The Morning After: A Division Championship

Posted Dec 27, 2010

Chiefs rise to AFC West Champions

The Chiefs didn’t know that they had clinched. All they knew was that San Diego trailed Cincinnati 10-0 in the first half. Kansas City’s season had been further simplified.

Either the Chiefs clinched the AFC West on Sunday evening or everything would come down to a Week 17 matchup with Oakland.

Kansas City was four quarters away, at the absolute maximum, of clinching the city’s first AFC West title in seven years. Even when discussing the implications of Sunday’s convincing 34-14 victory over Tennessee, many players were still reluctant to even utter the “P-Word.”

“As good as it’s been, it won’t taste as well if we don’t get where we want to be,” G Brian Waters said. “If we don’t’ get into the next part of the season…believe me, I appreciate all the wins in comparison to the last three years, but we came into the season with a goal and that goal is to get to the next level.”

Next part of the season? Next level?

The Chiefs need not get creative with their wording anymore. As AFC West Champions, Todd Haley has officially lifted his ban on the team uttering the “P-Word.” The Chiefs have officially punched their ticket into the playoffs.

“Now that we’re in, you can say whatever you want but I probably won’t say it a whole bunch,” Haley said. “I’m proud of the guys. There are a lot of people that have struggled through some tough times and reward in this business is winning.

“That’s really good for everybody involved; that’s what you do it for.”

Kansas City’s run to a division championship has been defined by a number of team-wide improvements. From rookie contribution to veteran addition and, of course, to the emphasis on developing young in-house talent; everything has happened much quicker than anyone imagined.

Worst-to-First stories take something special. The 2010 Chiefs have found a way to infuse a number of individual stories into team success.

“You set your expectations high and you work hard and you push people to their limits,” Haley said. “Through experience I have learned that you can get things going at least in the right direction. For us to get to this spot, this quick, is really great. I can’t say that it was necessarily expected.

Haley’s NFL coaching resume has now seen five teams win five division titles. That covers each of his stops as an NFL coach.

Todd Haley: 5 Teams, 5 Division Titles

1998 N.Y. Jets: 12-4 (AFC East Champion)

2001 Chicago Bears: 13-3 (NFC Central Champion)

2006 Dallas Cowboys: 9-7 (NFC East Champion)

2008 Arizona Cardinals: 9-7 (NFC West Champion)

2010 Kansas City Chiefs: 10-5 (AFC West Champion)

Of those five franchises, four have included significant turnaround stories. None is a finer flip than the 2008 Cardinals, but the 2010 Chiefs represent Haley’s true portrait.

Haley was given an opportunity to build a team in his own vision; one that he shared with new GM Scott Pioli. .

“One of Todd’s unique qualifications is the fact that he’s served with a number of different organizations, four in particular that have turned their franchises around,” Pioli said when he announced Haley as head coach in 2009. “We have a shared vision of what it takes to build a successful franchise in the National Football League.”

Establishing an identity and returning to a standard of accountability were starting points. Plenty has filled in since.

Outside of organizational culture shift and roster overhaul, the Chiefs were able to return an AFC West title to Arrowhead by winning December home dates, and simply, winning home games in general.

Arrowhead’s facelift has seen its once infamous home field advantage return. The Chiefs extended their home record to a perfect 7-0 on Sunday, a record that includes a 2-0 mark in December.

From 1995-2006, the Chiefs posted a ridiculous record of 21-2 (.913) in December home games. At one point, the Chiefs won 18 consecutive December home dates. But the tides would turn. From 2007-09 KC didn’t win a single December home game.

If you can’t win December home games, winning the division becomes unlikely.

“Today was a good day,” Haley said on Sunday night. “It gives you a chance to get into the mix and obviously, once you’re in there, you never know what can happen. The guaranteed way to get in is to win your division, so that’s what we’re playing the games for.

“Today, that came to fruition which is good for everybody involved, everybody that’s worked really hard and had to go through some pretty difficult days. This is a day to enjoy and to feel good about ourselves.”

Though players were granted a “Victory Monday,” Haley will roll out a schedule that closely mirrors Weeks 1-16 going forward. The locker room and coaching offices will enjoy this win for the next 24 hours before preparing to host Oakland on January 2nd.

“It’s a big day for everybody involved with the Kansas City Chiefs,” Haley said. “I talked to (Pioli) and Clark Hunt…there’s been a lot of people involved here that have gone through difficult times. When you do have one of those feel-good days where it is actually a real good day…you have to enjoy it.”

Haley is still undecided as to how his staff will approach a Week 17 matchup with Oakland. The Chiefs have locked up a home playoff game, but their overall seed remains undecided.

“I would venture to say that with our team and what we’re trying to get done, our goal is to get to three wins and I would say that we’ll get back to work to trying to get that done,” Haley said. “When you’re in that mode and all of a sudden Cincinnati wins to help you get to your primary goal, you [still] have to try to do the right thing anyway.”

A win over Oakland would clinch the AFC’s third overall seed, meaning that Kansas City would host the conference’s sixth seed (2nd wild card team) on January 8th or 9th. That scenario would also avoid a potential Divisional Round match-up at top-seeded New England.

The Colts, who remain a game behind the Chiefs in playoff seeding, could still jump ahead of Kansas City for the AFC’s third seed with a win, paired with a KC loss.

Indianapolis owns head-to-head tiebreaker rules over the Kansas City, but a Colts loss would clinch the number three seed for KC and potentially put Jacksonville in the playoffs as well (if the Jaguars win).

Enjoy the moment Chiefs fans. The process became expedited, but getting to this point was far from easy.

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