Yesterday, the NFC playoff picture was laid out here; today it's the AFC's turn. Before we get into all the big games, let's first say goodbye to the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins. At this point, 8-8 likely doesn't make the playoffs (especially when the Bengals and Steelers face one another) and it's just not worth it to include either team anymore. Besides, I'd have to include the Chargers and Browns in that case and neither team is reaching the playoffs either. Here are the teams they do have a chance.
Houston (11-2)- Clinched a playoff berth. Last 3 games (Ind, Min, @Ind)
The chance to put the AFC in their rearview mirror was what awaited the Houston Texans last night and they fell on their faces in New England. Instead of a two game lead over Denver and clinching a bye, they now can be overtaken by the Colts. Even if the Texans hold on to home-field advantage, no one will think they are capable of going to the Super Bowl, since a team with a good QB should be able to carve them up.
New England (10-3)- Clinched AFC East. Last 3 games (SF, @Jac, Mia)
It's never a surprise when the Pats score 42 points on someone (though, it would be if they do so against the 49ers). With their win, the Pats immediately become the AFC favorites and in terms of playoff outlook, they have an easy road for a bye and good chance at getting the top seed. This week against San Francisco is the only worry for New England left on its schedule.
Denver (10-3)- Clinched AFC South. Last 3 games (@Balt, Clev, KC)
The Broncos are in the same boat as the Pats, only they lost to both New England and Houston. Nevertheless, they have a couple easy games to finish the year, with a date with the Ravens the one that will determine if they are playing in the first round, or if they will get a bye. Right now, Brady vs Manning is a Round 2 matchup, but let's see if this can play itself out enough so that it becomes the AFC Championship game instead.
Baltimore (9-4)- Last 3 games (Den, NYG, @Cin)
The Ravens lost a disheartening game to the Redskins, but in the grand scheme of things, they had a good day as both the Bengals and Steelers lost. Looking at the standings, the only way the Ravens miss the playoffs is if the Steelers and Bengals tie and win their other games, while the Ravens lose out. Baltimore should beat any team if tied at 9-7. Still, the division isn't decided yet and a win assures them of a home playoff game. Also, they still maintain a tiebreaker over the Pats and if they win out and 49ers win Sunday, a bye is in play for the Ravens.
Wild Card Teams
Indianapolis (9-4)- Last 3 games (@Hou, @KC, Hou)
Well, the Colts barely beat the Titans, and got the loss by the Texans to give the Colts control of their own destiny. Win three games and Indianapolis miraculously goes from first to worst to first in the AFC South. Even if they don't get the South, they just need one more win to clinch a playoff spot which no one saw coming in Andrew Luck's rookie season.
Pittsburgh (7-6)- Last 3 games (@Dal, Cin, Clev)
Of course, the Steelers drop the easy one to San Diego (and give the Chargers a tiebreaker if the incredible happens). Week 16 is still looking like a play-in game between them and the Bengals, even though the Jets have started to make things close in the AFC. Remember, the Steelers beat the Jets in Week 2, giving them the tiebreaker over them.
Cincinnati (7-6)- Last 3 games (@Phil, @Pit, Bal)
The Bengals also lost this week, but once again, their playoff position more than likely will be decided by their game with the Steelers, though they will need another win before the season ends. Chances are, the Bengals and Steelers won't get the AFC North, but if either wins out, the Ravens is tough enough to allow for one of them to come back.
N.Y. Jets (6-7)- Last 3 games (@Ten, SD, @Buf)
The Jets remain on this list by their win over the awful Jaguars and the two losses by the Steelers and Bengals. One is essentially guaranteed of eight wins, so the Jets need to win out to have a chance at the playoffs. Of course, why would anyone want the Jets to make the playoffs? Every week, win or lose, the Jets have negative attention. But with an easy schedule, playoffs aren't impossible.