Even though I tried to make it seem like the NFC was a jumbled playoff mess and the AFC would be way easier to sort out, I would like to let you know that that statement is a complete and utter lie. The AFC may be slightly easier to figure out, but it’s by no means a sure shot. While the main four teams have proven to be Pittsburgh, Baltimore, New England and Houston, the other two spots are completely up for grabs, let’s review.
THE DIVISION WINNERS (Guaranteed 1 Home Game)
1. New England Patriots (11-3)- Surprise, surprise. While we were all enamored at what’s going on in the NFC North and the rise and collapse of the Buffalo Bills, if Houston could keep going without Schaub and Leinart and whether or not the Jets are consistent enough to even make the postseason, here come the Patriots. As of now the Patriots hold the #1 seed, but could fall to #2 if Pittsburgh eventually ties them in record (head-to-head victory went to the Steelers), even if New England loses out, they still will hold the 3-seed at the very least.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3)- Despite the lack of coverage on them, the Steelers are holding out relatively well. They currently are in the lead for the AFC North, but could fall back to a wildcard spot should they end up tied in record with Baltimore. The Ravens hold the season series against Pittsburgh, meaning that the Steelers cannot afford to slip up even once down the road if they want to keep the title out of Baltimore’s hands, and guarantee themselves a home playoff game. They need to be careful as the Texans are right behind them wanting their home field advantage back.
3. Houston Texans (10-4)- Believe it or not, they were well on their way to clinching homefield advantage throughout the entire AFC playoff race, but they blew a game against Carolina they had no business losing. The Texans can still pull off a 1 or 2 seed by winning out and having the Patriots or Steelers lose just one game. The Texans beat the Steelers earlier in the season and would end up with a better conference record should they and the Patriots tie in regular season record. The Texans can only far as fall as 3rd, possibly 4th, pending on if Denver wins the AFC West at 10-6 as it would fall to strength of schedule.
4. Denver Broncos (8-6)- The Broncos have yet to clinch their division and could still miss the playoffs if they don’t take care of business over the last two weeks. A Broncos loss Saturday opens up the door beyond belief for the rest of the AFC West, so their best bet is to win out and take the AFC West crown. If the Broncos lose out and miss the AFC West boat, they would need the Jets and Bengals to lose out, and for each of the 7-7 teams to lose just one game down the stretch.
5. Baltimore Ravens (10-4)- The Ravens can end up as high as the one-seed should they manage to win out, Pittsburgh loses one and if New England loses just one of their final two games. The Ravens own the season series against Pittsburgh, so a tied record is a division title in their eyes, guaranteeing at least one home game, which they’ll need as they are incredibly inconsistent on the road. The Ravens have already clinched a playoff berth as even if they lose, they will hold the tiebreaker over the Jets and Bengals, the AFC’s other 6-loss teams.
6. New York Jets (8-6)- As much as I would love to write them out of it, the Jets are still hanging onto that 6th seed and coudl still end up getting it. The Jets are coming off a beatdown given by the Eagles, and are neck and neck with the Bengals for the final AFC spot. Win out, they’re in at #6, but lose one game and they better start hoping that Cincinnati follows in their footsteps or else they will be on the outside looking in. The Jets CAN miss the playoffs if they lose both their remaining games.
7. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)- The Bengals are a surprise, plain and simple, and even though it would be a severe disappointment to miss the postseason, it would be a crowning achievement for Marvin Lewis and company if they DID. Currently, the Bengals lose the 6th seed to Jets on a Strength of Schedule basis, but if they can win out and the Jets lose just one game, they’re in. They can’t win the division as Pittsburgh has already swept them and even if they beat Baltimore Week 17, the Ravens will host a 4-2 division record at WORST.
8. Tennessee Titans (7-7)- They suffered a major blow losing to the hapless Colts Sunday, the good news for the Titans is that this isn’t the BCS, the bad news is that the loss may have sealed their playoff hopes anyway. The Titans need to win their final two games (JAX, HOU) in order to have a shot at the postseason, but they also need two straight losses out of both the Jets and Bengals. If the Bengals win even one more game, the Titans are done, but they could get in if the Bengals lose out and the Jets lose to the Dolphins Week 17.
9. Oakland Raiders (7-7)- While they’ve done an admirable job hanging on when their starting QB went down, the Raiders have fallen out of glory into 2nd place in the AFC West. The Raiders can still win the division if they win out and Denver loses just one game (preferably for the Raiders against KC). They can also obtain the 6th seed if they win out and the Jets lose just one game, while the Bengals lose against Baltimore.
10. San Diego Chargers (7-7)- Look who came late to the party (as usual), the Chargers can still win the AFC West if they manage to win out and if the Broncos drop one (preferably to Kansas City Week 17). They can make the 6th seed if the Jets and Bengals both lose out, while Tennessee must lose one game.
11. Kansas City Chiefs (6-8)- Yup, they’re still in it. The Chiefs can only make the playoffs as the champions of the AFC West, they would need a plethora of wonders to happen, of course they would need to win out but they also need a DEN and SD loss Week 16. This would setup a showdown with Denver Week 17, if Kansas City wins, they win the West, if Denver wins that game and ends up 9-7, barely squeaking out an AFC West title.
Potential Wildcard matchups:
6 NYJ/DEN/CIN/TEN/OAK/SD/KC @ 3 HOU/PIT/BAL
5 BAL/PIT @ 4 DEN/SD/KC