NFL Playoff Picture: Chiefs, Raiders meet in key AFC matchup on Sunday Night Football

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With the NFL season at its halfway point, the playoff picture is beginning to take shape. On Sunday, the Chiefs and Raiders will meet in Las Vegas on Sunday Night Football for a matchup that will have major implications in the division and the conference. Live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET with Football Night in America. The match-up will also be available via live stream on Peacock.

Let’s look at where teams stand in the postseason race.

How close is the playoff race in the AFC West?

The AFC becomes increasingly competitive each week as 11 of its teams have five or more wins. The AFC West specifically is a tight race through nine weeks.

The Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders are tied for the division lead with a 5-3 record. The Denver Broncos (5-4) and Chiefs (5-4) are one game behind in the division. The Chargers, led by QB Justin Herbert, look poised to make a playoff push despite a struggling defense while the Raiders and Broncos have both shown flashes of promise.

The AFC West is up for grabs due to the Chiefs’ offensive and defensive woes this season.

For the past six seasons, the Kansas City Chiefs have dominated not only their conference, but the division. The Chiefs have advanced to the playoffs in six straight seasons and have won five consecutive division titles.

But issues on both sides of the ball have limited Kansas City’s success in 2021. The Chiefs have scored just 36 points in its past three games and former-MVP Patrick Mahomes has not looked like himself. Over the past five weeks, he is ranked 28th in quarterback rating, 29th in completion percentage and 31st in yards per attempt.

The Chiefs also lead the league with 19 turnovers and Mahomes himself has fumbled in four consecutive games after not fumbling once during the first quarter of the season. The defense has performed better recently, allowing just 16 points per game over the last four games. But the unit’s slow start to the season still has the defense ranked in the bottom 10 of the league in yards allowed per game and total points allowed.

Why is the Sunday Night Football game between the Chiefs and Raiders so important?

Because the AFC West is wide open, the Chiefs and Raiders are both fighting for playoff position in this week’s Sunday Night Football matchup.

When the two teams met last season, the Raiders handed the Chiefs their first loss of the season in Week 5, winning 40-32. The loss was just one of two dropped games by the Chiefs in all of last season. In the second meeting between the two teams, the Chiefs rebounded to win, 35-31 on Sunday Night Football. This season, the Chiefs are 0-2 in Sunday Night Football matchups.

Sunday night’s contest is the first between the two division foes this season. The second game is scheduled for Week 14.

RELATED: How to watch the Kansas City Chiefs vs Las Vegas Raiders – Live stream, TV info, kickoff time for Sunday

Who else is competitive in the AFC?

The battle for a playoff spot extends beyond the AFC West into the AFC North. Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens lead the division with a 6-3 record despite losing a shocker to the Miami Dolphins on Thursday Night Football to kick off Week 10. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals each have five wins and are within sight of first place in the division.

Joe Burrow and the Bengals looked the team to beat after Cincinnati put together a statement win against the Ravens in Baltimore in Week 7. But the Bengals lost their second-straight contest last week, falling to Cleveland, 41-16.

Meanwhile the Tennessee Titans, who have strong control over the AFC South with a 7-2 record, have the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff race entering Week 10 of the season. Even without star running back Derrick Henry, the Titans surged to a 28-16 defeat of the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday Night Football.

Not far behind the Titans are the Buffalo Bills. The Buffalo Bills entered Week 9 as the No. 2 seed in the AFC, but lost a shocker to the Jacksonville Jaguars, 9-6. The Bills looked like the favorite to win the AFC when they defeated the Chiefs in Week 5 to improve to 4-1. But they have since dropped two of their last three contests.

During that time, the New England Patriots have found some momentum. Bill Belichick’s team has won its last three games and boasts a 4-1 record in conference matchups following a statement win over the Chargers in Week 8.

RELATED: Patrick Mahomes – I’m going to continue to take shots downfield

Current AFC Standings

Tennessee Titans (7-2)

Baltimore Ravens (6-3)

Los Angeles Chargers (5-3)

Buffalo Bills (5-3)

Las Vegas Raiders (5-3)

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3)

New England Patriots (5-4)

Kansas City Chiefs (5-4)

Cleveland Browns (5-4)

Cincinnati Bengals (5-4)

Denver Broncos (5-4)

Where do things stand in the NFC?

The NFC is more top-heavy in comparison to the AFC, but the race is just as competitive.

The Arizona Cardinals improved to 8-1 and moved back into the No. 1 spot in the conference following a win over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 9 despite having to start backup quarterback Colt McCoy in place of Kyler Murray and missing DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt. Their only loss this season came against the Green Bay Packers in Week 8.

The remaining top seeds in contention are as follows: Packers (7-2), Buccaneers (6-2), Cowboys (6-2) and Rams (7-2).  The Packers dropped into the No. 2 position following a loss to the Chiefs in Week 9 – a game in which first-round pick Jordan Love made his first career start under center.

The Cowboys dropped in the standings following a 30-16 loss to the Denver Broncos last week, snapping a six-game winning streak.

Sean McVay and the Rams dropped to the No. 5 seed when they fell to the Titans, 28-16, at SoFi Stadium in Week 9. Before this game, the Rams had won four straight contests, albeit all against teams with losing records.

In the remaining weeks, all five of the top teams in the NFC are set to jockey back and forth for the top spot in the conference.

Current NFC Standings

Arizona Cardinals (8-1)

Green Bay Packers (7-2)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2)

Dallas Cowboys (6-2)

Los Angeles Rams (7-2)

New Orleans Saints (5-3)

Atlanta Falcons (4-4)

Carolina Panthers (4-5)

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