NFL-Chiefs beat Raiders to secure top seed and first-round playoff bye

(Reuters) – The Kansas City Chiefs secured the top seed in the American Football Conference and a first-round bye with a 31-13 victory over the host Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday in the NFL teams’ regular-season finale.

Given the NFL’s decision to cancel the Monday night game between Buffalo (12-3) and Cincinnati (11-4) after Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest, the Chiefs (14-3) entered the Week 18 contest in control of their playoff seeding.

But due to a change in the playoff structure given Buffalo and Cincinnati will have played one fewer game when the regular season ends on Sunday, the Chiefs are not guaranteed home-field advantage for the AFC Championship should they go that far.

The Chiefs wasted no time getting on the board in this one as Patrick Mahomes hooked up with receiver Justin Watson for a 67-yard gain on the second play from scrimmage before a short touchdown pass to Jerick McKinnon three plays later.

Ronald Jones, Kadarius Toney and Isiah Pacheco each ran in touchdowns for the Chiefs while Harrison Butker kicked a 44-yard field goal.

For their efforts, the Chiefs get to sit out the NFL’s wild card round of the playoffs next weekend before returning in the divisional round the following week against the lowest remaining AFC seed.

“Getting that bye, it’s like winning a playoff game,” said Mahomes. “Now we just have to focus on watching tomorrow and then this next week to see who we play and come out with out best football.”

If the Bills, who had control of the No. 1 seed going into Monday’s game, beat the New England Patriots on Sunday and go on to meet the Chiefs in the penultimate round of the playoffs the game would be played at a neutral site.

During pre-game warmups, players from both teams wore “Love for Damar 3” T-shirts in support of Hamlin, who continues to make progress in his recovery as he is breathing on his own but remains in critical condition.

The 24-year-old Hamlin collapsed on the field during a game last Monday in Cincinnati moments after making a tackle and then had to have his heartbeat restored. Hamlin began to wake up two days later and has since had his breathing tube removed.

As part of a unified show of support for Hamlin, Raiders public address announcer Eric Smith addressed the crowd prior to the singing on the U.S. national anthem.

“Throughout this week the entire NFL family has been praying for Damar Hamlin of the Buffalo Bills as he continues his recovery,” said Smith. “And we thank the first responders and medical professionals involved in his care.”

Smith then asked everyone in attendance to observe “a moment of support and love” for Hamlin and cheer for the Bills safety and his family as they continue their fight.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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