With Week 12 on the horizon, the AFC playoff picture is beginning to take shape. The Bengals, Patriots, and Chargers have started to move into prime playoff position. Meanwhile, the Raiders, Bills, and Steelers suffered setbacks, and need wins to get back on track. To help organize the chaos, this article will put the playoff hopefuls into one of three tiers: in the driver’s seat, fighting for the division, and in the wild card hunt.
Tier 1: In the Driver’s Seat
Baltimore Ravens: 7-3
Despite missing Lamar Jackson, the Ravens managed to pick up a hard fought victory over the Bears. Baltimore has a 1 game lead in the North heading into the teeth of their division schedule. With four of their next five games against division opponents, the Ravens have an opportunity to punch their ticket to the playoffs early.
New England Patriots: 7-4
The Patriots are riding a 5 game win streak and find themselves leading the division. New England now have complete control of their own destiny with both games against Buffalo still left on the schedule. With Bills struggling as of late, Mac Jones and the red hot Patriots have a chance to truly take over the division with wins in the next few weeks.
Tennessee Titans: 8-3
The Titans suffered a shocking defeat at the hands of the 1-8 Texans on Sunday. Even with that setback though, Tennessee still has a 2 game division lead with the tie breaker over the Colts heading into week 12. Mike Vrabel’s squad faces their toughest game on the schedule this week against the Patriots, but it should be smooth sailing after that. The Titans have the best chance to be the first AFC playoff team to lock up a spot.
Tier 2: Fighting for the Division
Buffalo Bills: 6-4
Buffalo continues to struggle with consistency. They have alternated wins and losses for the last 5 weeks, and now find themselves in second place in the division. The Bills are still very much in the race, but with a fairly tough schedule, they now are in the back seat. Buffalo takes on the 5-5 Saints this week with a crucial matchup against the Bills on the horizon.
Los Angeles Chargers: 6-4 and Kansas City Chiefs: 7-4
Not much has changed for these two teams after last week. Los Angeles picked up a big win against the Steelers, while Kansas City took care of business against the Cowboys. The Chargers have the tie breaker for now, so this race is as close as it could possibly be at this point of the season.
Cincinnati Bengals: 6-4
The Bengals were at a major crossroads heading into last weeks game, and they pulled off a major win. Cincinnati now sits 1.5 games back of Baltimore, but they did beat them once already. If Burrow and the Bengals can put together a few more wins, it will set up a major showdown against Baltimore later on in the season to decide the fate of the AFC North.
Tier 3: In the Wild Card Hunt
Pittsburgh Steelers: 5-4-1
Pittsburgh finds themselves in an awkward position in the middle of the AFC. They sit at 5-4-1, which puts them slightly behind their 6-4 rivals, and have a daunting schedule ahead. It will take a quite a few upset wins for the Steelers to work their way into the playoffs, but they certainly are not of the picture yet.
Indianapolis Colts: 6-5 and Cleveland Browns: 6-5
The Colts and Browns continue to hang around. Indianapolis dominated the Bills, while the Browns squeaked by the Lions, and both have a path to the wild card if they can continue to execute. Both teams have equally tough paths the rest of the way, so it won’t be easy, but the Colts and Browns have shown plenty of resilience throughout the season.
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