The Chiefs control their own divisional destiny and that should scare the rest of the AFC
The Kansas City Chiefs made a statement in the first half of their pivotal Thursday night game against division rival Oakland.
Jumping out to a 21-3 lead in the second quarter, the Chiefs were rolling, beating Oakland on offense (Alex Smith was punishing a Raiders defense that was daring the dink-and-dunk quarterback to throw deep), defense (Kansas City was locking down Derek Carr and the Raiders' prolific offense), special teams (Tyreek Hill returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown), and on the sideline (Andy Reid declined a penalty against convention, setting up the Hill touchdown).
And when the Chiefs get rolling at Arrowhead Stadium, teams don't stand much of a chance of coming all the way back.
The Raiders had more than half a game to come back from that 21-3 deficit Thursday, but they couldn't get over the hump. Even for an excellent team like Oakland, that's not all that surprising.
The Raiders were able to score when the Chiefs lost middle linebacker and defensive leader Derrick Johnson to what could be a career-ending Achilles tendon injury in the second quarter, but the Chiefs defense — no doubt emboldened by a deafening Arrowhead crowd — was able to hold in the game's pivotal moments: the series following Alex Smith's two turnovers in Chiefs territory to start the third quarter, and the Raiders' effort to tie the game in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter.
The Chiefs boast one of the best defenses in the NFL now that pass-rusher extraordinaire Justin Houston has returned to the fold, and that won't change even with the painful loss of Johnson.
Add in the fact that Kansas City boasts one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL — if not the single best — and you have a formidable combination that no team in the AFC should want to face come January.
And thanks to the Chiefs' 21-13 win Thursday, Kansas City could have that advantage in not just one, but two AFC playoff games.
With the win, the Chiefs are now in first place in the AFC West and control their own destiny in winning the toughest division in football. If they finish the season with the same record as the Raiders, Kansas City will win the West by virtue of beating Oakland twice this season.
The West's winner will almost certainly receive a first-round bye and host an AFC divisional-round playoff game. There's a good chance that the West winner could have home-field advantage in the AFC Championship Game as well — the New England Patriots have two tough road games remaining this season against Denver and Miami.
Kansas City last hosted a playoff game in 2010 and last won one at home in 1993, but home-field advantage — huge for every team in the NFL — is even bigger for them.
Oakland certainly didn't look themselves on the offensive end in the 21-degree temperatures Thursday. Meanwhile, the Chiefs, who want to run a power game out of heavy personnel groups, have a game tailor-made for cold temperatures.
Despite the bone-shatteringly cold conditions, Chiefs fans got up for Thursday's huge contest, no doubt coming close to the 142.2-decibel noise record they set in 2014, which officially made it the loudest stadium in all of sports.
It's pretty hard to call an audible when you're a few decibels away from eardrum rupture and it's hard to throw a pass when you can't feel any of your extremities and Houston is going to hit you if you hold the ball for more than two seconds. Add in the pressure of the playoffs and it's an incredible hurdle to overcome.
Thursday's playoff-like environment was built for a Chiefs win — Kansas City's eighth in its last nine games.
And if the Chiefs can close out the final three games atop the AFC West — they have a better than 82 percent chance of doing that after Thursday's win, per FiveThirtyEight — they should have at least one, if not two more of those kind of games.