NFL

Opportunistic Chiefs continue to defy odds on way to 9-3 mark

Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry (29) breaks the tackle of Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) after Berry made an interception during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Atlanta. Berry scored a touchdown on the play(AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry (29) breaks the tackle of Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) after Berry made an interception during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Atlanta. Berry scored a touchdown on the play(AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The odds have been firmly stacked against the Kansas City Chiefs countless times this season.

They've defied them almost every time.

Start with the season opener against San Diego, when the Chiefs engineered the biggest comeback in the five decade-plus history of the franchise to win in overtime. Then consider improbable victories over Jacksonville and Carolina in back-to-back weeks, or more recently, a pair of crucial road wins.

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Two weeks ago in Denver, the Chiefs rallied to force overtime with a touchdown and late 2-point conversion, traded opening-possession field goals in overtime, then held on defense -- when the Broncos missed a field goal -- before doing enough to kick their own field goal for a 30-27 victory.

And on Sunday in Atlanta, Eric Berry returned an interception for a first-half touchdown, then took another pick on a 2-point conversion try 99 yards for a defensive conversion when the Falcons were trying to go up by three points in the closing minutes of regulation. Kansas City went on to win, 29-28.

In some respects, the Chiefs are the epitome of resilience.

"It's funny how you put things like that," Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said. "I put it into the perspective that if we lose by a touchdown and I drop a pass that I could have taken to the house, I blame the entire game on me. It's football. That ball is shaped awkward so it can bounce in any which direction. That's why we love the game."

Still, it seems almost unfathomable that the ball keeps bouncing the Chiefs' way.

They lead the league in come-from-behind wins. They are 9-3 and firmly in contention not only for the playoffs, but a first-round bye. And with Oakland (10-2) coming to town for a Thursday night showdown at Arrowhead Stadium, they have a chance to seize control of the AFC West.

They've already beaten the Raiders once. Two wins would give them an important tiebreaker.

"Normally, we talk about the 24-hour rule, enjoying a win or getting over a loss and bouncing back," Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said, "and now it's basically the plane ride home. It's that short a week.

"It's a division game coming up and a big atmosphere, so everything is sped up," he said. "I think that recovery is important on a short week, guys taking care of their bodies and trying to get it back as soon as possible is the most taxing thing."

To that end, the Chiefs came out of their win over the Falcons reasonably healthy.

Outside linebacker Dee Ford made it back to the field after missing time with a hamstring injury. Defensive tackle Dontari Poe should be available after missing most of the week of practice with back spasms. Cornerback Steven Nelson was back from a neck injury. A host of other players who have been dealing with nagging injuries did nothing to exacerbate the problems.

The only question mark appears to be wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who has been out with a groin injury. He practiced last week, but did not make the trip to Atlanta.

"I know he's making progress," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "We'll see."

The game against the Raiders begins a crucial finishing stretch that will not only determine whether the Chiefs make the postseason, but where, when and who they will be playing if they get there. It starts with the Raiders, but equally important games against playoff contenders Tennessee and Denver loom after that -- all of them in the friendly confines of Arrowhead Stadium.

The regular season wraps up with a trip to San Diego on New Year's Day.

"You're getting ahead of yourself. That's just not how we think," Smith said. "For us, everything is on Thursday, not looking past that. How could you? Raider week, they're coming to our place with a lot on the line, so not thinking past that at all."

NOTES: The Chiefs plan to open parking lots at noon CT on Thursday, more than seven hours before kickoff against Oakland. ... Reid said the coaching staff pulled an all-nighter after getting back from Atlanta to prepare for the Raiders. "We'll keep meeting and give them some well-thought-out information," he said.