Things got very, very interesting in the AFC this past Sunday. Several intra-conference defeats have clouded the playoff outlook. Twelve teams have an opportunity at the playoffs, but only six will advance. Do the Titans have enough time to sneak in? This we know for sure; December will be crazy.
The Bengals’ surprising loss in Oakland opened the door for San Diego and New England to enter the fight for a first round bye. Losses by Baltimore, Denver, Houston, and Pittsburgh made an already crowded wildcard race more congested. Other than the Indianapolis Colts, playoff positioning is wide open.
As promised yesterday, I’ve added my AFC playoff projection chart. Remember, a lot will change between now and season’s end. I picked the remaining games based upon how I feel about each team RIGHT NOW. The projections are subject to change, especially if injuries or poor play attack a particular team. Updates and weekly tweaking will be absolutely necessary. At the very least, this chart will give you something to discuss over Thanksgiving dinner. If no one is up for a discussion, do as I do; dream about how badly you wish you were chowing down pizza instead of turkey and stuffing.
Access the full AFC Playoff Projection Chart here.
As you can see, I’m of the belief that the Patriots are beginning to hit their groove at just the right time. Some may argue that a 6-0 finish is too far-fetched. They may be right. However, I think the Patriots are the most formidable team in the AFC. That is why they’ll earn the second seed. After all, it’s not like I’m predicting the Bengals and Chargers will flounder down the stretch. I have each of them losing only once.
Speaking of Cincinnati and San Diego, their showdown in week 15 could determine two very important playoff factors. First, the game could decide the second seed and a first round bye, and second, the game may conclude who takes on the defending champs in the opening round of the playoffs. I’m sure you couldn’t find a team excited about hosting Pittsburgh in January. I’ve projected that the Bengals will be forced to conquer the Steelers for a third time in order to advance deeper into the playoffs. Hopefully, Carson Palmer won’t blow out his knee in the first half this time.
For now, the Ravens hold the sixth and final playoff berth. I’m not convinced they’ll be there in a few weeks let alone the end of the year. If a few games go a little differently than I’ve expected, we could very well have a four team tie for the final spot that includes the Tennessee Titans. Yes, the once 0-6 Tennessee Titans. While they’re long odds and short stacked, the Titans have been playing like one of the top five teams in the conference. It’s too early to count them out. Likewise, the Dolphins are still alive. I would really like their chances if Ronnie Brown wasn’t lost to injury. I’m still not convinced the Miami offense is potent enough with just half of the wildcat tandem. The Broncos and Texans are clearly still in the thick of things, but they’ll need to find themselves to have any impact. Both clubs are really struggling right now.
The Jaguars were a nice surprise. Unfortunately, their current record was more of a reflection on their schedule than their ability. A tough five week stretch will be their undoing and they’ll bow out of contention. Still a great effort for a team that wasn’t expected to reach six wins.
To tie up some lose ends, the Broncos topped the Texans for the “first team out” distinction based upon conference record. The Titans were granted the 9th spot over the Jaguars based upon a better record in common games (6-6 vs. 5-7).
There you have it. I’m very comfortable with the top half of the playoff bracket. However, I’m not settled on the wildcards. Look for some changes in the coming weeks, especially if Joe Flacco and the Ravens completely fall off the wagon.