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AFC Playoff Projections Week 14

Four 9-3 teams and five 7-5 teams make the AFC Playoff race strangley simplistic and utterly complicated at the same time. Let’s try to make some sense of it all.

[A reminder: If you’re new here, read the first part of our Week 13 NFC Projections for a brief rundown on how these playoff projections work (or don’t work).]

With few surprises in the AFC this week, changes to the projections were unnecessary, at least at this time. However, there are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Houston’s victory over the Falcons dropped the Broncos from 3rd to 4th in the projected final standings. Houston’s win also forced me to consider whether they would lose in Cincinnati as projected. I don’t have a good feel for the Bengals, so I can’t say how they’ll respond to such a signifcant loss in Pittsburgh last week. However, returning home to face a one-dimensional offense without its top receiver should give the Bengals a slight edge. Thus, I kept the Bengals as winners.

2. The biggest wild card in these projections is the Dolphins. The Dolphins have played exceptionally well since the beginning of November and could easily finish their season on a 6-2 run. With that in mind, I think the Jets/Dolphins game depends entirely on what the Jets do the two weeks prior. If they lose to both the Eagles and Giants, they’re likely done and will undoubtedly lose to Miami with nothing to gain. For now, I still have them winning that game, although I’m not sure why.

3. Another significant wild card is the San Diego Chargers. While their offensive explosion on Monday night was just one game, it proved how potent Philip Rivers is when his receivers are fully healthy. I think it’s too late for San Diego as a playoff contender but they’ll cause plenty of wreckage over the final quarter of the season. While I’ve left the projected outcome unchanged this week, the Week 17 matchup between Oakland and San Diego may very well swing San Diego’s way. The Raiders look close to falling off a cliff. If the Broncos don’t slip up and the Raiders lose to either the Chiefs or Lions, Oakland’s season is over and that final game is meaningless. As a result, that projected outcome could change in the coming weeks.

Here are the Week 14 AFC Projections. If you see an error or vehemently disagree, I’d love to hear from you.

(Click for full size)

(Click for full size)

Assessing each contenders standing is fun, so let’s do that…

Five weeks ago, New England’s final month of the season looked like a cakewalk. While the Redskins and Bills still won’t put up much of a fight, the Broncos and Dolphins certainly will. Aside from the Packers, there isn’t a hotter, more confident team in the NFL than the Tim Tebow-led Broncos. Going into the thin air in Denver at this point of the season is a daunting task, to say the least. The Dolphins have also been playing well now that their defense finally showed up, so a win over Miami isn’t guaranteed, either. To top it off, New England doesn’t even control its own destiny for the conference’s top seed.

Tied for the best record in the AFC, and yet the Steelers are currently the conference’s 5th seed. In order for that to change, the Steelers must finish a game ahead of Baltimore in the standings. If they can catch that break, their chances of winning home field throughout are pretty good as long as Houston doesn’t finish with an identical record.

Speaking of Houston, a week ago I thought they’d drop out of contention for the AFC’s top seed because of mounting injuries. Yet here they are, keeping pace with the perennial AFC favorites every step of the way. After the Bengals this week, the Texans don’t face a defense ranked higher than 18 the rest of the way. If they can steal a win in Cincinnati, Houston has a realistic shot at winning that top seed and home field advantage.

The Broncos ceiling is probably a three seed. Their basement is a losing record and missing the playoffs entirely. Ok, the later is totally unlikely, but I wanted to keep you informed. The Broncos lucked out with the Jay Cutler injury. A jaded Cutler returning to Denver combined with the Bears athletic defense may have been the kryptonite to the Broncos Superman act. Now, with Caleb Hanie under center, Chicago is just another toothless contender trying to derail the locomotive that is the Denver Broncos and Tim Tebow.

Of all the 9-3 teams battling for a first round bye and home field advantage, the Ravens are the only team in complete control of their own destiny. Win out and the top spot is theirs. Just one loss, though, could drop the Ravens all the way down to 5th, and a second loss could push them out of the playoffs entirely.

It’s now or never for the young Bengals. A loss to the resilient Texans would foil Cincinnati’s playoff hopes and drop them into the land of tiebreakers with the Raiders/Broncos, Titans, and Jets. Missing the playoffs wouldn’t make the Bengals season a failure, but after a strong start, it would certainly be a disappointment.

Currently on the outside looking in, these teams have a lot of ground to make up and will need some help along the way if they hope to reach the postseason. The Jets, especially, are short stacked as none of their seven wins have come against AFC playoff contenders. What’s worse, each of their five losses has been to an AFC playoff contender (Baltimore, Oakland, New England [x2], Denver).

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