How Chiefs got to 2023 AFC Championship game: Key moves, turning point, most crucial win, full season results

How Chiefs got to 2023 AFC Championship game: Key moves, turning point, most crucial win, full season results
How Chiefs got to 2023 AFC Championship game: Key moves, turning point, most crucial win, full season results

The Kansas City Chiefs find themselves in a familiar spot: the AFC Championship. Andy Reid's club has reached the conference title game for a fifth consecutive year and is looking to advance to the Super Bowl for the third time over that stretch. Standing in their way  are the Cincinnati Bengals, who ousted them from the NFL playoffs at this very juncture last year. Kansas City will look to avenge that loss and try to win the second Super Bowl title during this Patrick Mahomes era. 

Before we dive headfirst into that game, however, let's take a look back at how this team got here. Below, we'll review Kansas City's key acquisitions, most important wins and other notable moments throughout the 2022 season. 

Notable departures

Kansas City went through a pretty significant change of the guard at some key spots on both sides of the ball this offseason. Instead of inking Tyreek Hill to a monster contract extension, the Chiefs moved off of one of the pillars on offense, sending him to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a haul of draft picks, including a 2022 first-round pick and a 2022 second-round pick. Hill had spent the first six years of his career in K.C. and proved to be one of the more lethal weapons in the NFL. In that time frame, Hill also moved inside the top five of the franchise's all-time receiving yards list, receptions list and receiving touchdowns. With that in mind, this was a seismic shift to what the team was set to do offensively. 

Meanwhile, the Chiefs also lost two key pieces in the secondary in Tyrann Mathieu and Charvarius Ward. Ward inked a three-year, $42 million deal with the 49ers in free agency, but, as it relates to Mathieu, the Chiefs decided to move off of one of their main faces on the defensive side of the ball. Instead of signing Mathieu to a deal, the club decided to sign Texans safety Justin Reid. Mathieu would later say he would have taken Reid's deal had it been offered to him. 

Notable acquisitions

With Hill gone, the Chiefs revamped the wide receiver position a bit by signing in JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Smith-Schuster ended up leading the position group in targets, receptions, and receiving yards, while Valdes-Scantling served as a deep threat and averaged 16.4 yards per reception throughout the regular season. K.C. also drafted rookie Skyy Moore in the second round and made an in-season trade for former Giants receiver Kadarius Toney to further bolster the position group.

Justin Reid was the big free-agent acquisition on defense, inking a three-year, $31 million deal with the club in mid-March. He replaced Tyrann Mathieu in the secondary at safety and has started every game for K.C. throughout the season while finishing fourth on the team in tackles and tied for fifth in pass breakups.

While Day 3 of the NFL Draft is largely a guessing game, the Chiefs seem to have found a couple of needles in the seventh-round haystack by taking cornerback Jaylen Watson and running back Isiah Pacheco. Watson started in six of his 16 games played during the regular season and got the nod in the divisional-round win over Jacksonville where he came up with a fourth-quarter interception off Trevor Lawrence that essentially iced the game. Meanwhile, Pacheco has blossomed into the feature back in K.C.'s backfield, leading the team in rushing and averaging nearly five yards per carry. 

Turning point

Week 15 at Texans: On paper, this game shouldn't have been close at all. The Chiefs were a two-touchdown favorite over the Texans on the road, but Houston gave them its best effort. The Texans led at halftime and put K.C. truly on upset alert by taking this game to overtime after Harrison Butker missed a 51-yard field goal with less than 10 seconds left in regulation. Kansas City even won the coin toss but had to punt the ball away, meaning the Texans only would have needed a field goal to secure what would have been one of the biggest upsets of the season. However, Davis Mills fumbled the football, the Chiefs recovered and the offense immediately secured the win on the following play. thanks to a 26-yard touchdown by Jerick McKinnon: 

On top of simply avoiding the upset, this potential loss would have been the one many folks circled had Kansas City lost out on the No. 1 seed in the AFC. By this time, the Chiefs had already surrendered the head-to-head tiebreakers to both the Bills and Bengals, so any slippage down the stretch could have seen them dip in the standings.

Key win

Week 18 at Raiders: In the aftermath of the Bengals vs. Bills game being canceled due to the Damar Hamlin incident, NFL owners made alterations for how the top seed in the AFC was to be determined with those two teams -- that both had the head-to-head tiebreaker over K.C. -- still within striking distance heading into that game in Week 17, but would now be playing one fewer game. From Kansas City's point of view, it now entered a must-win Week 18 scenario against the Raiders in Las Vegas. If the Chiefs came out victorious, they'd solidify the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye (with home field yet to be determined). However, had they lost and Buffalo beat New England (which they did the next day), the Chiefs would have fallen to the No. 2 seed. 

Recognizing what was at stake, K.C. made quick work of a Raiders team that took the 49ers to the brink with Jarrett Stidham under center the week prior. Mahomes started the game 14 of 17 for 175 yards and a touchdown and built up a 24-3 lead going into halftime, which essentially left the Raiders in the dust and secured the top seed in the conference. 

Now that Buffalo has been eliminated from the postseason, that No. 1

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