KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- That Dec. 29 season-ending game in San Diego was shaping up to be a vacation for some of the Kansas City Chiefs' star players. Jamaal Charles, for instance, might as well have headed to the beach for all the work it looked like he would get that day against the Chargers.
Plans have changed with the Denver Broncos' loss to the Chargers on Thursday night. The 10-3 Chiefs can pull back into a tie for first place on Sunday by beating the 4-9 Raiders in Oakland.
The Broncos would still win all ties with the Chiefs at the end of the season thanks to their two-game sweep of the season series with Kansas City. But if the Chiefs beat the Raiders on Sunday and the Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 22 at Arrowhead Stadium, they cannot be eliminated from winning the AFC West championship until that final day of the regular season, when the Chiefs play in San Diego and the Broncos play the Raiders in Oakland.
Kansas City's chances of winning the division title are better than they were a day ago, but still not very good, even if they beat the Raiders. Denver wins the division by winning both of its remaining games no matter what the Chiefs do. Denver is at Houston on Dec. 22.
But the Chiefs need to stay all in until they are eliminated from any chance of winning the division. The prizes that go with winning the AFC West title -- most likely a first-round postseason bye and then at least one home playoff game -- are so good compared with those of being a wild card -- no first-round bye, playoff games on the road -- that the Chiefs have to do what they can to get that done.
If that means playing all of their stars until the end of the regular season, so be it. Sorry, Charles. That San Diego trip needs to be for business purposes.