With two games left, the AFC postseason line-up is anything but decided. Unlike in the NFC, where four out of the six places are clinched and the other two look set, the AFC still has a number of teams vying for January football. Somewhat predictably, considering both had a long undefeated run this year, both the Patriots and Bengals have punched their pass to the postseason but the four other places remain up for grabs. For the teams in the hunt, some who have their fate solely in their hands and some who don’t, winning out is key if they want to be playing football beyond week 17.
- The AFC South
There is still the slight possibility that a team with the losing record can make the playoffs for a second consecutive year (following the Panthers last year) as only the Titans are completely out of the hunt for snatching the title of this lacklustre division. The Jaguars, who face the Saints and Texans, would be a long shot considering they couldn’t beat the struggling Falcons, but are technically still alive. Both the Colts and Texans have Tennessee in their final two, a team which has gone into freefall, with Indianapolis facing the similarly self-destructing Dolphins in week 16. If both win out, which they should, Houston, at 9-7, will become the latest stars of Hard Knocks to appear in the post season. With the best record of late – especially compared to the Colts on a three loss streak, this seems the most likely at the moment. However this division has been dogged all season by inconsistency and I still wouldn’t bet the house on it.
- The AFC West
Denver have been holding onto the third seed spot for most of the season but the Kansas City Chiefs, on an eight win hot streak are rapidly bearing down on them. Despite their excellent defense which has in part carried the Broncos to nine wins so far, Brock Osweiler has failed to consistently impress in Peyton Manning’s absence having lost the last two. While the Broncos have a difficult match up against the Bengals before taking on the Chargers, KC face the woeful Browns and then the Raiders, who they beat 34-20 in the Black Hole a few weeks ago. It relies on a Broncos loss but with their second half of the season charge, the Chiefs are well placed to break Denver hearts.
- The Wildcards
Currently, the Chiefs and Steelers inhabit the two wildcard spots, sharing a 9-5 record with the Jets who would slip out of the final pairing on complex tie break rules should all three teams win out. Should Denver lose, bumping the Chiefs into a divisional title spot, and if the Jets beat the Patriots and Bills, they at 9-5 would beat out the Broncos on the tie break. The Steelers, who pulled out a second half turn around after being down 27-13 at the half against Denver have staked their claim on their wildcard spot having stepped out victorious from their last ‘difficult’ game. They now face the floundering Ravens and Browns. The Jets have a tough job against the Patriots and Bills; two divisional matchups which are always hard fought, close affairs. Considering last season’s debarcle, the guaranteed winning record is a positive, showing that the team has settled well under Todd Bowles’ regime but with January within reach it will still be a galling disappointment to come this far without reward.
It’s a narrative of ‘ifs’ but week 16 and 17 are going to be nail-biters for fans of the AFC teams still in the hunt, or trying to cling onto their spots. As a Jets fan, at this stage considering recent records and remaining schedules, a Broncos loss seems the best bet if New York can win out.