With the end of the season fast approaching, it’s time to start looking at the playoff implications for the league’s top contenders. There’s some juicy matchups on the slate this week so here’s the lie of the land.
Projected Division Winners
AFC East – New England Patriots – 8-3 with a three game lead
AFC West – Denver Broncos – 8-3 with a four game lead
AFC North – Baltimore Ravens – 9-2 with a three game lead
AFC South – Houston Texans – 10-1 with a three game lead
Indianapolis Colts – 7-4
Pittsburgh Steelers – 6-5
Cincinnati Bengals – 6-5
Miami Dolphins – 5-6
New York Jets – 4-7
Buffalo Bills 4-7
San Diego Chargers – 4-7
Tennessee Titans – 4-7
The AFC playoff race has been rather tough to watch this year as every division champion is seemingly decided a month out with no team under three games back of the leader. While this may be the perception, it’s not entirely accurate. For example there is the AFC South where despite the Texans outstanding record two of their last five games are against the challenging Indianapolis Colts who have the potential to upset Houston. There is a similar situation in the AFC East with the Patriots and Dolphins also still to face each other twice. In the AFC north, there’s plenty to play for as the Ravens schedule to finish the season is brutal – they face the Steelers, Redskins, Broncos, Giants and Bengals. The only division that looks sewn up really is the AFC West as the Broncos are still to face three teams with records under .500 and Peyton Manning is putting together an MVP caliber season that will likely win him Comeback Player of the Year.
The main point of interest here is the wildcard race with four teams – the Steelers, Colts, Bengals and Dolphins – vying for two spots. Indianapolis has the edge at this point but with only a one game lead and two matchups against the 10-1 Texans they have a bumpy road ahead despite favorable matchups against the Titans and Chiefs. The Steelers have a slightly easier schedule than Indy coming up but with Ben Roethlisberger likely to have problems with his rib injury they are by no means certain to make the postseason. I like the Bengals chances of sneaking in the back door as Andy Dalton has quietly had another very good season and the crucial time to watch will be the final two games against Pittsburgh and Baltimore. The dark horse is definitely Miami who have a very good schedule to end the season with the Jaguars and Bills to come and a potentially vulnerable New England Patriots who are without Rob Gronkowski.
Key Matchups – Week 13
New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
Indianapolis Colts at Detroit Lions
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals at San Diego Chargers