Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Week 13 AFC Playoff Picture

With just 5 weeks remaining in the regular season, the AFC playoff picture is insane. Currently, 10 of the 16 AFC teams are either in position to make the playoffs or within a game of the last playoff spot. The Steelers didn't get any help over the bye week as all 3 of the AFC North teams that played won their games, which sets up a 5 week showdown for both the division title and the two wild card spots.

To start, it is fairly safe to assume that both New England and Indianapolis will make the playoffs. The Patriots and Colts both hold two game leads in their division races and it would take a massive surge from either Miami or Buffalo in the East or Houston in the South to topple them. Taking those two out of the equation, here's a look at how the other 8 teams in the AFC playoff hunt are situated, starting with our division foes because division tiebreakers are always broken first.

The North

Current Record: 7-3-1
Status: Leading AFC North by 1/2 game
Conference Record: 5-3
Division Record: 2-1

Remaining Games: @TB, PIT, @CLE, DEN, @PIT

Key Wins: BAL (2x)
Key Losses: NE, IND, CLE

The Bengals lead the AFC North by a half game thanks to their tie with Carolina. However, with 3 division games remaining the Bengals are not secure in their position atop the division. Their last 4 games will determine the AFC North Champions.

Current Record: 7-4
Status: 2nd in AFC North based on common games tiebreaker
Conference Record: 3-4
Division Record: 2-3

Remaining Games: SD, @MIA, JAX, @HOU, CLE

Key Wins: CLE
Key Losses: CIN (2x), IND

If the Ravens get through their next two games unblemished, it should be smooth sailing to the season finale with Cleveland. Even though the Ravens currently hold the tiebreaker in the division, they could just as easily lose it based on their 3 division losses (to the Steelers and Browns 2). 

Current Record: 7-4
Status: 3rd in AFC North based on tiebreakers
Conference Record: 6-3
Division Record: 2-2

Remaining Games: NO, @CIN, @ATL, KC, CIN

Key Wins: IND
Key Losses: none

All 5 of the Steelers remaining games are against teams in the playoff hunt, though two of them come against the 4-7 Saints and 4-7 Falcons who are somehow tied atop the NFC South. Nevertheless, the Steelers control their own destiny and can win the division with a sweep of Cincinnati and help their playoff status with a win over Kansas City, who currently holds one of the wild card spots.

Current Record: 7-4
Status: Last in AFC North based on tiebreakers
Conference Record: 4-4
Division Record: 2-2

Remaining Games: @BUF, IND, CIN, @CAR, @BAL

Key Wins: CIN
Key Losses: none

The Browns have not been a team that has blown many teams out this year. Four of their Seven wins have been by less than 6 points. Like the Steelers, all of their remaining games are against teams in the playoff hunt, though this includes a 3-7-1 Carolina team that is just a half game back in the NFC South. The Browns are very much still in the division race with 2 division games in the last 3 weeks.

The Rest of the AFC

Current Record: 8-3
Status: Leading AFC West by 1 game
Conference Record: 6-1

Remaining Games: @KC, BUF, @SD, @CIN, OAK

Key Wins: IND, KC, SD, MIA
Key Losses: NE

The Broncos appear on this list because they are clinging to just a 1-game lead in the AFC West and have road games remaining against the two teams chasing them - Kansas City and San Diego. The Broncos next 4 games are against teams in the playoff hunt before they close with Oakland. Given their 6-1 conference record it would take a lot for the Broncos to be knocked out of playoff contention. They could do the Steelers a big favor by winning out and knocking off some of the teams the Steelers are battling for playoff position.

Current Record: 7-4
Status: 2nd in AFC West, 1st Wild Card
Conference Record: 5-3

Remaining Games: DEN, @AZ, OAK, @PIT, SD

Key Wins: MIA, NE, SD, BUF
Key Losses: DEN

The Chiefs have 4 remaining games against playoff teams, two of which will determine who comes out on top of the AFC West. Their road game against the Cardinals won't help either team with tiebreakers but both teams will likely need the victory to hold their place in the standings. The game against the Steelers in Week 16 could essentially be an elimination game.

Current Record: 7-4
Status: 3nd in AFC West, 2nd Wild Card
Conference Record: 5-3

Remaining Games: @BAL, NE, DEN, @SF, @KC

Key Wins: BUF
Key Losses: KC, DEN, MIA

The Chargers have been boosted by a 5-game winning streak early in the season but are just 2-3 since then and their wins were an unimpressive 7-point win over Oakland and a 3-point win over St Louis. They have the hardest schedule of any remaining team with a road trip to Baltimore followed by the top 2 teams in the AFC coming to town in consecutive weeks before they close the season on the road with San Francisco (who is fighting for an NFC playoff spot) and Kansas City. If you're looking for a team with the potential to drop off big time, the Chargers are a distinct possibility.

Current Record: 6-5
Status: 2nd in AFC East
Conference Record: 5-3

Remaining Games: @NYJ, BAL, @NE, MIN, NYJ

Key Wins: NE, SD
Key Losses: KC, DEN

The Dolphins have the easiest schedule of any team in the playoff hunt with two games against the 2-win Jets and a game against the Vikings who are clearly out of the NFC playoff picture. Their best chances for losses will come in the next 3 weeks when they face Baltimore and play at New England. It would not be surprising to see this team win 10 games given their remaining slate.

Current Record: 6-5
Status: 3rd in AFC East
Conference Record: 3-5

Remaining Games: CLE, @DEN, GB, @OAK, @NE

Key Wins: none
Key Losses: SD, NE, KC

Who would have thought that a Week 13 game between the Bills and Browns would have huge playoff implications? Even though the Bills are the farthest back in the playoff picture, this is a big game for both teams. The Bills don't have any head-to-head tiebreakers (they split with Miami) so they need to rack up some victories against other teams in the playoff hunt. The Bills are also in search of their first winning season since 2004 and will have to go at least 2-3 down the stretch to get there, which basically means they need to beat Cleveland this week to have a shot. The Bills beating Cleveland would be a huge help to the Steelers in the AFC North race.

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