The AFC Playoff Matchups are now set. None of the teams that could play their way into the playoffs really wanted it, which is not surprising because all are flawed teams. The Jets lost at Miami. The Titans “won” at Houston, but against a Houston team that had nothing to gain, rested starters, and went for 2 to win it from the 8 at the end of the game, rather than spend more time in overtime. The Bengals lost at home to the Ravens, falling to 1-6 against teams with winning records (win over Tennessee). Denver lost at home to Kansas City in a dreadful game, 7-3, but still backs into the postseason because Oakland also lost, at home, to San Diego.
- New England Patriots (13-3)
- Baltimore Ravens (12-4)
- Houston Texans (10-6)
- Denver Broncos (8-8)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
- Cincinnati Bengals (9-7)
The specific game times will be set by tomorrow. My guesses? I think they will put the Houston vs. Cincinnati game in the early time slot on next Sunday afternoon, as it is a matchup that doesn’t have the sizzle with Houston without their starting quarterback and the Bengals, well, not having beaten anyone all year with a winning record other than the Titans. I suspect it will be the NFC East winner versus Atlanta late on Sunday in the more desirable spot, and the New Orleans-Detroit game and Pittsburgh at XX on Saturday night.
I’ll make my official playoff picks, but let’s take a look at the match ups in the AFC.
#3 HOUSTON vs. #6 CINCINNATI
These teams met a month ago, in Cincinnati, with T.J. Yates at quarterback, and the Texans were still able to win on the road in dramatic fashion 20-19. Still, the Texans have not scored more than 20 points in any game in which T.J. Yates played the majority of the game (they scored 22 today, Yates left early).
The Simple Rating System (before today’s result) had Houston at +5.4 and Cincinnati at +1.1. The game is in Houston, so adding in home field advantage, the line would be about a touchdown, but that Houston rating includes all the Matt Schaub games. I expect Houston to be favored by about 5 points. We’ll wait to hear news about T.J. Yates injury, but early statements indicated he could have played if needed.
#4 DENVER vs. #5 PITTSBURGH
Denver has looked dreadful for three games. Tebow played a turnover-filled game against Buffalo, and then followed it up with managing 3 points at home against Kansas City in a punting contest. He was awful for the first 57 minutes and this time, couldn’t change in the last 3 minutes.
I’ve railed in the past about how the league shouldn’t have automatic home games for division winners. This is just exhibit 2,134 why it is dumb. The arguments are usually “it makes the division worth something”, “teams that win their division didn’t earn it”, and “it punishes teams that play in tough divisions”. The division is worth something if the winner automatically gains entrance to the tournament without having to be compared to the rest of the conference. Adding a home game is just a bonus too far.
Here, who has earned more, Pittsburgh or Denver? Denver got in on a obscure tiebreaker by going 8-8 and lucking out. Pittsburgh won 12 games. As almost is always case, the wildcard team that had more wins actually is a better team, because by definition they had another tough team in their group. We’ve had this discussion after Seattle last year, and almost every year. They don’t seem to want to change it but it makes no sense. It also, by the way, makes an upset more likely, and further has the effect that New England earns the #1 seed but may have to face the tougher draw by getting Pittsburgh.
By the simple rating system, Pittsburgh is +5.2, and Denver is -4.5 points worse than average. Adding in home field advantage to the underdog, Pittsburgh should still be at least a touchdown favorite, particularly with how the Denver offense is trending. I’ll say the Steelers open at over a touchdown on the road.
[photo via Getty]