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AFC Playoff Projections Week 15

Don’t look now, but the T.J. Yates-led Houston Texans may very well be your top seed in the AFC Playoffs. That is, of course, if Tim Tebow delivers.

[Weekly 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).]

1. I only made one change to this week’s projections. I switched the Raiders win at home in Week 17 against the Chargers to a loss. The Charger offense has finally found its rhythm and I’m sure the Chargers would love nothing more than to keep the Raiders from the playoffs, assuming, that is, that the Raiders don’t blow it first.

Other considerations…

2. While I didn’t make a change to the outcome, the Ravens and Bengals matchup in Week 17 could flip flop. Right now, I’ve credited the Bengals with the victory, mainly because I believe the game will mean more to the Bengals than the Ravens at that point (Baltimore may accept their fate as the 5th seed because the Steelers have the Browns that day). However, if Baltimore wins in San Diego on Sunday night, their season finale with the Bengals could determine the top seed in the AFC. If that’s the case, Baltimore wins.

3. The Broncos have continually found ways to squeak out victories. I’m nervous about this Sunday against the Patriots, though. I didn’t change the projections because nothing is certain against Tim Tebow and the Broncos. However, as impressive as Denver’s run has been, they haven’t faced an explosive offense during that stretch. I’m not necessarily saying the Broncos are certain to lose because we may get to see yet another side of Tebow this week. You know, the side that throws for 300+ yards.

Here are the Week 15 AFC Projections.(Click for full size)(Click for full size)

That’s right. No Matt Schaub, no Mario Williams, missing Andre Johnson for extended stretches, a limited Arian Foster early in the year; and yet, the Houston Texans claim the AFC’s top seed. What a story. What a team. Less than 12 months ago many, including myself, thought the Texans made a mistake by keeping Gary Kubiak around for another year. Maybe the health of Peyton Manning changes the fortunes of the 2011 Texans, maybe not. Either way, Houston has been the most resilient and consistent team in the NFL. For that, they get a bye and home field throughout. (Of course, this all depends on the Patriots losing once and the Ravens not winning the AFC North with an identical record.)

The Steelers will know whether they control their own destiny in the AFC North before they go to sleep on Sunday night. A Baltimore loss to the resurgent Chargers would be bad news for the struggling 49ers. If Pittsburgh can manage to get past the 49ers with a gimpy Ben Roethlisberger, they should be home free. Their final two games are against the Rams and Browns.

If you’re a Houston Texans fan, you’re a Tim Tebow fan this Sunday. A Broncos win drops the Patriots to four losses and gives the Texans the opportunity to finish at the top of the conference. If New England prevails in the thin air of Denver, the Texans would in all likelihood lose to New England in a tiebreaker scenario based on strength of victory (beating the 0-pher Colts twice doesn’t help). By the way, I love playoff time. All the different playoff scenarios are fascinating. The Patriots want the Ravens to win the AFC North because they lose any tiebreaker with the Steelers. The Texans want the Steelers to win the AFC North because they own the tiebreaker over Pittsburgh and lose the tiebreaker to Baltimore. I could go on but you’ve probably already stopped reading by this point.

Tim Tebow’s toughest challenge to date comes this week against the Patriots. A win would all but clinch the AFC West for the Broncos. A loss brings the Raiders new life and gives a voice to the “Tim Tebow can’t contend against good offenses” choir.

Losing to lousy teams is bad because losing is bad. However, losing to bad teams has its advantages. For example, because the Ravens have played so well against elite opponents and struggled against weaker ones, they own the tiebreaker against nearly every other AFC contender. The Titans are the lone exception, but in order for that to matter, the Ravens would need to finish 0-3 while the Titans finish 3-0. See? Losing in embarrassing fashion to Jacksonville and Seattle (who may actually be decent) isn’t so bad, after all.

Of the AFC Wildcard contenders, the Jets have the toughest remaining schedule by a mile. Maybe I’m biased, but I don’t see the Jets steam rolling the Eagles on Sunday. Philly is due for a home win – which would be their first since beating the Cowboys months ago – and the Jets resurgence can be attributed to weaker opponents more so than drastic improvement. I guess we’ll see on Sunday.

Even after a five game stretch where the Bengals lost four times, they’re still in contention for the AFC’s sixth and final playoff berth. To get in, though, Cincinnati will need some help from the NFC East. As I mentioned earlier this week, missing the playoffs would be a disappointment for this young team that started hot. But really, they haven’t gotten worse, their schedule just got significantly harder. Still, getting that playoff experience as early as possible is a huge advantage to developing a winning team.

Tennessee hung tight with the Saints and nearly pulled out a victory. Unfortunately, the NFL only recognizes wins and losses, and Sunday’s loss was a huge blow to the Titans’ playoff chances. Tennessee’s next two games (Colts, Jaguars) should present them the opportunity to stay in contention for a Wildcard spot. Whether they can knock off the AFC South champion Texans in Week 17 could decide their playoff lives.

I think the Raiders win this week and possibly even move into a tie with the Broncos. Though, I’m not buying Oakland as a playoff team. Carson Palmer is the same Carson Palmer the Bengals let rot on his couch. In addition to overall uninspired play, the Raiders are losing because Palmer is killing them.

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