Time to take an in-depth look at the AFC playoff picture as we prepare for Week 11 to come to a close tonight. We’ll look at which teams are unofficially locked in, which teams are on the bubble, and which teams are all-but mathematically eliminated from the 2015 postseason race. Brace yourselves, the AFC somehow got even messier on Sunday.
1. New England Patriots (9-0)
Remaining Schedule: vs. BUF (tonight), @DEN, vs. PHI, @HOU, vs. TEN, @NYJ, @MIA
Outlook: With every passing week, the Patriots’ AFC dominance becomes more clear. A host of injuries threatens to derail their perfect season, but the #1 seed should be a lock at this point.
Prediction: 15-1, #1 seed, AFC East Champs
2. Cincinnati Bengals (8-2)
Remaining Schedule: vs. STL, @CLE, vs. PIT, @SF, @DEN, vs. BAL
Outlook: Losers of two straight after a perfect first half of the season, Marvin Lewis must quell the whispers of another dismal winter in Cincinnati. Playing the slumping Rams and Browns over the next two weeks should help get the Bengals back on track to capture the AFC’s second seed.
Prediction: 12-4, #2 seed, AFC North Champs
3. Denver Broncos (8-2)
Remaining Schedule: vs. NE, @SD, vs. OAK, @PIT, vs. CIN, vs. SD
Outlook: With Brock Osweiler at the helm, the Broncos gutted out a tough win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday. It remains to be seen when or if Peyton Manning will return to the lineup from injury, but Denver seems to be firmly in the mix for the 2 or 3 seed. Their remaining schedule is tough however, and the offense will need to prove its legitimacy against more talented defenses than the Bears.
Prediction: 11-5, #3 seed, AFC West Champs
4. Indianapolis Colts (5-5)
Remaining Schedule: vs. TB, @PIT, @JAC, vs. HOU, @MIA, vs. TEN
Outlook: The legend of Matt Hasselbeck continues, as the Colts improve to 3-0 with the 40-year old quarterback in the starting lineup. The Texans are pushing hard however, and the second place finisher is suddenly in position to contend for a wild card spot.
Prediction: 9-7, #4 seed, AFC South Champs
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4)
Remaining Schedule: @SEA, vs. IND, @CIN, vs. DEN, @BAL, @CLE
Outlook: Think the Steelers enjoyed their bye week? Not only did they get a chance to rest and get healthy, but they watched a few of their top competitors for a wild card spot lose in Oakland and New York. Add Cincinnati’s defeat at the hands of Arizona, and suddenly Pittsburgh is just two and a half games out of first place heading into Week 12. Winning at Seattle will be tough next week, but the rest of the schedule looks more favorable than it once did due to a rash of injuries.
Prediction: 10-6, #5 seed
6. Kansas City Chiefs (5-5)
Remaining Schedule: vs. BUF, @OAK, vs. SD, @BAL, vs. CLE, vs. OAK
Outlook: Winners of four straight after a 1-5 start to the season, the Chiefs are quietly turning their season around and are right in the thick of things in the AFC. A huge home game against Buffalo looms on Sunday, with tiebreakers on the line for both teams. The schedule is favorable for Kansas City the rest of the way if they can defeat the Bills.
Prediction: 9-7, #6 seed
7. Buffalo Bills (5-4)
Remaining Schedule: @NE (tonight), @KC, vs. HOU, @PHI, @WAS, vs. DAL, vs. NYJ
Outlook: Can’t overemphasize how big tonight’s matchup against the banged-up Patriots is for Buffalo. Win and they put themselves firmly in the driver’s seat for the sixth seed in the playoffs. Lose, and they re-join the glut of teams competing for postseason action. The next two weeks are critical.
Prediction: 8-8, 7th in AFC
8. Houston Texans (5-5)
Remaining Schedule: vs. NO, @BUF, vs. NE, @IND, @TEN, vs. JAC
Outlook: Suddenly, the Texans are right in the mix for not only the AFC South title, but also a wild card spot. Next up, the reeling Saints, followed by a tough three-game stretch against a trio of other playoff hopefuls. Andrew Luck could be back for the Colts in what could be a monumental December 20th matchup between the two teams.
Prediction: 8-8, 8th in AFC
9. Oakland Raiders (4-6)
Remaining Schedule: @TEN, vs. KC, @DEN, vs. GB, vs. SD, @KC
Outlook: The Raiders have lost three in a row and are quickly seeing their playoff hopes dissipate after a solid start to the season. Losing a shootout to Pittsburgh is one thing, but falling to the Detroit Lions with just 214 yards of offense was not ideal. On the road against 2-8 Tennessee is a must-win next week, but the climb remains an uphill one.
Prediction: 7-9, 9th in AFC
10. New York Jets (5-5)
Remaining Schedule: vs. MIA, @NYG, vs. TEN, @DAL, vs. NE, @BUF
Outlook: The Jets are sinking fast, losing four of their last five, including critical tie-breaker losses to Buffalo, Oakland, and Houston. Can’t see them recovering from that in a neck-and-neck conference.
Prediction: 7-9, 10th in AFC
11. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6)
Remaining Schedule: vs. SD, @TEN, vs. IND, vs. ATL, @NO, @HOU
Outlook: Somehow, the Jaguars last two wins have vaulted them to just one game back in the AFC South, and the next two games are extremely winnable. What is working against the Jaguars is losses to Indianapolis, Houston, and New York, although a win against Buffalo does help their case. I see Jacksonville faltering down the stretch, but they have the talent to pull off the improbable amidst a conference mess.
Prediction: 6-10, 11th in AFC
12. Miami Dolphins (4-6, but 0-4 in division)
13. Tennessee Titans (2-8)
14. Baltimore Ravens (3-7)
15. San Diego Chargers (2-8)
16. Cleveland Browns (2-8)