Now that every team has played at least eight games this season, it is time to take an in-depth look at the AFC playoff picture heading into Week 10. 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.
1. New England Patriots (8-0)
Remaining Schedule: @NYG, vs. BUF, @DEN, vs. PHI, @HOU, vs. TEN, @NYJ, @MIA
Outlook: The Patriots have a great chance of going undefeated, but the Broncos, Giants, and Jets won’t make that task easy. Still, New England likely finishes 15-1 or 14-2 at the very worst, which should put them in contention with Cincinnati for the top seed and home field advantage in the AFC.
Prediction: 16-0, #1 seed, AFC East Champs
2. Cincinnati Bengals (8-0)
Remaining Schedule: vs. HOU, @ARI, vs. STL, @CLE, vs. PIT, @SF, @DEN, vs. BAL
Outlook: The Bengals have had a couple close calls recently, but Thursday night’s 31-10 shellacking of the Cleveland Browns wasn’t one of them. The team now gets 11 days to prepare for a Monday night matchup against the Texans, before a tough road date against Arizona on Sunday Night Football. A couple toughies remain in Pittsburgh and Denver, which could destine Cincinnati for the #2 seed come playoff time.
Prediction: 14-2, #2 seed, AFC North Champs
3. Denver Broncos (7-1)
Remaining Schedule: vs. KC, @CHI, vs. NE, @SD, vs. OAK, @PIT, vs. CIN, vs. SD
Outlook: The rest of the road won’t be easy for Denver, who suffered their first loss of the season last Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. The Chiefs and Raiders are always tough matchups for the Broncos, the Steelers will be fighting for their playoff lives at home, and the Patriots and Bengals are, well, undefeated obviously. It might have been hard for Denver to lock up the #3 seed, except for the fact that the AFC South is an absolute wasteland right now. Broncos should be comfortable hosting in the Wild Card round.
Prediction: 12-4, #3 seed, AFC West Champs
4. Indianapolis Colts (4-5)
Remaining Schedule: BYE, @ATL, vs. TB, @PIT, @JAC, vs. HOU, @MIA, vs. TEN
Outlook: The Colts will have to find a way to win at least a few of the next several games without Andrew Luck, who is out 2-6 weeks with a lacerated kidney and an abdominal injury. The bye comes at an opportune time for Indianapolis, who will likely be under the guidance of Matt Hasselbeck for games against Atlanta and Tampa Bay. The veteran is 2-0 as a starter this season, but the Colts are clearly a much more limited team with the 40-year old under center. Lucky for them, the AFC South is miserable, and 8-8 likely gets the job done.
Prediction: 8-8, #4 seed, AFC South Champs
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4)
Remaining Schedule: vs. CLE, BYE, @SEA, vs. IND, @CIN, vs. DEN, @BAL, @CLE
Outlook: One look at the Steelers remaining schedule, and you can clearly see why Sunday remains a must-win whether Landry Jones or Ben Roethlisberger is under center. The Steelers are easily the 3rd or 4th most talented team in the AFC, but injuries and a few inexcusable losses have taken their toll early in the season. Getting into the bye at 6-4 would be huge, as the struggling Seahawks and the possibly Luck-less Colts loom next on the schedule. Neither game will be easy, except maybe in comparison to facing the Bengals and Broncos in back-to-back weeks before turning around to face two division rivals on the road to end the season. Brutal final stretch for Pittsburgh, but this team typically peaks heading into the latter part of the season, and Roethlisberger should be back to face the Seahawks. If it were the NFC, Pittsburgh would be in serious trouble, but considering the sorry state of the AFC, I still think the Steelers vault into the playoffs, as long as they can knock off Cleveland on Sunday.
Prediction: 10-6, #5 seed
6. Oakland Raiders
Remaining Schedule: vs. MIN, @DET, @TEN, vs. KC, @DEN, vs. GB, vs. SD, @KC
Outlook: The Raiders miserable defense gives me pause when selecting them to grab the final playoff spot in the AFC, but I really don’t see any plausible competitors outside of the Jets, and Oakland owns the tiebreaker in that scenario. Derek Carr is playing at a Pro Bowl level, and the Raiders winning at least three of the next four games will put them in a great spot for a tough final stretch. If the Jets waver like I believe they will, the Raiders can sneak in at 9-7.
Prediction: 9-7, #6 seed
7. New York Jets (5-3)
Remaining Schedule: vs. BUF, @HOU, vs. MIA, @NYG, vs. TEN, @DAL, vs. NE, @BUF
Outlook: The Jets schedule is a cake-walk compared to the Steelers, but four divisional games will still challenge them. The Cowboys and Giants on the road will be tough, especially if Tony Romo is back for Dallas, but the Jets are in a good spot, as even a 5-3 finish likely puts them into the playoffs. The Raiders own the tiebreaker over them however, so New York can’t afford to slip up. The next two weeks are huge for the Jets, as they could put down two of their chief competitors while elevating their own status. In the end however, I just can’t shake the feeling that I don’t believe the Jets are that good despite their record.
Prediction: 9-7, 7th place in AFC
8. Buffalo Bills (4-4)
Remaining Schedule: @NYJ, @NE, @KC, vs. HOU, @PHI, @WAS, vs. DAL, vs. NYJ
Outlook: The Bills face a brutal three-game road stretch that will likely determine the fate of their season. Buffalo’s schedule isn’t terrible, but five road games all against desperate teams won’t make it easy for a Bills team that has dealt with some dissension among the ranks under Rex Ryan. Winning tomorrow night would be a nice start, but still not sure Buffalo has enough to finish better than 8-8.
Prediction: 8-8, 8th place in AFC
9. Kansas City Chiefs (3-5)
Remaining Schedule: @DEN, @SD, vs. BUF, @OAK, vs. SD, @BAL, vs. CLE, vs. OAK
Outlook: I think the Chiefs are plenty talented, but injuries and an early-season hole will be tough to dig themselves out of. Five of six divisional games remain, which is really the only reason why they are on this list, but I can’t see them finishing any better than 4-4, and 7-9 probably doesn’t get you into the playoffs, even this year.
Prediction: 7-9, 9th place in AFC
10. Houston Texans (3-5)
Remaining Schedule: @CIN, vs. NYJ, vs. NO, @BUF, vs. NE, @IND, @TEN, vs. JAC
Outlook: The Texans only hope of making the playoffs is to win the South, a goal that is suddenly very achievable with the Colts loss of Luck. The remaining schedule isn’t easy however, and I don’t think 7-9 wins the division, which is likely where the Texans finish the season at.
Prediction: 7-9, 10th place in AFC
11. Miami Dolphins (3-5, but 0-4 in division already)
12. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6)
13. Tennessee Titans (2-6)
14. Baltimore Ravens (2-6)
15. San Diego Chargers (2-7)
16. Cleveland Browns (2-7)