KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs have won 10 division championships in 57 seasons in the AFL and NFL, but never in back-to-back years.
That fact is lost on a lot of the newer Chiefs players, who have reached the postseason in three of the past four seasons. It isn’t lost on an elder statesman like 35-year-old linebacker Derrick Johnson, who as the Chiefs’ first-round draft pick in 2005 is their longest-tenured player.
“This is my 13th year and I don’t have a lot of banners," said Johnson, who has played for two AFC West champion teams. “To get two back to back, that’s pretty special.
“We’re trying to get a seat at the table. We have a lot of things on the line this week."
The 8-6 Chiefs can follow their 2016 division title with another on Sunday by beating the Miami Dolphins at Arrowhead Stadium. Failing that, the Chiefs would still clinch if the 7-7 Los Angeles Chargers lose to the Jets in New York.
If the Chiefs don’t get the job done this weekend, they would get another chance on New Year’s Eve, the final day of the regular season. The Chiefs would then clinch if they beat the Broncos in Denver or the Chargers lose to the Raiders in Los Angeles.
So there’s a good chance the Chiefs will wind up with consecutive division championships for the first time in franchise history. It looked like an eventuality early in the season, when the Chiefs won their first five games to sprint away from the AFC West pack.
That they’ve had to go this deep into the season to secure a title that once seemed a forgone conclusion is the surprise. It would still be a cause for celebration, if the Chiefs can get it.
“The first thing you have to do is win the division," Johnson said. “That’s our first goal. After that, all the other goals can come true."
The Chiefs two weeks ago, after a four-game losing streak, fell back into a three-way tie for first place with the Raiders and Chargers. Since then, they reestablished themselves as heavy favorites by beating both teams. The Chiefs could still tie with one team or both for the division title but in any case would have the tiebreaker in their favor, thanks to those wins the past two weeks.
"It feels good to be back in this position," safety Ron Parker said. “We stuck this thing out the last couple of weeks together as a family and that’s good. That was something to overcome. I think we did a good job as a team just staying together. I think it was easy to just fall apart but the last two weeks we tried to get this thing back rolling."
The Chiefs now have some margin of error, so it isn’t necessary that they beat the Dolphins to win the division title. But they aren’t quite looking at things that way.
They would rather not have that must-win pressure hanging over them all next week and then on New Year’s Eve in Denver.
“There has to be an urgency all the way around (because) you aren’t guaranteed of anything," coach Andy Reid said. “So every game becomes the most important game. If it wasn’t before, it surely is now. We put ourselves in this position, so we have to make sure we stay focused and that’s how I look at it.
“Nothing is done. We haven’t solidified anything... We’ve got to keep playing and playing aggressively. That’s the way our guys are wired and they’re tuned in that way. I wouldn’t expect anything less. That’s how they roll.”