I cannot remember a season quite like what we have right now. Relatively the NFC is starting to take the shape of a normal season with teams beginning to distance themselves and a clear-ish wildcard picture forming. The AFC is nothing but complete carnage with just seven teams having winning records and a further six teams being within two wins of the final wildcard spot. Let’s have a look who is best placed to make the playoffs as we head towards week 13.
The byes and home field advantage
You could argue that there are two and a half good teams in the AFC right now and the half part of that is fighting for the wildcard and not the byes (more on them later). It is hard to look beyond the Patriots and Steelers (both 9-2) for the byes right now. They have a two game lead on the third placed Titans (7-4) and both have fairly simple schedules down the stretch. As for home field advantage that will more than likely be decided in the week 15 match-up between the two at Heinz Field which could also serve as an AFC championship game preview.
This is the division no one seems to want to win. The Colts are out of it and it is likely so are the Tom Savage led Texans. The Jaguars (7-4) looked in prime position until they made a mess against the Cardinals this weekend. I feel like teams know how to play them by stacking the box and challenging Bortles to win the game. Seattle will challenge them in week 14 and then they have to go to Tennessee in week 17 in what they hope will be at worst a division decider rather than a wild card must win. The good news for the Jags is their defence is incredible.
The Titans (7-4) are winning ugly with Mariota struggling. You can look at that in one of two ways, first maybe they just aren’t good and can’t keep pulling games out or maybe they will click down the stretch and kick into the next gear ready for the playoffs. Their key games come against the Rams and Jags in weeks 16 & 17 and fortunately for them both of them are at home. Before that they should win at least two out of the Colts, @ Arizona and @ San Francisco. If both teams hold their nerves this should come down to the week 17 match-up to perhaps decide who hosts who in the wildcard weekend.
With all due respect to the 5-6 Oakland Raiders this division looks to be between the charging Los Angeles Chargers (5-6) and the slumping Kansas City Chiefs (6-5). The Chargers could easily be 7-4 or even 8-3 if a couple of games had gone their way and I actually think they are the third best team in the AFC right now. The trouble is they don’t always turn up for 60 minutes and have a way of shooting themselves in the foot making them the half a team I was referring to earlier. However, they have a fantastic young defence, a veteran QB who is still very talented, a balanced running attack and some receivers who can make big plays making them a team that will scare both Patriots and Steelers fans alike come January.
The Chiefs looked to be the breakout team early in the season but they are now in free fall with five losses in six games. They have to beat the Jets this week because the Chargers will likely beat the Browns and then it would all be down to their week 15 match-up to decide the season. This team is talented but they need to start making the big plays as they were early in the year if they are to win this division. The good news is they get the Jets, Dolphins, Raiders and Broncos to end the season and they won’t even need to be at their best to win three of those.
This is where it gets really messy. Jacksonville and Baltimore (both 6-5) are the current holders of the two spots with Buffalo just missing out as it stands. One game back is Cincinnati, LA and Oakland but we also have to consider Kansas City (6-5) and Tennessee (7-4) in this race.
- Jacksonville have a real shot at 3-2 or 4-1 which should be enough for either the division or a wildcard slot so I think we can consider them or Tennessee likely to take one of the slots.
- Baltimore needs to beat Detroit this weekend because they face the Steelers the following week in Pittsburgh and dropping to 6-7 makes it hard for them to reach the playoffs.
- Buffalo are struggling and have to play the Patriots and Dolphins twice which I fear will lead to a 2-3 end to the season and the end of any playoff hopes.
- Cincinnati look like they will struggle to win more than two of the next four meaning they will likely need to win that week 17 game with Baltimore to have a shot.
- We have just looked at the Chargers and Chiefs and with their schedules they could both go at least 3-2 with one of them likely to go 4-1 which leaves every chance we see two AFC West teams in the playoffs.
- Oakland face Kansas City, Philadelphia and LA in their remaining five games so I do not think they win more than 2 games the rest of the way (vs. Giants and Dallas).
- The #1 seed is too hard to call but the Patriots and Steelers should have the byes.
- Both the Jaguars and Titans make the playoffs with the week 17 game deciding who wins the division.
- The Chargers go 4-1 or 5-0 to take the AFC West.
- The Chiefs manage to go 3-2 or 4-1 and hold off the Ravens for the 6th seed.
This guest piece was written by Ben Rolfe. Ben is a New England Patriots fan and can be found on Twitter at @BenRolfe15.
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