NFL Playoff Picture: In the AFC, Steelers In Despite Loss, Jets & Ravens Close In

While waiting for the Minneapolis precinct to report tonight to break down the NFC picture, I thought we would take a look at what this weekend meant for the AFC. Yesterday couldn’t have gone any worse for Norv Turner and the San Diego Chargers after a big win on Thursday. The Jets, Ravens, and Chiefs all won, reducing the Chargers’ chances dramatically. The Jets huge win at Pittsburgh not only stopped the slide, but gave them a key victory for tiebreaker reasons. 

Here’s what we know: Dolphins are out, two teams are in, seven teams remain for four spots. The wildcard teams will have at least 10 wins, and I break down each scenario below in the event multiple wildcard contenders finish on 10 wins (which would require the Jets, Ravens or Steelers to lose the last two).

New England had already clinched a playoff spot, but has not clinched the division because two losses to Buffalo and Miami would open the door for the Jets.  New England gets the #1 seed with one win OR one Jets’ loss in the final two weeks.

Pittsburgh clinched a playoff spot despite the loss, because they would still win a tiebreaker at 10-6 over San Diego (common opponent), Kansas City (conference record) or Jacksonville (strength of victory) and would win any 3-way tiebreaker involving Jacksonville and an AFC West team based on strength of victory.  Pittsburgh has the tiebreaker edge over Baltimore for the division, and wins the division with victories over Carolina and Cleveland, or one victory and a Baltimore loss, or two Baltimore losses.  If they win the division, they are likely the #2 seed, as they would have a tiebreaker over Kansas City.

They could fall as far as the #6 seed with two losses and a Ravens’ win OR one loss and the Ravens’ winning two plus the Jets winning a game.

New York Jets are the only other team that can get the #1 seed, but that is a long shot that would require two Patriots’ losses. The simple answer for New York is win a game, and they are in. For scenarios where the Jets lose both, see below. Short story: root for Jacksonville loss.

Baltimore needs a Pittsburgh loss to have a chance to win the division. They, like the Jets, are in with a win. Some scenarios exist where the Ravens are eliminated if they lose the last two, see below. Short story: don’t lose two.  Or root for Kansas City loss and Jacksonville loss.

Kansas City wins the division with two wins, or (1) a San Diego loss, plus a win over Oakland; (2) a San Diego loss, a win over Tennessee, and Indianapolis win over Oakland (3) two San Diego losses plus an Indianapolis win over Oakland.  Kansas City would be in trouble in the tiebreakers for a wildcard at 10 wins, if they lose and the Chargers win out, see below for details. Short story: no chance at wildcard.

San Diego wins the division by winning the last two, combined with a Chiefs loss, or by winning one game, the Chiefs losing both, and the Raiders losing to Indianapolis.  The Chargers’ wild card hopes took a big hit with wins by both the Jets and Ravens. They do have some scenarios where they still could get in at 10-6 even if the Chiefs win out, see below.  Short story:  root for Ravens to lose both, or Jets to lose both and all the teams you have beaten to win.

Oakland has a slim chance to win the division, and cannot get a wildcard.  They need to beat both Indianapolis and Kansas City, have Tennessee beat Kansas City, and have San Diego lose a game.

Indianapolis wins the division with two wins OR one win and a Jacksonville loss to Houston OR a win over Tennessee and a Jacksonville loss.  If Indianapolis loses to Tennessee and the Jaguars beat the Texans in week 17, the Jaguars would win the tiebreaker at 9-7 based on division record.  Thus, it appears that the AFC South cannot be clinched this week.  Indianapolis cannot finish as a wildcard.

Jacksonville can win the division with two wins and a Colts loss OR a win over Houston in week 17 combined with a Colts loss to Tennessee.  Some scenarios exist where Jacksonville can make the wildcard at 10-6 even if the Colts don’t lose, see below.  Short story: get to 10 wins, root against Jets and Ravens, and a loss by Kansas City wouldn’t hurt.


These are the scenarios for two-way, three-way, and four-way ties for wildcard teams that could end up at 10-6.  Obviously, if the Jets and Ravens win, this becomes moot.  I’m only including non-division winners, so if the Chargers are included at 10-6, that means the Chiefs won the division, and same for Jacksonville at 10-6 with the Colts.


Jets and Chargers: This would be decided by the Strength of Victory (SOV) tiebreaker.  Jets win was huge over 10-win Steelers, because it swung this tiebreaker to the Jets for now. Jets have a +5 advantage over Chargers right now, but it is not clinched.  Games such as San Fran at St. Louis, Cleveland and Cincinnati vs. Baltimore, and various others will play a role here.

Jets and Chiefs: Jets would get #6 seed on conference record tiebreaker (8-4 to 6-6).

Jets and Jaguars: Jaguars would get #6 seed based on common opponents record, because this would require a Jets loss to the Bills and a Jags win over Houston.  Jaguars would be 5-0 against Bills, Browns, Texans and Broncos, while Jets would be 4-1.

Ravens and Chargers: Chargers would get #6 seed based on conference record (8-4 to 7-5).

Ravens and Chiefs: Ravens would get #6 seed based on conference record (7-5 to 6-6).

Ravens and Jaguars: Jaguars would win based on common opponents tiebreaker (5-0 to 4-1), as this assumes a loss to Cleveland by Baltimore and a win by Jacksonville over Houston.

Steelers and Chiefs: Steelers would get #6 seed based on conference record (8-4 to 6-6).

Steelers and Chargers: Steelers would get #6 seed based on SOV.

Steelers and Jaguars: Steelers would get #6 seed based on SOV.


Jets, Chargers, and Jaguars: This would also come down to a SOV tiebreaker because all three would be tied on conference record.  SOV currently favors the Jets over both the Jaguars and Chargers, but it is officially undecided pending other outcomes.

Jets, Chiefs, and Jaguars: Chiefs would be eliminated from the three way tie based on inferior conference record.  It would then revert to a two way tiebreaker, which the Jags would win.

Ravens, Chargers, and Jaguars: Ravens would be eliminated on inferior conference record, and would then go to a 2-team tiebreaker, which Chargers would win head to head.

Ravens, Chiefs, and Jaguars: Jaguars would win based on conference record (8-4 to 7-5 to 6-6).

Steelers, Chiefs and Jaguars: Steelers would get #6 seed based on SOV over JAX after KC eliminated on conference record.

Steelers, Chargers and Jaguars: Steelers would get #6 seed based on SOV over both teams.

Jets, Ravens and Chargers: Ravens eliminated on conference record, Jets and Chargers in, seeding determined by two team tiebreaker above.

Jets, Ravens and Chiefs: Chiefs eliminated on conference record, Ravens are #5 seed and Jets #6 seed based on head to head.

Jets, Ravens and Jaguars: Ravens eliminated on conference record, Jets and Jaguars in, seeding determined by two team tiebreaker above.

Jets, Steelers and Chargers: Steelers are in for sure, determined on SOV tiebreaker for all three, and Jets currently hold edge over Chargers.

Jets, Steelers and Chiefs: Chiefs eliminated on conference record, Jets are #5 seed and Steelers #6 based on head to head.

Jets, Steelers and Jaguars: Steelers are in for sure, if they win SOV tiebreaker over both Jets and Jags (not sure if clinched over Jets, have clinched over Jags), then would revert to two team tiebreaker, which Jags win.


Jets, Ravens, Jaguars and Chargers: Ravens eliminated on conference record, then reverts to three team tiebreaker and gets ugly.  If Jets win the SOV, then Chargers would get in over Jags as well.  If Jags win SOV, then goes to SOV again between Jets and Chargers.  If Chargers win SOV, the Jags would get in over Jets on common opponent.

Jets, Ravens, Jaguars and Chiefs: Chiefs and Ravens eliminated on conference record.  Jags over Jets in seeding.

Jets, Steelers, Jaguars and Chargers: SOV would decide first team in.  If Steelers, then reverts to three team tiebreaker for last spot.  If Jets, then Steelers get last spot on SOV over the other two.

Jets, Steelers, Jaguars and Chiefs: Chiefs eliminated on conference record, reverts to a three team tiebreaker for SOV deciding first team.  If it is Steelers, the Jaguars are in.  If it is Jets, then Steelers are in also.

[photo via Getty]

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