KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — No matter what route the Kansas City Chiefs take through the playoffs, it is sure to be a familiar one.
That tends to happen when you've been near the top as long as they have been.
In the divisional round, the Chiefs could face former Andy Reid assistants now leading the Jacksonville Jaguars (Doug Pederson) and Baltimore Ravens (John Harbaugh), an AFC West rival in the Los Angeles Chargers or longtime star Tyreek Hill with his new team, the Miami Dolphins.
Just last year, the Chiefs and Bills played a divisional playoff game for the ages, combining for 25 points in the final 2 minutes of regulation. Kansas City drove 44 yards in the final 13 seconds and tied the game on Harrison Butker's 49-yarder as time expired, then drove 75 yards in overtime for the winning touchdown.
Then in the AFC title game — the fourth straight played in Kansas City — the Chiefs jumped to a 21-3 lead over the Bengals late in the first half. But their offense, so dynamic for so long, wilted over the final 35 minutes, allowing Joe Burrow to lead Cincinnati to a 27-24 overtime victory and a spot in the Super Bowl.
“Obviously you don’t know for sure who you’re going to play,” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said this week, "so what I’ll do is watch a game or two from each team that we have a possibility of playing, kind of each day, just to get a general sense of the team without being too much of a deep dive.
“Luckily, two of the teams we’ve already played this year,” Mahomes said of the Bills and Bengals, both of whom beat Kansas City, “so I have a general sense of them already. You make sure you stay working out, stay moving around — not just sitting on the couch — and then when we get ready to go next week, I just try to be prepared and ready to roll.”
The Chiefs may have been the biggest beneficiary in the Bills having their Week 17 game against the Bengals canceled following the collapse of Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin. It allowed them to finish a half-game ahead of the Bills for the best record in the AFC, and that gave them this week off for the third time in the last five years.
The last time, two years ago, the Chiefs advanced to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“We can’t control when we play, where we play. The only thing we can control is how we play and to be ready for that moment whenever that happens,” Chiefs safety Justin Reid said. "It’s fortunate for us that we were able to get the No. 1 seed. That’s something that we aimed for at the beginning of the season, so congratulations to our team on doing that.
“Wherever we end up playing next, however these scenarios play out,” Reid continued, "wherever that location and time is, we’re going to be ready to play and we’re going to play it.”
The Chiefs at least know their first two games would be played at Arrowhead Stadium, and an AFC title game against anyone but the Bills would be played there, too, for the record fifth consecutive year. If the Chiefs and Bills meet for a spot in the Super Bowl for the second time in three years, that would be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
“A couple of teams we’ve played,” Reid said. “We’ll try to focus in on the ones that we think that we have a chance, most of all, but also cover all of them while we have time – I’m saying as a coaching staff. Then we'll narrow that down for the players as we get them this week before we actually know for next week."
Reid also said the Chiefs will “work on some things that we need to work on” during their week off.
There doesn't seem to be much right now.
The Chiefs are always trying to hit their stride this time of year, and while they've often played down to the level of their opposition this season, everything seemed to click in their regular-season finale. They raced to a 24-3 halftime lead over the Las Vegas Raiders before coasting to a 31-13 victory and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
Their turnover trouble? They finished plus-2 against the Raiders. Their penalty woes? They had five for just 43 yards. Their frustrating special teams problems? Butker was perfect on field goals and extra points.
“I mean, defense has stepped up, played really good these last few weeks. Offensively, we’ve had good spurts,” Mahomes said. "We feel like we can play even better; I’ll always feel like we can play better as an offense. But it’s coming from everywhere. ... We have guys everywhere getting involved, making plays happen. But like you said, a win is a win. We’re worried about winning, not covering spreads, so we’ll try to keep that momentum rolling."
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Dave Skretta, The Associated Press