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AFC Wildcard Race: Chargers In Good Position

Last night’s wild finish in Houston eliminated one more team from playoff contention. Well, that’s not technically true, the Texans aren’t officially eliminated yet because they could win a highly improbably three way tie at 8-8 in the AFC South. But we’ll discount that, for now, and focus on the teams with a realistic chance at making the playoffs if they play well (or in some cases just get a win). In the AFC, the New England Patriots have clinched a playoff spot, and 9 other teams are alive for the other 5 spots. 

Last week, I looked at the various tiebreaker possibilities within divisions. Today, I’m going to focus on the wildcard spots, and some of the scenarios that could unfold. In this post, I will break down the AFC Wildcard chances for each team, and will follow up with the NFC.

AFC

Tiebreakers are broken within divisions first, and then across divisions. Thus, the Miami Dolphins would have to surpass the Jets to have a chance at the playoffs. Miami closes with home games against Buffalo and Detroit, and then a potential game against Brian Hoyer if New England has clinched the #1 seed, so a three-game run is not out of the question. In order to surpass New York, though, the Jets would have to lose at home to the Bills in week 17, and also lose at least one of the other two games against Pittsburgh and Chicago. The Bills at Jets is important because Miami would lose the tiebreaker with the Jets on conference record, unless the Jets lose to the Bills and the division record becomes decisive in favor of Miami. The Dolphins would still not be out of the woods, as they would be an underdog in tiebreakers against Baltimore (head to head) or Jacksonville and San Diego (conference record).

The Oakland Raiders cannot surpass the Jets and Ravens for the wildcard even if they win the last three and those teams lose out, because they would still lose the common opponent tiebreaker to each. Thus, Oakland’s slim hopes depend on a) winning out to get to 9-7; b) the Chiefs losing another game before week 17; and c) the Chargers losing one of the last three.  If those things played out, the Raiders would win the three way tiebreaker at 9-7.

The San Diego Chargers, on the other hand, have multiple outs to make the playoffs if they run the table against San Francisco, Cincinnati and Denver. They would win the West if Kansas City lost a game and both ended at 10-6 (common opponents). They would win the tiebreaker over Baltimore if the Ravens lost 2 of 3, based on common opponent. They would more likely than not beat the Jets if New York loses two (unless the one win for New York was against Pittsburgh) because of the strength of victory tiebreaker, though that one is not decided yet.  They would hold off the Dolphins in a tie at 10-6 based on conference record, and have the head-to-head tiebreaker over both the Colts and Jags.

The Kansas City Chiefs likely have to win the division, because they will be in trouble on the conference tiebreaker (currently 5-5) in most tiebreaker scenarios. KC would lose a tiebreaker at 10-6 to either the Jets or Ravens, either on conference record, or if that is tied, on the common opponents tiebreaker.  The only contender they would win a tiebreaker against is Jacksonville (head to head). Kansas City wins the division if they win the last three, or lose one, but have the Chargers also lose one.

The Jacksonville Jaguars will win the AFC South with a win at Indianapolis on Sunday. If the Indianapolis Colts win, though, they take over the lead for the division on tiebreakers, and would win it at 10-6 based on the common opponent tiebreaker. Jacksonville would still have a chance to win a tiebreaker against the Jets if both teams finish at 10-6, as the strength of victory tiebreaker is up in the air, and conference record could end up even. The Jags would win a tiebreaker over the Dolphins based on conference record.  Jacksonville would likely lose a tiebreaker with the Ravens at 10-6 based on SOV, unless Baltimore loses to Cleveland (then common opponent would matter).  Indianapolis’ chances are pretty much tied to winning the division, and they will do so by winning out, or beating the Jags and also having Jacksonville lose to Washington or Houston.  The Colts are, in essence, hosting a playoff game on Sunday.

The Baltimore Ravens are in good shape with one more win, because they would likely beat everyone except San Diego in a tiebreaker at 10-6.

The New York Jets are in not as good a shape at 10-6, as they would lose any tiebreaker with Baltimore. If they lose to Buffalo, Miami could surpass them. The Chargers are more likely than not to win a tiebreaker at 10-6, and the Jaguars could also win the tiebreaker based on a currently undecided Strength of Victory.

Overview: I think the Colts will beat the Jaguars, giving them the edge in the South.  Do you think Kansas City can win three in a row, at St. Louis, then home against Tennessee and Oakland?  The Chargers should come on strong, and have games against teams with a combined 11-28 record over the last three weeks, though two of them are on the road in what could be cold conditions.  I’m not sure that Kansas City has enough margin for error to win three games here (if they do, swap Kansas City into the #4, and replace the Chargers for the Jets in the #6 seed), so my current guesses with three weeks to go, other than that week 17 is going to be must watch TV:

#1 New England Patriots (13-3)

#2 Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)

#3 San Diego Chargers (10-6)

#4 Indianapolis Colts (10-6)

#5 Baltimore Ravens (11-5)

#6 New York Jets (10-6)

[photo via Getty]

 

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