 21-10. The Raiders moved the ball for stretches in the second half, but only managed a field goal. They had the ball in the red zone just before the two-minute warning, but could not punch it in.

The result leaves the Chiefs and Raiders tied for first atop the AFC West. However, the Chiefs swept the season series with Oakland, and thus own the ultimate tiebreaker. They effectively have a game lead on the Raiders, with three to go. The Chiefs finish the season with home games against Tennessee and Denver, and then a road game against San Diego. Oakland finishes the season with a game in San Diego, home against Indianapolis, and then on the road in Denver in Week 17. It is highly unlikely the Raiders can win the division, but maybe they surprise us.

The Chiefs are now a half game back of the New England Patriots, who host the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football. If the Patriots lose, they drop into a tie with the Chiefs, and would also be tied in conference record. The next tiebreaker is winning percentage against common opponents. Two of the Chiefs losses are to Houston and Pittsburgh, whom the Patriots beat. That would seem to lock up the tiebreaker for New England.

Alex Smith is going to get another crack at the playoffs, but will he and the Chiefs move a little further along? They got to the divisional round last season before losing to the Patriots. In Smith’s first year with the team, they lost in the wildcard round, blowing a 38-10 lead to the Indianapolis Colts. Maybe they finally break through to the conference championship game, or maybe even the Super Bowl? They’ve got a great defense and strong special teams, but will it be enough?

AFC playoff picture

1. New England Patriots (10-2)
2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-3)
3. Baltimore Ravens (7-5)
4. Houston Texans (6-6)

5. Oakland Raiders (10-3)
6. Denver Broncos (8-4)

In the picture: Miami Dolphins (7-5), Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5), Indianapolis Colts (6-6), Tennessee Titans (6-6), Buffalo Bills (6-6)