Can Tom Brady and the Patriots hold on to the top spot in the AFC playoff picture? (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
With two weeks to go in the regular season, three of the four divisional races in the AFC have been settled, but there are still three playoff spots up for grabs. Here’s a snapshot of the AFC playoff race, with a look at each team, their record, where they stand currently in the race for the postseason and their remaining schedule. It’s also worth checking out the playoff odds for each team, which are updated every week here at Football Outsiders.
1. Patriots (11-3): Clinched AFC East. Remaining opponents: at Jets (3-11), vs. Bills (8-6)
While it might not be smooth sailing for all 120 minutes that are left in the regular season, as there’s bound to be a little fight left in those Jets, given the state of things in mid-December, it appears New England should close out the regular season with back-to-back wins against division opponents. If the Patriots can do that, it would assure them of their first No. 1 playoff seed since 2011.
2. Broncos (11-3): Clinched AFC West. Remaining opponents: at Bengals (9-4-1), vs. Raiders (2-12)
It’s reasonable to assume that Denver will be able to keep the heat on New England down the stretch, although the occasionally feisty Bengals might have something to say about that next Monday night in Cincinnati. Regardless, the Broncos appear to be a lock to finish 12-4 at the absolute worst, given the fact that they host the Raiders in the regular-season finale.
3. Colts (10-4): Clinched AFC South. Remaining opponents: at Cowboys (10-4), at Titans (2-12)
The Colts are the best bet to stay locked in to the No. 3 seed right now, and look like a good bet to finish 11-5. That game against Dallas could pivot on the health of Cowboys’ running back DeMarco Murray — given Indy’s struggles against the run, he certainly appears to be a difference-maker in that contest. No reason to think they won’t blow out the Titans.
4. Bengals (9-4-1): Remaining opponents: vs. Broncos (11-3), at Steelers (9-5)
Who knows? The whole AFC North is a bit of a cluster-bleep at this point. What we do know is that if there’s one team that has the edge on the rest of the division, it’s the Bengals. They could finish 11-4-1 and possibly push Indy for the No. 3 spot if the Colts stumble and fall at some point. At the same time, no one would be shocked if they lost both of their last two games and end up on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. From this viewpoint, Cincy will likely lose this week against Denver, but manage to sneak into a wild card spot with a win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh to close out the season.
5. Steelers (9-5): Remaining opponents: vs. Chiefs (8-6), vs. Bengals (9-4-1)
Pittsburgh appears to be nicely positioned with two games remaining — the Steelers are at home for both of them, and can ultimately finish as high as No. 4 if they win both contests. But like San Diego, Pittsburgh has been wildly inconsistent this year — it has some really nice wins (Indy), but there are also some truly ugly losses (at home to 2-12 Tampa Bay and on the road against the 3-11 Jets). If you’re a Steelers fan, you’d like to be optimistic, but there has to be some nagging doubt there that they could still lose them both and finish out of the playoff picture entirely.
6. Ravens (9-5): Remaining opponents: at Texans (7-7), at Browns, (7-7)
Baltimore is not as powerful as it used to be, but the Ravens are still one of the more mentally tough teams in the conference. Even though they’re on the road for the last two games of the regular season, given their resume, those are two eminently winnable contests for Baltimore. With three different teams sitting a game back and a crowded division picture ahead of them, there’s a lot of boom-bust potential for these Ravens, who could still win the division or finish out of the playoff picture entirely.
7. Chiefs (8-6): Remaining opponents: at Steelers (9-5), vs. Chargers (8-6)
For the second straight season, Kansas City — which has lost three of its last four games — is wheezing to the finish line. Last year, the Chiefs had the cushion of a 9-0 start, which helped take some of the sting out of a weak finish to the regular season (five losses in the last seven games), and a first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Colts. But, if they beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sunday (a distinct possibility given the up-and-down nature of the Steelers season), they’d put themselves into position to sneak in the back door of the postseason with a home win over the Chargers in the regular-season finale.
8. Chargers (8-6): Remaining opponents: at Niners (7-7), at Chiefs (8-6)
San Diego, which looked so imposing out of the gate with wins in five of its first six games, is now forced with winning its last two just to get a shot at what is likely the last wild card spot. While no one is sure how this week’s game against the Niners will turn out (Will a San Francisco team that’s out of the playoff picture mail it in, or will the Niners fight?), the second of the two AFC wild card spots could likely come down to the regular-season finale between the Chargers and Chiefs at Arrowhead.
9. Bills (8-6): Remaining opponents: at Raiders (2-12), at Patriots (11-3)
While stranger things have happened, Buffalo appears ticketed for a 9-7 finish at this point. That might not be enough to get them into the postseason, but it should be cause enough for celebration in upstate New York. Considering the fact that the last time the Bills finished about .500 was 2004, the franchise should be thrilled. A solid and stingy defense and a nice nucleus of skill position players dominate the roster — now, the biggest question is whether or not they’ll be able to build on that going forward, either in free agency or the draft.