Just when it looked like the AFC playoff picture was gaining clarity, another chaotic week creates more uncertainty. The Chargers suffered an upset loss to the Broncos, while New England and Baltimore continued to roll. 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.
In the Driver’s Seat
Baltimore Ravens: 8-3
The Ravens picked up a gritty 16-10 win over the Browns on Sunday Night. While Lamar Jackson looking less than stellar, Baltimore secured a key win, and now find themselves atop to entire conference. The Ravens do not face a team under .500 the rest of the way, but they only need to pick up a handful victories to clinch the AFC North. As of now, Baltimore has more control over their own destiny than any other team in the AFC.
New England Patriots: 8-4
The Patriots extended their win streak to 6 games with a dominating 36-13 win over the Titans. New England is now a half a game in front of the Bills. The two teams will face off in a monumental Monday Night Football matchup this week that will play a large role in deciding the fate of the division. As of now, the Patriots slight division lead and their consistency put them in a better position to capture the AFC East title.
Tennessee Titans: 8-4
Despite losing 2 in a row, the Titans are still in complete control of the AFC South. Tennessee has a fairly easy schedule down the stretch, with 4 of their 5 remaining opponents sitting at .500 or worse. While there are clearly some problems in Nashville, the Titans early season success has left them with not much work to do to secure a division title.
Fighting for the Division
Buffalo Bills: 7-4
The Bills did what they needed to do on Thanksgiving night, crushing the Saints 31-6. However, their inconsistency has cost them the division lead, and made them hard to trust moving forward. Buffalo can make a big statement by beating the Patriots this week and regaining the division lead. But until they can prove they can do it week in and week out, they remain in this tier.
Kansas City Chiefs: 7-4 and Denver Broncos: 6-5
The Chiefs had a bye last week, so they remain atop the AFC West for now. Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos managed to make some noise with a 28-13 upset win over the Chargers. Denver now has a chance to catapult into the division lead with a win over the Chiefs this Sunday. In an unlikely turn of events, the Broncos and Chiefs now have a big game on their hands at Arrowhead.
Cincinnati Bengals: 7-4
The Bengals continued to impress, picking up 41-10 win over the Steelers last Sunday. Cincinnati remains a game back of Baltimore, and with every win, their week 16 matchup against the Ravens gains more and more significance. If the Bengals can continue to roll, and then pick up the tie breaker over Baltimore by beating them a second time, the Bengals could certainly steal the AFC North.
Las Angles Chargers: 6-5
The Chargers now find themselves teetering on the edge of wild card team after another disappointing loss. They have now lost 4 of their last 6, and the schedule only gets slightly easier down the stretch. The victory over the Chiefs looms large for Las Angles, and is one of the main reasons they still have a shot at the division. If the Chargers can finish strong in division play, they have the wins necessary to at least force a tie breaker in the AFC West.
In the Wild Card Hunt
Las Vegas Raiders: 6-5
The Raiders picked up a much needed won over the Cowboys Thanksgiving Day. By breaking a 3 game losing streak, Las Vegas put themselves right back in the middle of the wild card hunt. Despite having the same record as the Chargers and Broncos, Vegas finds themselves behind in the division race after losing to both the Chiefs and Chargers. While there is still an outside shot for the Raiders to win the AFC West, it looks like a wild card spot is the easiest path forward.
Cleveland Browns: 6-6 and Indianapolis Colts: 6-6
Both these teams suffered brutal one possession losses on Sunday. Now, the Colts and Browns find themselves on the outside looking in. Sitting a game back of the final wild card spot means neither Indianapolis or Cleveland has much room for error, especially with the fairly tough schedules both teams have left to play.
Pittsburgh Steelers: 5-5-1
While not mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, the Steelers playoff hopes took a big hit Sunday. The Steelers are now 0-2-1 in their last three, and play the division leading Ravens come Sunday. It is always hard to count out Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin out completely, but the Steelers are now behind and trending in the wrong direction. It will take quite the effort for Pittsburgh to ear a playoff berth.
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