As we enter the final week of the regular season, the AFC Playoff Picture has come into focus. All four division titles are locked up and four teams are in the mix for the final two wild card spots. The NFL decided not to have a Sunday Night Football game this week and instead shifted all of the meaningful playoff matchups to the 4:25 slot. This will result in a lot of scoreboard-watching around the country as both the AFC and NFC playoff races come down to the wire. The Patriots and Steelers have clinched byes and will be the top two seeds. Jacksonville will be the #3 seed and Kansas City the #4 seed while Baltimore, Tennessee, Los Angeles, and Buffalo will fight it out for the two wild card spots.
Last Week: Defeated Buffalo 37-16
This Week: vs New York Jets
Clinching Scenarios: New England clinched the AFC East title and a first round bye. The Patriots clinch the #1 seed with a win over the Jets or a Steelers loss.
The Patriots got yet ANOTHER favorable ruling from team MVP Al Riveron this week as a Kelvin Benjamin touchdown was mysteriously ruled not a catch. The Patriots beat the Bills to earn a bye week and now will get a game against Bryce Petty and the Jets with the #1 seed on the line. Petty threw for just 119 yards and a pick last week against the Chargers. If the Jets are going to pull off a shocking upset of New England and give the Steelers a chance at the top seed, it will take a monster performance by Bilal Powell and Matt Forte on the ground (and possibly the Pats giving Brady and Gronk the second half off).
Last Week: Smoked Houston 34-6
This Week: vs Cleveland
Clinching Scenarios: The Steelers have clinched the AFC North title and a first round bye. They can clinch the #1 seed with a win over Cleveland and a New England loss.
The Steelers took out their frustrations from the previous week’s loss to New England by thrashing the Houston Texans. Even without Antonio Brown, the offense was able to move the ball at will. The defensive front lit up the Texans line to the tune of 7 sacks, 3 of them coming from AFC Defensive Player of the Week Mike Hilton. The Steelers will now march out Landry Jones to take on the winless Browns in the hope that Ben Roethlisberger is able to maintain his edge with two weeks off. The Steelers clinched the bye thanks to the Jaguars losing to the 49ers and need a victory over Cleveland plus a Jets win over the Patriots to get homefield advantage.
Last Week: Lost to San Francisco 44-33
This Week: at Tennessee
Clinching Scenarios: The Jaguars have clinched the AFC South title and will be the #3 seed regardless of what happens this week.
Who would have thought that the 49ers would put up 44 points to knock the Jaguars out of the race for a bye week. The Jaguars clinched the AFC South title thanks to Tennessee’s loss to the Rams. However, this has not stopped head coach Doug Marrone from going all-in this week with all of his starters active for a meaningless game against the Titans. Tennessee needs to win to get in the playoffs (or have both Los Angeles and Buffalo lose) so Marrone appears determined to make things as difficult as possible for his divisional foes.
Last Week: Defeated Miami 29-13
This Week: at Denver
Clinching Scenarios: Kansas City has clinched the AFC West title and will be the #4 seed in the playoffs.
The Chiefs wrapped up the AFC West title with a win over the Dolphins and are locked in to the #4 seed. Unlike Jacksonville (who is playing all of their starters), Kansas City will turn to some of their backups this week in a meaningless game against Denver. First round pick Patrick Mahomes will get the start at quarterback for Kansas City while 2016 first rounder Paxton Lynch will get the start for Denver.
Last Week: Defeated Indianapolis 23-16
This Week: vs Cincinnati
Clinching Scenarios: Baltimore clinches a playoff spot with a win over Cincinnati OR if either Buffalo or Tennessee lose
When I first started these “AFC Playoff Picture” posts in Week 11, I said to not be surprised if an easy schedule allowed the Ravens to make a late-season run to the playoffs. Since that point (when Baltimore was 4-5), they have gone 5-1 with their only loss coming on a Chris Boswell field goal at Heinz Field. The Ravens have the worst Strength of Victory mark of any playoff-eligible team in the AFC, which could come back to bite them in a 3-way tie scenario with Tennessee and Buffalo. Baltimore has preyed upon their weak schedule and is a win over the Bungles away from their first playoff appearance since 2014.
Last Week: Lost to the LA Rams 27-23
This Week: vs Jacksonville
Clinching Scenarios: Tennessee clinches a playoff spot with a win OR if both Buffalo and Los Angeles lose
The Titans have lost 3 in a row and 4 of their last 6 since they came to Pittsburgh for a Thursday Night affair. They are barely clinging to the last playoff spot based on their conference record. The Jaguars will be going full-throttle against the Titans this week who still control their own destiny. The Titans are looking to break an 8-year playoff drought as they have not been to the postseason since 2008. This is a friendly reminder that the 2008 season was the one in which LenDale White stomped on a Terrible Towel, so if the Titans miss the playoffs for a 9th straight year you can chalk another one up to the Curse of Cope.
Last Week: Defeated the Jets 14-7
This Week: vs Oakland
Clinching Scenarios: The Chargers have two scenarios by which they can earn a playoff spot. Both require the Chargers to win and the Titans to lose. In addition to those two results, Los Angeles needs either a Baltimore win or a Buffalo loss in order to make the playoffs.
After two down years, the Chargers are once again right in the thick of the mix for a playoff spot. Philip Rivers has a legacy of choking in big situations, so the question going in to this week might just be “How will the Chargers blow it this time?” In order to get in, they need to beat the Raiders and have Jacksonville top Tennessee. The news of the Jaguars playing their starters this week has to excite the Chargers. If they get those two results, they also need a Baltimore win over Cincinnati or a Buffalo loss to Miami in order to get to the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Of all the teams in the race, the Chargers need the most help to get in the playoffs.
Last Week: Lost to New England 37-16
This Week: at Miami
Clinching Scenarios: Buffalo has two possible paths to the playoffs. The first would be if the Bills win and the Ravens lose. The second is if the Bills win and both Tennessee and Los Angeles lose.
The Bills reached the 8-win plateau and ensured themselves their third .500 season in the last 4 years. However, if Buffalo is going to break the longest active playoff drought in the NFL, they will need some help this weekend. To start, the Bills will have to go into a tough environment in Miami and beat the Dolphins. Secondly, the Bills would need a loss by either the Ravens (to the Bengals) or by both the Titans and Chargers.
Oakland, Miami, New York, and Cincinnati, are 6-9. Denver is 5-10. Houston is 4-11. Indianapolis is 3-12. Cleveland is 0-15.
The Raiders and Dolphins were eliminated from playoff contention this week. The Jets will likely roll with Bryce Petty once again this week as they take on New England. Denver will turn to former first round pick Paxton Lynch at quarterback in the final game of the regular season. Cleveland could become the second team in the last decade to go winless.