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2018 NFL playoff picture: Chargers stun Chiefs; here’s how the Patriots can still get the number one seed in the AFC

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New England needs three things to happen in order to get the top seed.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday night football games do not enjoy the best reputation among fans and players alike: mostly coming off short rest, the two teams often appear to be badly prepared for the contest which leads to some bad football being played. However, there have been a few notable exceptions and highlight-reel performances on Thursday’s this year. The latest of which came yesterday when the Kansas City Chiefs hosted the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Chiefs blew a two-touchdown lead late in the fourth quarter and ultimately fell 29-28 after the visitors went for a game-deciding two-point attempt with four seconds left on the clock. Their stunning victory keeps the Chargers very much alive in the race for the AFC West title and the number one playoff seed in the conference as a look at the current playoff picture shows:

1. Kansas City Chiefs (11-3)

2. New England Patriots (9-4)

3. Houston Texans (9-4)

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5-1)

5. Los Angeles Chargers (11-3)

6. Baltimore Ravens (7-6)

In the hunt: Indianapolis Colts (7-6); Miami Dolphins (7-6); Tennessee Titans (7-6)

Despite the Chargers’ win, the Chiefs stay ahead of them in the standings because of the better division record. That being said, the AFC West and the race for the number one seed in the postseason remain wide open — which means that the Patriots are also still in position to claim homefield advantage throughout the tournament. All that needs to happen are the following things:

1. The Patriots need to win out: Unsurprisingly, the Patriots cannot allow themselves to drop another game. If they defeat their upcoming three opponents — the Pittsburgh Steelers (road), the Buffalo Bills (home) and the New York Jets (home) — they will end the regular season at 12-4.

2. The Chiefs need to lose another game: Kansas City is still ahead of the Patriots and therefore needs to drop one of its final two games — at the Seattle Seahawks and at home against the Oakland Raiders. The contest in Seattle, a team very much in the playoff race as well, is the likeliest candidate. Either way, if the Chiefs lose one of their contests, they will end the regular season at 12-4.

3. The Chargers need to lose another game: The Chargers have two tough games ahead of them and need to lose one for the Patriots to have a chance at the number one seed. The team will host the Baltimore Ravens next week and travel to Denver in the regular season finale. If Los Angeles drops one of them, it will end the regular season at 12-4.

If the Patriots, Chiefs and Chargers (and even the Texans) all finish with identical 12-4 records, the Patriots would earn the AFC’s top seed: Kansas City would take the west over Los Angeles — something that has a 74% chance of happening, according to fivethirtyeight.com — while the Patriots would beat out Andy Reid’s team on the head-to-head tiebreaker after New England won the two clubs’ week six meeting.

All in all, the AFC playoff race remains an interesting one after yesterday’s game. Before thinking big-picture, however, New England needs to take care of its very own business — starting on Sunday against the Steelers.