The New England Patriots went down to Miami and struggled in what seems like an annual tradition in December. That result tightened things up in the AFC just a bit at the top and opened the door for Jacksonville to interrupt the Patriots-Steelers coronation atop the conference. On Sunday, I broke down all the NFC tiebreaker scenarios, and today we shift to the AFC.
It’s pretty simple. It will almost certainly be Pittsburgh or New England. The winner of next week’s game gets the tiebreaker. Pittsburgh moves two games up with two to play if they beat New England–though they don’t formally clinch the #1 seed unless Jacksonville also loses, as the Jaguars won in Pittsburgh earlier this year.
If New England wins, there’s a tie atop the conference with just two weeks to play, and New England would own the tiebreakers, while the Jaguars would be one game back. Jacksonville would secure the tiebreaker over both if they finished at 12-4 in a three-way tie, based on conference record over New England and head-to-head over Pittsburgh.
FIRST ROUND BYE
Don’t rule out Jacksonville. The Jaguars can get to 12-4 by winning out against Houston, at San Francisco, and at Tennessee. They would win a tiebreaker at 12-4 over either Pittsburgh or New England. With New England’s loss, the possibility now becomes more likely that one of these gets to four losses.
New England did not clinch the division because of the Miami loss, but Buffalo would have to win out and the Patriots lose out for it not to happen yet again.
Pittsburgh clinched the AFC North with their comeback against Baltimore.
Jacksonville has the one game advantage but Tennessee won the the earlier game, and hosts the Jaguars in week 17. Tennessee gets the tiebreaker with a win. Tennessee needs to stay within a win over the next two weeks to have a chance to win the division. Also–though this is a longshot–if the Jaguars lose the next two games (Houston, at San Francisco) and the Titans win the next two games (at San Francisco, LA Rams), the Titans win the division regardless of the week 17 result based on common games tiebreaker being clinched by Tennessee.
Jaguars win the division before week 17 if they win both games and Tennessee loses one, or Tennessee loses both of the next two weeks and Jacksonville wins one more game.
Kansas City and the LA Chargers meet on Saturday Night in a game that will go a long way in deciding the division. If Kansas City wins, they secure the tiebreakers over both the Chargers (head-to-head) and Raiders (division record), and would have a one game lead. They would just need to win one of the final two games or have the Chargers and Raiders lose one more time, to win the AFC West.
If the Chargers win, they do not clinch the tiebreaker. They would have the one-game lead, but would lose a tiebreaker to Kansas City at 9-7, whether they lose at the Jets or vs Raiders. The Chiefs would win a two-way or three-way tiebreaker at 9-7 over either the Chargers, Raiders, or both, based on division record or conference record.
The Raiders are a long shot, facing a tough schedule against Dallas, Philadelphia, and the Chargers. If they can win out (and have the Chargers beat the Chiefs and the Chiefs lose one more game) they would win a tiebreaker with the Chargers at 9-7 thanks to going all the way to the strength of victory tiebreaker.
Miami and Buffalo play two times over the final three weeks in a weird scheduling quirk. Miami stayed alive with the win over the Patriots, but neither of these teams can really afford a split (especially since the Bills are also playing the Patriots in between the two games).
If Miami can win out to get to 9-7, they would own the tiebreaker over Kansas City (since they play in week 16), the Chargers (win in week 1), and Tennessee (win in week 4), but would lose it to the Raiders and Ravens based on head-to-head losses. If Miami can be a part of a three-team tiebreaker at 9-7, they have a very good chance based on being able to get to a 8-4 conference record.
Buffalo at 9-7 (with either a loss to New England or Miami) would have the tiebreaker over Kansas City and Oakland, they would lose a tiebreaker to the Chargers (remember the Nathan Peterman game), and both Tennessee and Baltimore on conference record. They would also be in trouble in a three-way tiebreaker based on conference record. Buffalo winning out would almost certainly get in. They would move past the 2nd place AFC West team on record, and would win a tiebreaker at 10-6 with the Titans based on conference record or common games.
Oakland‘s hopes are slim. They really need to win out to get to 9-7 (which would give the Chargers a loss) and then have the Chiefs lose two games. If they do win out they would move ahead of the Chargers for a wildcard, even if Kansas City won the division. In that case, they would lose a tiebreaker to both Buffalo and Baltimore, win one against Tennessee and Miami, and be in bad shape for a three-team tiebreaker because of a 6-6 conference record.
Los Angeles Chargers face a tough path to a wildcard if they do not win the AFC West. If they are 9-7, they would need to have a better record than Oakland, and would lose a tiebreaker at 9-7 to Miami (head-to-head), and any of Jacksonville (head-to-head), Baltimore, or Tennessee (conference record). The only team they beat in a tiebreaker is Buffalo, but then they could lose on a three-team tiebreaker.
Kansas City will have to be in the wildcard mix if they lose to the Chargers and can still get to 9-7 (with the Chargers winning out). Because remember, they win the division if they beat the Chargers and get to 9 wins. If they are the 2nd place team in the West, they would have eliminated Miami (with a week 16 win) and would lose the tiebreaker to Buffalo based on losing head-to-head. They would win a tiebreaker against Baltimore based on strength of victory, and win a tiebreaker over Tennessee (if the Titans lose to the Jags) based on common games. The Chiefs would lose a tiebreaker to the Titans at 9-7 if Tennessee’s only remaining win was against Jacksonville, based on conference record.
Baltimore is in if they win out at 10-6. The AFC West runner-up won’t be at 10 wins and they would win a tiebreaker against Buffalo based on common games.
If Baltimore is 9-7, then things get messier. They would lose a tiebreaker to either of the AFC South teams on head-to-head. They would lose to the Chiefs, but prevail over the Chargers or Raiders. The Buffalo tiebreaker would depend on which team they lost to.
Tennessee would be in the playoffs at 10-6, regardless of who they lose the remaining game to. If they are at 9-7, then it may depend on if they beat the Jaguars for that win or not. They would win a tiebreaker against Baltimore, the Chargers, and Raiders. They would potentially lose it to the Chiefs if they lose to Jacksonville. They would also potentially lose to Buffalo with a Jacksonville loss and 9-7 record, if Buffalo sweeps Miami.