After thumping the Giants on Thanksgiving night, the Denver Broncos are alive and well in the AFC playoff race. More importantly, the chase for the AFC’s second seed is heating up and may go down to the wire.
You know the drill. I’ve picked the remaining games based upon how I feel about each team RIGHT NOW. The chart will be edited when losses, injuries, etc… necessitate change. With the Bengals and Patriots battling for a first round bye, we may get lucky and have one Divisional Round game played in below freezing temperatures. While it’s not ideal, it looks like I’ll need to settle with just 1/4 this year. Needless to say, I’m bumming. On to my week 13 AFC playoff projections…
You can access the chart here.
Obviously, the Colts remain the top seed. They’re not going anywhere. The AFC Championship will go through Indianapolis.
While the top seed is pretty much decided, the battle for the second seed is wide open. Three teams are in tight contention for that bye week. The Patriots’ last five games are against decent to mediocre opponents, while both the Bengals and Chargers battle each other and a top contender from the NFC. Therefore, the Patriots appear to have the inside track. I’ve projected them to win the tiebreaker for the second seed based upon a superior conference record. Although, after Monday night’s performance, the Patriots may not be much better than the middle of the road opponents they have yet to face. If New England falters, the week 15 showdown in San Diego between the Bengals and Chargers could very well decide who gets to avoid the AFC North bruisers in the first round. Don’t underestimate an extra week off, especially if the Steelers or Ravens are coming to town. If the Patriots DO find their groove, I’ve projected that the Chargers will win the third seed with a head to head victory over the Bengals.
As of today, the Broncos are back in the playoffs as the conference’s fifth playoff seed. In fact, they’d top the Patriots in the standings, but the top four seeds go to division winners. Denver’s remaining schedule consists of three “should win” division games against the Chiefs (twice) and Raiders. Their other two contests are very critical road games in Indianapolis and Philadelphia. If the Broncos can squeak out a victory in one of those games, they’ll advance to the postseason (but only if they win the three games against Kansas City and Oakland). Unfortunately for BDawk and his crew, I don’t see that happening. I also have the Steelers rebounding for five straight wins and the Ravens finishing with 10-6 record identical to Denver’s. With a head to head victory over the Broncos in week 8, the Ravens would win the sixth and final AFC playoff spot. Their week 8 drubbing in Baltimore will haunt the Broncos for a long time as it will ultimately cost them a playoff berth.
Denver’s Thanksgiving victory was not only huge for the Broncos, but very deadly for the Texans and Titans. The Broncos will likely finishing 10-6. It will be tough for both Houston and Tennessee to reach the 10 win plateau. In fact, both teams would need to win out. While Tennessee has put forth a valiant effort in the past two months, they’ll need to win and get help to sniff the playoffs. Closing out the season 10-0 will be tough enough. Needing the Broncos to lose to the Raiders or Chiefs will be even tougher.
As I have it now, the AFC North will send three teams to the postseason. I guarantee you the rest of the AFC will not be thrilled. The Bengals, Ravens, and Steelers boast the most physical, aggressive defenses in the AFC (and perhaps the league). The other playoff contenders in the conference do not have defenses on the same level. Remember, defense trumps offense in the playoffs, so we could see some upsets in the AFC.
Week 12 proved that the Dolphins and Jaguars won’t be relevant come playoff time. Both suffered losses they could ill afford. The bad news: Barring a series of miracles, neither team will be in the playoffs. The good news: Miami will claim the 10th spot with a projected head to head victory in week 14 over Jacksonville. WooHoo!