The AFC proved more complicated than the NFC. Yet somehow, I managed to boil the nine teams in playoff contention down to six. An 11-5 team was left home dreaming of what could have been.
If you’re new here, read the first part of Wednesday’s NFC Projections for a brief rundown on how our playoff projections work. I’ll be honest; I don’t like how the AFC Projections turned out. I’m not sure why, but something is off. It could be due to all the tiebreakers, or because I failed to find a definitive ruling on how common games are determined. Or, it could be that I picked all nine teams to finish with winning records over their final five games. Just know I’m not satisfied. For now, though, this will have to do.
If you completely disagree with my projections or hate the idea in general, feel free to tell me I’m a doofus. I promise not to cry.
I know what you’re thinking, I was shocked when they landed the top seed as well. I looked over Pittsburgh’s remaining schedule several times and couldn’t find a loss. Despite how poorly they played Monday in Kansas City, the Steelers won’t lose at home to the Bengals this week. Cleveland and St. Louis at home are easy wins also. Going to San Francisco may look tough, but I’m taking the Steelers. Two poor outings in a row for the 49ers have me wondering whether they’ll cross the finish line running, stumbling, or crawling. It’s possible the Steelers lose that final game to Cleveland if it proves meaningless. Pittsburgh owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Patriots, so identical records after Week 16 would give the Steelers the edge.
Do I really believe the Patriots will lose in Denver? No, not really. However, I talked myself into the loss because the Broncos will undoubtedly have success pounding New England’s defense with the run, thus limiting Tom Brady’s opportunities. Plus, the Broncos will get after Brady. But really, I was just afraid to pick against Tim Tebow.
A 5-0 finish? Really? A nine game win streak may seem illogical, but I’ve picked against Tim Tebow and the Broncos for the last two weeks and I’m done doubting. I want to believe. And you know what, the only pick that required a complete leap of faith was the Patriots pick. I feel more than comfortable with picking Denver to finish the season strong. Tell me, what do the Vikings, Bears, Bills, and Chiefs have that could derail the Broncos? All four lack potent offenses, and only the Bears boast a good defense. The Broncos win the AFC West and Tim Tebow enters 2012 as the first quarterback in human history to fight for his job after going 10-1 the previous season.
Losing Matt Schaub was a huge loss for Houston and a bigger disappointment for me. I liked the Texans as that sleeper playoff team everyone ignores and writes off. They run the ball well, have a top seven defense, and Schaub was a solid, reliable quarterback. Houston still has two out of three, but losing a capable quarterback puts a lot of extra attention on that running game. I granted the Texans a two game losing streak to get adjusted to T.J. Yates or whoever else gets thrown in at quarterback. Then, the Panthers and Colts give Houston two relatively easy weeks to find their groove before going head-to-head with the Titans with the AFC South on the line. (FYI: Strength of victory is a guestimation for now. I have a lot of time, but not that much time.)
The great thing about the AFC playoff race is that so many different things can happen. If the Ravens win the AFC North, the Patriots have a decent shot at the top seed. But if the Ravens can’t finish tied with the Steelers and surrender the AFC North, the Patriots slip to second and maybe further. It’s a complete mess. That’s why these AFC projections are all over the place. I fully expect to blow it up next week. I know the Chargers don’t look like they could beat anyone right now, but with all the pressure and expectations now gone, they’ll probably turn into what we expected all along and beat Baltimore. Go figure.
A strong finish by the Bengals and a huge win at home against Baltimore in Week 17 pushes Cincinnati over the playoff hump. This is where the projections get really hairy. My understanding of tiebreakers is this: With a three team tie, you only include the highest team from each division(s). Therefore, the Ravens and Raiders would be competing for tiebreakers. The Ravens would then win that tiebreaker. After a winner has been determined, the tiebreaker reverts back to square one. Therefore, the Bengals would go to tiebreakers with the Raiders. Or at least that’s how I understand the procedure. If I’m wrong; please share. I’m fine looking like an idiot, but only for short periods of time.
I feel bad for Oakland. To go 11-5 and miss the playoffs would be discouraging for any franchise, but especially for the Raiders, who have been the laughing stock of the league in recent years. But then again, I’m not even sure my tiebreaking procedures are correct, so maybe the Raiders end up with the last Wildcard spot.
Too little, too late. The Titans just couldn’t steal that final game from the Texans. I don’t do these projections to pretend I’m a genius, but let’s say I’m mostly right. How awesome would Week 17 be if the Ravens/Bengals, Titans/Texans, Chargers/Raiders, and Cowboys/Giants were fighting for division titles and/or playoff berths? For that reason alone, I hope my projections are right, or at least close. I’d prefer to avoid another Rams/Seahawks finale. (No offense, NFC West.)
Sorry, Rex. Too much flapping coming from those gums this season. Prior to completing these projections, I expected the Jets to ultimately end up in the playoffs. Afterwards, though, the Jets look like a total long shot. A poor conference record and a less than ideal schedule will force the Jets to miss the playoffs for the first time in the Ryan era. So much for those Superbowl predictions.
Thursday Night Pick
Eagles at Seahawks
I’ve told my wife multiple times throughout the week how excited I was/am to watch the Eagles. Each time she looked at me as if I said “I love stabbing myself with forks.” I can’t explain it, but when your team sucks, you come to appreciate them more. I don’t think that makes sense, but it’s what happens, at least to me. I have five more opportunities to watch the Eagles before they disappear until August. So yeah, I don’t care if they make me claw out my eyes and call my dad 27 times in two hours. It’s all part of the process. What that process is, I haven’t the slightest clue. I just know I’m right smack in the middle of it. (In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t picked against the Eagles all season. That won’t change. I can’t do it.) EAGLES If I were Charles Barkley; Eagles -3