13 weeks down, 5 more to go–and then the real fun begins.
The NFL season so far has been filled with injuries, upsets, and more injuries–which is the perfect combination for a crazy playoff picture. As things stand today, there are 8 teams in the AFC and 9 teams in the NFC all vying for their conference’s three wild-card spots, with the winners of each division still up in the air as well. With a playoff hunt so hectic it would make Elmer Fudd jealous, every game played from here on out has serious playoff implications. That’s why I’m taking it upon myself to walk you through every team in the hunt, their odds of making it to the playoffs, and if they’re a good future bet. Sprinkle in some Super Bowl talk, and you’ve got yourself everything you need to set yourself up for success in the weeks leading up to the NFL playoffs.
Let's start in the AFC.
New England Patriots (8-4, 1st Place, Current #1 Seed)
It should come as a surprise to no one that the Patriots
are back in the playoff picture after having taken just one year off to get things sorted out. They have a huge Week 13 game against the Bills that has serious divisional standings implications, but a loss would only set them back half a game from the overall #1 seed in the AFC thanks to their stellar Conference play (6-1). The Patriots finish up their season as follows
: @ Bills. BYE, @ Colts, vs Bills, vs Jaguars, @ Dolphins. The Patriots should be a lock to make the playoffs, and could even be looked at as the #1 seed for the entire AFC if you are interested in betting futures
. As long as Bill Belicheck is holding the clipboard I will never doubt the Patriots, so I don’t think it’s a bad bet if you decide to do so.
Buffalo Bills (7-4, 2nd Place, Current #5 Seed)
As I just stated in the last paragraph, the Bills have a massive game against the Patriots this week in Buffalo. If the Bills want to make a season-ending push and finish as a top-seeded team, they need more consistency out of QB Josh Allen, who seems to be the sole commander of the offense thanks to a non-existent run game
. Even if they manage to beat the Patriots this week their remaining schedule is no cakewalk, with games in Tampa Bay and Foxborough left on the schedule.
Remaining Schedule: vs Patriots, @ Buccaneers, vs Panthers, @ Patriots, vs Falcons, vs Jets.
Miami Dolphins (6-7, 3rd Place)
The Dolphins manage to find themselves in the hunt thanks to a spectacular 5 game win-streak that seemingly came out of nowhere. Tua Tagovailoa
has really been clicking since his return from injury, and while this is the perfect time to get hot it may be too little too late seeing how close this AFC playoff race is. Their remaining schedule isn’t terrible, but they’ll have to pick up some upset wins against the Titans or Patrtiots (or both) if they even want to stand a chance.
Remaining Schedule: BYE, vs Jets, @ Saints, @ Titans, vs Patriots.
Baltimore Ravens (8-4, 1st Place Current #3 Seed)
Things were looking a lot better for Lamar Jackson and his Ravens before their week 13 loss to the Steelers
. Now, they stand only a game above the Bengals and two games over the last-place Browns in what is the tightest division in the NFL. Since his injury Lamar Jackson has not been the same player, throwing 5 interceptions since his return (in only 2 games). While the Ravens stand as the favorites to win the division, they are just one division loss away from sitting on the outside looking in. They also have an incredibly tough schedule ahead of them, so Lamar Jackson and the entire offensive unit will have to step it up if they don’t want to fumble this opportunity. Remaining Schedule:
@ Browns, vs Packers, @ Bengals, vs Rams, vs Steelers.
Cincinnati Bengals (7-5, Second Place, Current #7 Seed)
The Bengals have been one of the shakier teams this season–at once looking like the team to beat in the AFC, the Bengals have lost 3 of their last 5 games en route to a 7-5 record. Sophomore QB Joe Burrow has been playing well this season, but has hit a bit of a slump in these last three weeks, averaging only 212 yards in his last three games. If the Bengals want to maintain their Wild Card spot (or even make a push towards the division crown) they’ll have to reverse their spell of bad luck–and rather quickly too, seeing as the two teams behind them are right on their tail.
Remaining Schedule: vs 49ers, @ Broncos, vs Ravens, vs Chiefs, @ Browns.
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1, 3rd Place)
In what is hopefully Big Ben’s last season
, the Steelers are hanging on to a possible wild card position and took a huge step forward in that process this weekend by upsetting the Ravens. They’ll have little room for error if they want to reach the playoffs this year, and looking at their remaining five games proves just how difficult that will be. Unfortunately for the Steelers, it'll be a tough road--but at the end of the day, it IS the Steelers we’re talking about, so anything can happen.
Remaining Schedule: @ Vikings, vs Titans, @ Chiefs, vs Browns, @ Ravens.
Cleveland Browns (6-6, 4th Place)
The Browns find themselves in a similar place to the Steelers, practically having to win 4 of their last 5 games if they even want to have a chance. Seeing as how their Quarterback has been playing injured all season
it’s actually impressive that the Browns have been able to stick around this long, but It’ll only be a storybook ending if they’re able to grab one of the final Wild Card spots. In their last 5 games they have 4 divisional bouts, so if they wanted to shake things up now is the perfect time to do it.
Remaining Schedule: vs Ravens, vs Raiders, @ Packers, @ Steelers, vs Bengals.
Tennesee Titans (8-4, 1st Place, Current #2 Seed)
The Titans have seen a season plagued by injuries–well really one injury–after losing their star running back and offensive producer, Derrick Henry. The Titans are only 2-2 since losing Henry, but shouldn’t have a problem finishing atop their division thanks to the 2-7 Texans and Jaguars, and to the rough remaining schedule, the Colts have. The real fun for the Titans comes once they’re in the playoffs though, with Derrick Henry (who was presumed to be out for the year) set to come back in the beginning of January as long as everything goes perfectly.
Remaining Schedule: vs Jaguars, @ Steelers, vs 49ers, vs Dolphins, @ Texans.
Indianapolis Colts (7-6, 2nd Place)
The Colts have been an interesting team to watch all season, and may even be a lot better than their record implies. All six of their losses have come from top-tier teams (Titans twice, The Buccaneers, the Ravens, the Rams, and the Seahawks before they were bad), while their wins seem to come in resounding fashion against lesser opponents. They’ll have to try to reverse this trend as the season comes to a close, with games against the Patriots and Cardinals coming up.
Remaining Schedule: BYE, vs Patriots, @ Cardinals, vs Raiders, @ Jaguars.
Kansas City Chiefs (8-4, 1st Place, Current #4 Seed)
Although the Chiefs are currently the #4 seed, they remain the favorites to win the AFC Championship, and sit only behind the Buccaneers in odds to win the Super Bowl. After their 3-4 start, the Chiefs have seemed to have found their groove, winning 5 in a row coming into the final stretch of the season. While Patrick Mahomes
still seems to be struggling to find his form, the rest of the team has proven their ability to succeed without him, make the Chiefs a scary opponent once (and if) Mahomes returns. Their remaining schedule isn’t easy, but landing in the playoffs shouldn’t be a problem for Andy Reid’s Chiefs.
Remaining Schedule: vs Raiders, @ Chargers, vs Steelers, @ Bengals, @ Broncos.
Los Angeles Chargers (7-5, 2nd Place, Current #6 Seed)
When the Chargers’ offense is clicking, it’s one of the deadliest in the league. In games where the Chargers have scored over 25 points, they are 5-0–and are 1-5 in games where they score under 25. This shows the Charger’s defensive struggles, but also sheds light on how strong their offense can be on any given week. If the Chargers want to remain the #6 seed and scrape into the playoffs, they’ll have to continue their dominant play on the offensive side of the ball, and really trust in Justin Herbert and the weapons he has around him.
Remaining Schedule: vs Giants, vs Chiefs, @ Texans, vs Broncos, @ Raiders.
Las Vegas Raiders (6-6, 3rd Place)
The Raiders have been incredibly fun to watch this season, mostly due to the play of Quarterback Derek Carr. Carr is second behind only Tom Brady in passing yards, and has been one of the most accurate passers while he’s at it by completing over 67% of his throws. However, one of the Raiders main problems this season has been underperforming against teams they should’ve beaten–they have losses to the Giants, Bears, and the Washington Football Team at home. If they want to seriously make a push for the playoffs this season, they’ll have to win the games they’re supposed to–as well as a few they aren’t–in their last 5 games.
Remaining Schedule: @ Chiefs, @ Browns, vs Broncos, @ Colts, vs Chargers.
Denver Broncos (6-6, 4th Place)
The last team holding on to the Wild Card race, the Broncos have relied on good old-fashioned defense to get them where they are. The Broncos have allowed only an average of 14 points per game so far this season, which has led them to key wins over the Chargers and Cowboys. Their remaining wins have come against the bottom third of the NFL, so while their record may be a bit inflated they are still in a position to make a move for that last wild card position.
Remaining Schedule: vs Lions, vs Bengals, @ Raiders, @ Chargers, vs Chiefs.
AFC PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS: WHO WILL MAKE IT?
Now that we have all of our teams laid out, here are the teams I think will fill out the AFC playoff bracket this postseason.
#1 Seed: Kansas City Chiefs (Predicted Record: 12-5)
Surprise surprise, the Chiefs are back on top of the AFC. Looking at their remaining schedule, the only real threat I see to the Chiefs is a road game against the Chargers. While their final two games being on the road AND against two teams in the hunt isn’t ideal, the Chiefs should be able to turn their play up a notch, considering they’ll be trying to secure a top seed.
#2 Seed: Tennessee Titans (Predicted Record: 12-5)
The Titans’ have one of the easier remaining schedules out of all the teams in the hunt, and could really take advantage of that to secure themselves a high seed in the playoffs. Especially if Derrick Henry comes back, this Titans team could prove to be dangerous as the playoffs continue to approach.
#3 Seed: New England Patriots (Predicted Record: 11-6)
Unfortunately for Bills fans, I have the Patriots atop the AFC East in what ends up being an incredibly close race. Only getting by due to the conference record tie-breaker, I have the Pats locking up the third seed in the AFC.
#4 Seed: Cincinnati Bengals (Predicted Record: 10-7)
After an all-time collapse by the Ravens, I have them going 1-4 in their last 5 to sink them out of even wild card contention. This Ravens offense has been struggling lately, so a well-timed push by the Bengals (and huge wins against both the Ravens and Browns) I see the Bengals winning the North for the first time in 6 years.
# 5 Seed: Buffalo Bills (Predicted Record: 11-6)
Narrowly losing to the Patriots, the Bills find themselves as the top Wild Card team in the AFC. In reality, they hold their own destiny, facing off against the Patriots twice in the last 5 weeks–but even if they drop both they should be in a solid position to make the playoffs.
#6 Seed: Los Angeles Chargers (Predicted Record: 11-6)
I have the Chargers sneaking into the playoffs as the second Wild Card team from the AFC, dropping only one of their last five games to the Kansas City Chiefs. Similar to the Bills, the Chargers would be able to really turn things around by grabbing a win in that game, but regardless should have no problem finding a spot in the playoffs even with a loss.
#7 Seed: Pittsburgh Steelers (Predicted Record: 9-7-1)
Who would’ve guessed that a tie against the Lions would be what springs the Steelers into the playoffs, over the 9-8 Colts? It’ll be tough for the Steelers to accomplish, but picking up key divisional wins against the Steelers and Browns should help the cause.
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