Tom Brady and Ryan Wendell celebrate the comeback win over the Browns. (AP)
With three games left in the regular season, here’s a quick snapshot of the AFC playoff picture:
1. Broncos (11-2). Clinched playoff spot. Combined record of remaining opponents: 12-27
With Denver’s win on Sunday, it appears to be pretty close to a done deal that the Broncos are going to walk away with the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Denver has one home game left (a date with the consistently inconsistent 6-7 Chargers), as well as road contests against the Texans and Raiders. If they’re able to get past San Diego, the Broncos should be a safe bet to run the table and finish 14-2.
2. Patriots (10-3). Combined record of remaining opponents: 18-21
New England pulled out another come-from-behind win Sunday against the Browns, adding another chapter in their season-long run of comebacks. (For some perspective, according to Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders, the Patriots have four wins after trailing by nine or more points in the second half since Week 8. By way of comparison, the Packers have one — Sunday — since 2005.) Whether or not they can keep everything moving in the right direction without Rob Gronkowski is a serious question mark — the Bengals and Colts lurk a game behind with three to play — but right now, they still have that second spot.
3. Bengals (9-4). Combined record of remaining opponents: 15-23-1
Cincinnati continues to put pressure on New England for that No. 3 spot — the Bengals came away with a 42-28 win over the Colts Sunday in Cincinnati to remain perfect at home. Quarterback Andy Dalton threw for three touchdowns and ran for another in the win, the third straight victory for the Bengals. At the very least, with a two-game lead with three to play, it appears Cincinnati now has the AFC North title within its grasp. The Bengals have two games against AFC North foes Pittsburgh (on the road) and Baltimore (at home), which could prove to be interesting, but right now, they’re a safe bet to at least come away with a division title.
4. Colts (8-5). Combined record of remaining opponents: 16-23
After Sunday’s loss in Cincinnati, it appears that the Colts will either be locked in to the four spot, as they’re a game back of the third-seeded Bengals with three to play, while the Chiefs are looking more and more secure as the lead wild-card team at the No. 5 spot. There was a lot to like about where this team was headed over the first half of the season, but the amazing inconsistency down the stretch has been troubling from an overall development standpoint — they’ve alternated wins and losses over their last six games. As we said last week, that sort of up-and-down play isn’t a sustainable formula for success, especially when it comes to the postseason.
5. Chiefs (10-3). Combined record of remaining opponents: 18-21
Kansas City was able to halt a three-game losing skid Sunday with a 45-10 win thumping of the Redskins on the road, and fundamentally locked up the lead wild card spot in the AFC playoff picture.
6. Ravens (7-6). Combined record of remaining opponents: 28-13
Boy, if Baltimore can close this out down the stretch, no one can accuse them of backing into the postseason. They’ve won four of their last five, and have three games left against teams who are a combined 15 games over .500, including a Sunday night date against the Patriots in less than two weeks. And while they’ll have to beat back a collection of teams who are just out of the running (including the 7-6 Dolphins and the 6-7 Chargers and 6-7 Jets), they did get an infusion of talent this past Sunday when tight end Dennis Pitta returned to the lineup for the first time all year after suffering an injury in training camp.