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3 things the Chiefs did to beat the Chargers and close the door on the AFC West race

The AFC West isn’t clinched for the Chiefs, but it’s basically locked up after Saturday.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs didn’t clinch the AFC West with a 30-13 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, but the Saturday night victory slammed the door shut on the Chargers and Raiders. With two games left to play, Kansas City guaranteed at least one game between itself and the rest of the division and locked up the tiebreaker over both Los Angeles and Oakland.

While the Chiefs lost six times over a seven-game span in the middle of the season, Kansas City will win the division and host a playoff game in January so long as the team doesn’t lose back-to-back games against the Dolphins and Broncos in the last two weeks of the year.

Here’s how the Chiefs shut down the four-game winning streak of the Chargers and ended the AFC West race Saturday:

1. The Chiefs ran the ball well

During Kansas City’s rough patch that began in the middle of October and continued until the beginning of December, the team eclipsed 100 rushing yards just once in a six-game span. The Chiefs got the running game back on track in the last two weeks and that continued Saturday with 170 yards against the Chargers defense.

That’s not too much of a surprise against a Los Angeles defense that entered the night No. 31 in yards allowed per carry. But it doesn’t make it any less important for a Kansas City offense that’s trying to replicate its September dominance.

The most important figure to get restarted if the Chiefs aim to replicate the team’s 5-0 start is Kareem Hunt. The rookie running back finished the game with 155 yards and a rushing touchdown — another triple-digit total after getting held under 100 in seven straight games.

It was also a record-breaking night for the rookie:

He also added 51 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown for good measure:

He appeared to catch a second one, but the NFL’s catch rule forced the Chiefs to settle for a field goal.

Hunt looked like the runaway Offensive Rookie of the Year early in the season and the Chiefs desperately need him to regain that form if the team hopes to make a run in the postseason.

2. Kansas City forced and avoided turnovers

The Chiefs had just one turnover in the first seven weeks of the season, but had eight giveaways in the last six games. Kansas City still entered the week as the best in the league at avoiding turnovers, but getting back to being brutally efficient is important.

It’s also impressive that the Chiefs finished +4 in the turnover margin against the Chargers, considering Los Angeles was +10 over its four-game win streak. The only other game in 2017 in which the Chargers turned the ball at least three times was a 24-10 loss to the Chiefs in Week 3.

Philip Rivers — who was beginning to put together a strong case as a darkhorse MVP candidate — threw two interceptions, including two to Marcus Peters who was back after a suspension a week ago. That probably put a stake in his long shot hopes at the award. Bummer.

Winning the turnover margin is always a formula for victory and the Chiefs won it in back-to-back weeks to take back the AFC West.

3. Tyreek Hill is a game breaker

The Chiefs got out to a 10-0 lead early against the Chargers and, while Los Angeles was able to dig out of that hole and take a lead in the third quarter, the hot start for Kansas City was still key.

It was mostly thanks to Hill who just ran right by one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, Casey Hayward:

Hill’s 64-yard touchdown was really his only significant contribution on a night he finished with 88 receiving yards, but the damage was done. He’s the type of player that can change a game in an instant and unleashing him will be important in the playoffs.

Nothing is locked up for the Chiefs after Week 15, but the likeliest scenario is that Kansas City finishes the year with the No. 4 seed. That’s a number that would’ve been disappointing for the Chiefs after a 5-0 start, but it’s a relief for a team that has found its identity again after a tailspin.