The AFC playoff race got a lot more interesting over the last week. Teams that were on the edge all won (Baltimore, Miami, and San Diego). Teams that appeared in control lost (Denver, Cincinnati, and New England). Divisions that appeared to be a runaway a few weeks ago have tightened up. Both the Bengals and Patriots could get first round byes, or miss the postseason entirely. Denver, Kansas City, and Indianapolis have clinched spots.
Here is a summary of the outlook for each team still in contention for a playoff spot.
DENVER (11-3): Wins the tiebreaker with Kansas City at 11-3. With two games against the bottom of the conference, they should get it, but both are on the road. A loss opens the door for Kansas City to win division, or New England to again pass them for the #1 seed. [at HOU, at OAK]
KANSAS CITY (11-3): The Chiefs have incentive to play all out against the Colts, in the event the Broncos lose. They have at least the 5 seed locked up, but need to win out and hope for a Denver loss. [vs. IND, at SD]
NEW ENGLAND (10-4): The Patriots get the #1 seed . . . or miss the postseason entirely. Win a game, and they are in. A Dolphin loss and they are also in. Here’s how they can miss the playoffs: two losses, Baltimore beats Cincinnati, Miami wins the last two, and Cincinnati wins this week. With a four way tie at 10-6, New England would lose the division, and then the wildcard tiebreaker with Cincinnati. [at BAL, vs. BUF]
CINCINNATI BENGALS (9-5): Cincinnati’s outlook looks a lot worse than it did two days ago. They still control their own destiny when it comes to winning the division, as they just need a win over Baltimore. They miss the playoffs if Miami wins out, Baltimore beats New England, and then in the last week New England wins and they lose at home to Baltimore. Cincinnati could (with a Ravens and Dolphins win this week) also enter the final week with the possibility of being the conference #2 seed, or missing the postseason entirely, based on their final showdown with Baltimore. [vs. MIN, vs. BAL]
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (9-5): The Colts get to mostly sit and watch the drama in other divisions, thanks to playing in the AFC South. However, they are not locked into the 4 seed. There is a doomsday scenario where the Colts can still get the #1 seed, by winning out if no one else gets to 12 wins. More realistically, they can still get the #2 seed by getting to 11-5, where they would win a three way tiebreaker with New England and Cincinnati, or a tiebreaker with New England, based on conference record. [at KC, vs. JAC]
BALTIMORE RAVENS (8-6): Baltimore wins the division by winning the last two games, or Cincinnati losing both. They can also get the 6 seed at 9-7 if they win one remaining game, and the Dolphins lose a game. [vs. NE, at CIN]
MIAMI DOLPHINS (8-6): Miami is in the playoffs with two wins, either as the AFC East winner (if New England loses the last two) or as the #6 seed. The only way they can get in with a loss is if Baltimore loses both of the final two games. [UPDATE: or if they are in a three way tiebreaker at 9-7 that includes San Diego] [at BUF, vs. NYJ]
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (7-7): The Chargers appeared to salvage their season last Thursday night. That was an eternity ago. Baltimore and Miami both won, and now San Diego must win out, and have Baltimore and Miami both lose the remaining games. [vs. OAK, vs. KC]