They are thinking playoffs in Kansas City, which makes some sense even after the Chiefs got off to a poor start this season.
After all, KC qualified for the postseason last year.
They’re also thinking playoffs in Buffalo. Wait, Buffalo?
Yep, at 5-3, like the Chiefs, the Bills are in the middle of the race, seeking to end a 14-season playoff drought.
“I mean, 5-3 is only the beginning,” Bills defensive back Corey Graham says. “We’ve still got a long way to go. It’s not really how you start, it’s how you finish the season.”
The Bills usually finish as an also-ran, which means their success so far in 2014 isn’t likely to go to their heads.
“I can understand the question,” coach Doug Marrone says. “I don’t think that’s the case at all when you haven’t been to the playoffs in such a long time. I think the one message I tried to tell them ... it doesn’t get easier, it gets harder.”
Starting with today. Kansas City is rolling, winning five of six — the only loss was a tight one at San Francisco — and has a defense to be feared. Justin Houston leads the NFL in sacks with 12 and the Chiefs have yielded only 66 points in their five victories.
One oddity: Kansas City has not had a wide receiver catch a touchdown pass from Alex Smith.
“We want to get everybody involved in scoring touchdowns, but to be honest, when you’re out there playing, that’s not something I’m thinking about,” Smith said. “When a play gets called, there’s reads and things that go into it, you’re going out there trying to throw the ball where it goes. We’re not trying to press and force it to this guy or that guy.”
The action began Thursday night with Cleveland manhandling Cincinnati 24-3. The visiting Browns (6-3) moved into a tie for the AFC North lead with Pittsburgh and improved their best start since 1994 — during the previous edition of the franchise.
The Browns won a division game on the road for the first time since 2008, ending a streak of 17 consecutive losses. Cincinnati dropped to 5-3-1.
Monday night’s game is Carolina at Philadelphia.
Off this week are Houston (4-5), Minnesota (4-5), New England (7-2), Indianapolis (6-3), San Diego (5-4) and Washington (3-6).
KANSAS CITY (5-3) at BUFFALO (5-3)
Today, noon, CBS
OPENING LINE — Kansas City by 1
2014 RECORD VS. SPREAD — Kansas City 7-1; Buffalo 4-4
SERIES RECORD — Bills lead 25-19-1
LAST MEETING — Chiefs beat Bills 23-13, Nov. 3, 2013
LAST WEEK — Chiefs beat Jets 24-10; Bills had bye, beat Jets 43-23 on Oct. 26
CHIEFS OFFENSE — OVERALL (21), RUSH (6), PASS (29)
CHIEFS DEFENSE — OVERALL (5), RUSH (19), PASS (1)
BILLS OFFENSE — OVERALL (24), RUSH (23), PASS (20)
BILLS DEFENSE — OVERALL (8), RUSH (8), PASS (13)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Through a quirk in scheduling, non-division rivals meet for seventh straight season and 11th time since 2000. Buffalo is 4-2 in past six and 6-4 past 10 against Kansas City. ... Chiefs are NFL’s only team to not allow touchdown rushing this season. Bills had not allowed any through seven games until surrendering three in win at Jets. ... QB Alex Smith has 11 touchdowns passing, and yet none to a wide receiver. Six have gone to tight ends, including a team-best four to Travis Kelce; four to running backs, including two to Jamaal Charles; and one to fullback Anthony Sherman. ... Smith has career 6-0 record against AFC East teams, with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. ... LB Justin Houston leads NFL with 12 sacks. ... LB Tamba Hali has 116 career sacks, six against Bills journeyman starter Kyle Orton. That’s second most behind San Diego’s Philip Rivers (11 1/2). ... Bills have endured second-half collapses in each of past three seasons they had winning record through eight games, including 2011 when they turned 5-3 into 6-10 finish. ... They haven’t had six wins through nine games since 6-3 start in 1999, last time Buffalo made playoffs. ... Since 2005, Bills are combined 25-47 in second half of season. ... Bills’ streak of 21 games with sack is second longest in team history since going 29 straight from Oct. 27, 1996 to Oct. 4, 1998, according to STATS. ... Bills are second in NFL with 28 sacks. Marcell Dareus leads NFL DTs with seven. ... Rookie WR Sammy Watkins has team-leading 38 catches for 590 yards and five touchdowns, including 20 catches for 393 yards and three TDs in past four since Orton took over as starter.
Miami (5-3) at Detroit (6-2)
Two of the more surprisingly successful teams so far — hey, the Lions lead the NFC North. Detroit has the top-ranked defense and Miami is third. “It’s a pretty even match in terms of the type of teams facing each other,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. “We’re both strong on defense, both have explosive-play ability on offense. I think it’s going to be a heck of a matchup.” Dolphins DE Cameron Wake has 4 1/2 sacks in the past four games. The Lions have seven players with at least two sacks.
San Francisco (4-4) at New Orleans (4-4)
Two of the more disappointing teams so far, although the Saints are coming on with three straight victories. Even better for them, they play their next three at home, where they have won their past 20 with Sean Payton coaching; he was suspended for the 2012 season. San Francisco has dropped its past two games and needs to rediscover its offense. Maybe the Niners will turn to Frank Gore, who has rushed for more than 80 yards in four of his past five games against New Orleans, including the playoffs.
Chicago (3-5) at Green Bay (5-3)
Both teams come back from a bye, and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers must be chomping at the bit. Rodgers is 11-3 against Green Bay’s oldest rival; this is their 190th meeting. The Bears have lost 10 of their past 12 against the Packers, including playoffs. Plus, when the Pack is back off a bye under Mike McCarthy, it is 7-1. The Bears have lost four of five and were routed at home by Green Bay in Week 4.
Denver (6-2) at Oakland (0-8)
Peyton Manning and his teammates are smarting from a shellacking last Sunday at the Patriots. No better way to get healthy than against the NFL’s only winless team. But Manning isn’t getting sloppy or complacent — not that he ever would.
“I don’t look at the record, I look at the film,” Manning said. “I look at how we’re playing. Your job each week is to study the opponent and also be sure you’re studying yourselves and seeing what you need to be doing to improve.” Oakland has lost 14 straight, its longest skid since dropping 19 in a row in 1961-62.
St. Louis (3-5) at Arizona (7-1)
The Cardinals have the NFL’s best record, and plenty of momentum after wins over Philadelphia and Dallas. They have not gone 8-1 since their 11-1 season in 1948, when they called Chicago home. Run defense has been a big part of Arizona’s success: It has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 18 consecutive games. St. Louis has done well in the NFL’s toughest division, going 2-1, and comes off a nail-biting upset of San Francisco. The Rams had six sacks all season before getting eight against the 49ers.
New York Giants (3-5) at Seattle (5-3)
Seattle hasn’t looked much like a Super Bowl champion recently, but it has won two in a row. And the Seahawks expect to get several key players back from injury: center Max Unger, left tackle Russell Okung, safety Kam Chancellor and defensive tackle Jordan Hill. The Seahawks also got Marshawn Lynch back into the offensive flow last week against Oakland. He figures to see plenty of action this week. New York has dropped three straight, its run game stagnant and its pass defense vulnerable. The Giants saw two starters hurt last Monday night in a loss to Indianapolis: rookie guard Weston Richburg and cornerback Prince Amukamara.
Pittsburgh (6-3) at New York Jets (1-8)
The other Meadowlands tenant is in even worse shape. The Jets have never lost nine in a row, but falling to Pittsburgh will achieve that dubious distinction. And the Steelers are 19-4 against the Jets. Pittsburgh has won three straight games, with Ben Roethlisberger setting an NFL mark with six TD passes in consecutive outings.
“I’ve had a lot of matchups against Big Ben through my days,” Jets coach Rex Ryan says. “I lost two (AFC) championship games to him. I had some good games against him and all that. I’ve never seen him this hot.
“He’s just on fire right now.”
And the Jets are cold as ice.
Carolina (3-5-1) at Philadelphia (6-2), Monday night
Mark Sanchez steps in as the starter with Nick Foles (collarbone) sidelined, and Sanchez looked pretty good in a win over Houston. He’ll have the resurgent Jeremy Maclin to throw to; Maclin has 18 receptions for 345 yards and four TDs in his past two games. Philly also gets 2013 All-Pro guard Evan Mathis back from injury. The Panthers are spiraling, losing three straight with little offense to rely on.
Dallas (6-3) vs. Jacksonville (1-8) at London
This year’s third and final match at Wembley Stadium, the second of the Jaguars’ four-game commitment to play a home game in London each year.
There’s plenty of intrigue on the Dallas side. The Cowboys have lost their past two games and QB Tony Romo’s tender back makes him a question mark after he sat out last weekend. Would the team have taken him across the pond just to watch?
“If you’re always waiting to feel great to play in every game you play in, you’re only going to play a couple of games a year,” he says. “The best players are the guys who are able to play at the same level with stuff going on.” Jacksonville, despite its record, can be troublesome, improving since an awful September.
Tennessee (2-6) at Baltimore (5-4)
Coming off a bye, Tennessee has lost five of its past six and is starting a rookie quarterback, Zach Mettenberger. The Titans rank 27th in offense and must find some production to challenge the Ravens, who are solid at home.
Despite their record, the Ravens are in last place in the AFC North. Yet Baltimore’s plus-66 point differential (240-174) ranks third in the NFL behind New England and Indianapolis.
Atlanta (2-6) at Tampa Bay (1-7)
Last time they faced off, the Falcons won 56-14. Atlanta has not won since, dropping five straight. The most painful might have been their mismanaged defeat in London against Detroit before last week’s bye.
Tampa is going back to veteran Josh McCown at quarterback. Bucs rookie WR Mike Evans comes off a seven-catch, 124-yard, two-TD performance against Cleveland. At 21 years, 73 days, he’s youngest player in NFL history to have 100 yards receiving and two TDs in a game.