Can Tom Brady and the Patriots hold on to the top spot in the AFC playoff picture? (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
We get a complete breakdown of the win from Bill Belichick as the Patriots secure yet another AFC East title. Bill talks about the historical significance, the key moments of the game, and even Tom Brady's nutritional regiment.

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We check in with big 75, nose tackle of the New Engalnd Patriots Vince WIlfork breaks down the win over the Dolphins, another AFC East Championship, and next week's divisional showdown vs the Jets.

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We go full-tilt, full-time with former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi. Tedy breaks down the significance (or lack thereof) of 'hat and t-shirt' wins, and every other aspect of the Patriots win over the Dolphins.

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After Tom Brady delivered a 17-yard scramble in Sunday’s 41-13 win over the Dolphins, the quarterback joked after the game that he’d likely hear it from the coaches about how he didn’t slide at the end of the run, but instead finished off the run by crashing into Miami safety Walt Aikens.

Tom Brady isn’t the fastest guy in the world, so after he rumbled for a 17-yard pickup Sunday against the Dolphins, it wasn’t a surprise this popped up on his Facebook page Monday afternoon:

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Patriots Fullback James Develin joined MFB today to talk about what it's like blocking for LeGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray, and discussed some of their similarities and differences.

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Chandler Jones recorded 1.5 sacks and stripped Ryan Tannehill in his return from a hip injury that sidelined him 8 weeks. He spoke about being patient and waiting for the day he'd be back on the field, how his replacement, Akeem Ayers, played in his absence, and how he loves Brandon Browner's aggressiveness, despite the number of penalties he commits.

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After Tom Brady delivered a 17-yard scramble in Sunday’s 41-13 win over the Dolphins, the quarterback joked after the game that he’d likely hear it from the coaches about how he didn’t slide at the end of the run, but instead finished off the run by crashing into Miami safety Walt Aikens.

“No, I could have slid, but I wasn’€™t in the best mood that time,” Brady said after the game. “If he was a bigger guy I would have thought really hard about sliding, but once I was in the secondary, things happen pretty quick for me out there.

“I’m not the fastest guy out there, so things close down pretty quick.”

But it sounds like Bill Belichick had no problem with Brady doing what he did. In a conference call with the media on Monday, the coach praised the quarterback for the move.

“I’€™ve coached for a long time, and I don’€™t question players’€™ decisions on the field when they try to make them to help the team win,” Belichick said. “I think that they do the best that they can. They’€™re trying to win; they’€™re trying to win just as much as everybody else on the team is.

“I’€™m not saying every decision is a great one, and the same thing with a coach, same thing with me,” he added. “I’€™m not saying every decision is a great one. But every one is made with the intention to help our team win and do the best that I can, or an individual player can for the team. So, I don’€™t second-guess those. I think what he does at the time he does it is what he thinks is best and I don’€™t second-guess him.”

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Will Sunday mark the final time Rex Ryan leads the Jets against the Patriots? (Getty Images)

Will Sunday mark the final time Rex Ryan leads the Jets against the Patriots? (Getty Images)

Here are five things you have to know about the Jets, who will host the Patriots Sunday at MetLife Stadium:

They can still run the ball pretty well.

In Chris Ivory (174 carries, 739 yards, 6 TDs) and Chris Johnson (135 carries, 613 yards, 1 TD), the Jets still have some semblance of a ground game. (Johnson also had his long run of 37 yards Sunday against the Titans out of the wildcat.) The Jets actually have three games this season where they’ve rushed for more than 200 yards, including 218 the last time they played the Patriots and 277 this past Sunday in a 16-11 win over the Titans. They’re second in the league in rushing yards per game (147.1) and total rushing yards (2,060), and they’re tied for second with the Saints and Chiefs when it comes to yards per carry (4.7). It’s important to note that much of that rushing yardage has come as the result of good situational football. They’ve run it in the right situations — either in hopes of doing all they could to kill the clock when they’ve had a lead, or when faced with a defense that has occasionally struggled to stop the run. When they do run it, they’re more likely to try and go up the gut — according to NFLSavant, a sizable majority of their running plays this year have gone behind center Nick Mangold, who is accorded as one of the better run blocking centers in the league. (In Week 7 against the Patriots, the majority of the runs came over center.) Given the sturdiness of Mangold, when the Jets do try and run it this week, look for them to try and test the middle of the New England run defense.

They are really bad in the passing game.

Both Geno Smith (58 percent completion rate, 1,957 passing yards, 9 TDs, 12 INTs) and Michael Vick (53 percent completion rate, 604 passing yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs) have struggled to get much of anything going in the passing game. The Jets are last in the league in total passing yards (2,365) and passing yards per game (169), and they’re 31st in completion percentage (56.1) and yards per attempt (5.9). Wide receiver Eric Decker (62 catches, 100 targets, 720 yards, 4 TDs) is easily the best and most productive receiver the Jets have. After a semi-decent start, rookie tight end Jace Amaro (35 catches on 47 targets, 311 yards, 2 TDs) has trailed off as of late — he’s had just three catches since the start of November, but is still the second-leading pass catcher on the team. Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (34 catches on 67 targets, 322 yards, 1 TD) and newcomer Percy Harvin (25 catches on 47 targets, 306 yards, 1 TD) have performed well in spurts this season. If you are looking to break down possible assignments when Patriots go man coverage, it’s certainly realistic to think that Kyle Arrington (if healthy) will be on Kerley, who has been the primary slot option for the Jets this year. Meanwhile, Decker and Harvin would draw the Brandon Browner/Darrelle Revis combo, and Amaro would see Pat Chung and/or Jamie Collins.

They have a good front four, but not much else.

The Jets defensive front is still competitive, with Sheldon Richardson (6.5 sacks), Muhammad Wilkerson (4.5 sacks), Calvin Pace (4 sacks) and Quinton Coples (4 sacks) providing the bulk of the New York pass rush that could give the Patriots some issues up front. In the first game between the two teams, the Jets were able to sack Brady once (veteran linebacker David Harris got to him) and hit him seven times, with Wilkerson delivering three of those shots on the quarterback. On the back end, there’s really not much to speak of — per Football Outsiders, entering this past weekend, they were the worst team in the league when it came to defending tight ends and No. 3 receivers. In addition, they’re 16th against No. 1 receivers and 28th against No. 2 receivers. Small wonder that one former AFC scout I spoke with on Monday believes that if he gets just enough time, he should be able to have a big afternoon.

Percy Harvin has given their kick return game a minor boost.

The newcomer — who was acquired in a midseason deal with Seattle — has distinguished himself as a pretty good return man. Including his early-season stats with the Seahawks, he’s 11th in the league and sixth in the AFC in return average at 24.5 yards per opportunity. Kerley is the lead when it comes to punt return work, and his 6.8 yards per return in his 18 opportunities is 23rd in the league. (One other odd little note about Harvin — he’s a perfect 4-for-4 on converting 3rd and 1 chances in the running game. Look for him to get the call occasionally if that situation comes up Sunday.) Nick Folk is a Pro Bowl kicker who started the year really well, hitting 15 of his first 16 field goal chances. But he’s appeared to struggle as of late (he missed a 48- and 45-yarder in a loss to the Dolphins earlier this month), and it was recently reported he’s been suffering from a hip flexor. He’s 26-for-31 on field goal attempts on the year coming into this weekend for an 83.9 conversion rate (tied for 18th in the league). One of those misses came at the end of the first Patriots game this year when defensive lineman blocked a late field-goal attempt to allow New England to escape with the win. Ryan Quigley is averaging 45.9 yards per punt, 14th in the league, and has dropped 21 of his 72 punts inside the 20. (He’s has one punt blocked this season.) New York’s coverage units are middle of the pack — 23rd in average kick return yards allowed (21.9) and 20th in average punt return yards allowed (8.5).

They may not be that talented, but they’re playing hard for Rex Ryan.

It’s not going to be enough to save Ryan’s job, but there’s been some signs of fight in the Jets down the stretch — literally. They mixed up with the Titans in Sunday’s 16-11 over Tennessee. (The first game in NFL history that finished with a 16-11 final score.) An anonymous Jet spoke out in favor of Ryan earlier this month, taking a shot at the front office in the process. They might not be as talented as the Patriots up and down the roster, but this certainly doesn’t look like a team that will go meekly into the offseason for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they like their coach. If this is indeed Ryan’s final game as head coach of the Patriots against the Jets, it should certainly be compelling theater.

http://fantasynews.cbssports.com/fantasyfootball/update/24866006/anonymous-jets-player-slams-front-office-supports-ryan

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price