From 1-5 to the playoffs: How the Chiefs saved their season

Bruschi, Edwards like the Chiefs over the Texans (1:15)

Tedy Bruschi and Herm Edwards break down the AFC wild-card matchup between the Chiefs and Texans. (1:15)

Andy Reid's message to his Kansas City Chiefs team this week was simple.

"Just keep being you," Reid said he told the team. "Keep working hard. Keep doing the things you've done to get yourself to this position. ... It's another single-elimination game."

The Chiefs have essentially played 10 straight single-elimination games -- they clinched a playoff berth after Week 16 and improbably could have won the AFC West in Week 17 if Denver had lost to San Diego.

So, for this team, there's no such thing as playoff pressure. Not against the Houston Texans on Saturday. Not after starting the season an abysmal 1-5, after which the Chiefs had a 4.7 percent chance of making the postseason, according to ESPN's Football Power Index research.

Even that might have been generous. From 1970 through 2014, 218 teams started a season 1-5 or worse. Only one, the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals, reached the postseason.

Now the Chiefs are No. 2.

"We dug ourselves a bit of hole there," Reid said.

Just a bit.

In his 16 previous seasons as a head coach, Reid had never started a season 1-5. After losing at Minnesota in Week 6 -- and losing star running back Jamaal Charles for the season with a torn ACL in Week 5 -- Reid didn't know how to climb out of this hole. But Reid did what he always does. He remained even-keeled. He didn't panic. He preached fundamentals and the value of working hard.

No one in the Chiefs organization pointed a finger. No one passed the blame. There weren't any rifts between the coaches and the front office. There was no backbiting, no positioning with ownership in the event the season ended poorly. Top to bottom, the organization didn't fall apart, as was the case in other places this season (see: Eagles, Philadelphia). Instead the organization pulled together.

And even without Charles, good things started happening.

Central to that was the play of Alex Smith and Reid's decision to entrust his QB with, as he said, "the keys to the car." Before this 10-game winning streak began, Reid said he told Smith, "You've got the ball in your hands last, and you can make the decisions when you're there. You're at the line of scrimmage. If you see something you don't like, sub into something you do like."

It was power Reid never bestowed on his longtime quarterback in Philadelphia, Donovan McNabb, or any of McNabb's successors, including Kevin Kolb, Michael Vick and Nick Foles. And it was a first for Smith in Reid's system.

Smith rewarded Reid's faith, throwing 312 consecutive passes without an interception at one point this season. He finished the season throwing only seven picks, including just four in the final 13 games.

It didn't hurt, of course, that Smith began to find a groove with Jeremy Maclin. The quarterback and receiver had worked tirelessly in the offseason to learn each other's preferences, but that chemistry and trust is only truly developed in live game action.

With Smith and Maclin in sync, players who were coming off of absences began finding their form. Safety Eric Berry, who returned after a cancer diagnosis late in 2014, started having more of an impact. Same with defensive end Mike DeVito (Achilles tear), linebacker Derrick Johnson (Achilles tear) and defensive tackle Dontari Poe (back surgery).

And the team's young talent matured quickly. When the season opened, the Chiefs had the most rookies and first-year players on the roster of any team in the AFC. They benefited from time and experience.

Add it up, and you get a 10-game winning streak, during which the Chiefs allowed just 12.8 points per game and had a plus-16 turnover margin, both best in the NFL.

The Chiefs benefited from a soft schedule, but as Reid so often says, every win in the NFL is tough to come by, and every win matters.

Slowly, as Kansas City's wins piled up, their statistical likelihood of making the playoffs increased. The Chiefs had a 13 percent chance to make the playoffs entering Week 8, then a 30 percent chance entering Weeks 9 and 10, then a 48 percent chance entering Week 11.

After Kansas City beat Buffalo in Week 12 to improve to 6-5, I told Reid: The analytics say you have an 85 percent chance of making the postseason.

His response: "I don't even go there."

One game at a time.

"Listen," Reid said, "I'm kind of narrow-minded on those things. I think you win every game. That's how I go into it. I didn't think we would go 1-5, but we were there. ... Did I see it turning around? Every week, I don't look at that big picture. I don't think you do that in those situations. You just try to win that game."

Now, the Chiefs will try to extend the longest winning streak in the league and give their fans something they haven't had in more than two decades: a playoff victory.

"We're not the prettiest team in the world," Reid said, "but we play hard. Guys make plays. They make plays when they need to make plays, and I'm OK with that. We've got so much room to improve, but they're willing to do that."

Reid hopes they can do that for four more single-elimination games.