Handicapping the field in the AFC playoff race
Handicapping the field in the AFC playoff race
The remaining four weeks aren’t as much about the Patriots getting into the playoffs as they are about determining what the playoffs will hold. Specifically, the health of their roster come January, as well as which of the top two seeds they’ll hold will be learned.
But what about their potential opponents? There are currently nine teams with .500 records and all of them have a shot at the postseason. Here’s a look at all of them outside of New England.
For the record, there are also some 5-7 teams not yet eliminated, but here’s my lock of the week: The Jets, Dolphins and Bengals are all missing the playoffs. Take it to the bank.
POSITION: First in AFC (first in AFC North)
WHO THEY HAVE LEFT: Ravens, Patriots, at Texans, Browns
HOW TOUGH IS THEIR ROAD? Difficult in that two of their games will be against teams trying to win. The Ravens are trying to hold onto a Wild Card spot this weekend, but they could theoretically also still have designs on the very unlikely possibility that they catch the Steelers for the division title. The Patriots game will also be huge, as it could very well determine who gets the No. 1 seed.
WHAT WE THINK WILL HAPPEN: They’ll beat the Ravens, Texans and Browns and lose to the Patriots. Don’t rule out a loss against Baltimore, however, as Pittsburgh will obviously be without Ryan Shazier and JuJu Smith-Schuster. When all is said and done, they win the AFC North and take the second seed in the conference.
POSITION: Third in AFC (first in AFC South)
WHO THEY HAVE LEFT: at Cardinals, at 49ers, Rams, Jaguars
HOW TOUGH IS THEIR ROAD? Pretty tough. They finish their schedule with two home games against current playoff teams in the Rams and Jaguars, and with how close the AFC South is, they’ll need to win them. Jacksonville’s 8-4 record is tied with the Titans, so that Week 17 matchup could determine the division winner.
WHAT WE THINK WILL HAPPEN: The Titans have won six of their last seven, but would anybody really be stunned if the Cardinals beat the Titans in Arizona? For as realistic as it is that the Titans continue this run, it’s also very possible that the Titans finish 1-3, which could very well take them from their current third seed to out of the playoffs altogether.
POSITION: Fourth in AFC (first in AFC West)
WHO THEY HAVE LEFT: Raiders, Chargers, Dolphins, at Broncos
HOW TOUGH IS THEIR ROAD? Well, it *shouldn’t* be tough, but then again the Chiefs can’t beat anybody these days. They’ve lost six of their last seven (only one of which was against a current playoff team). At any rate, all four of their remaining opponents are not currently in playoff position and would be beatable by any competent team. The question is whether the Chiefs are competent.
WHAT WE THINK WILL HAPPEN: The good news for the Chiefs is that the only team they’ve beaten over the last seven games has been the Broncos. Yet even that game is on the road, so don’t assume a win there. This is me saying I don’t think the Chiefs are going to make the playoffs. What a mess.
POSITION: Fifth in AFC (second in AFC South; first Wild Card)
WHO THEY HAVE LEFT: Seahawks, Texans, at 49ers, at Titans
HOW TOUGH IS THEIR ROAD? There’s two current playoff teams there in the Seahawks and Titans. Jimmy Garoppolo will have two more games under his belt by the time the Jaguars visit San Francisco.
WHAT WE THINK WILL HAPPEN: I like the Jaguars more than I like the Titans, but they’ll need to get a couple of touch wins against the Seahawks and Titans to make sure they make their first playoff appearance since the 2007 season.
POSITION: Sixth in AFC (second in AFC North; first Wild Card)
WHO THEY HAVE LEFT: at Steelers, at Browns, Colts, Bengals
HOW TOUGH IS THEIR ROAD? Easy, with one exception. The Steelers game is the only toughie.
WHAT WE THINK WILL HAPPEN: They’ve actually got a really good opportunity here against the shorthanded Steelers, but then again Baltimore will be without Jimmy Smith for the rest of the season between a torn Achilles tendon and a four-game suspension for PEDs. That said, if they pull off the upset in Pittsburgh, that could very well spring a 4-0 run to finish the season.
POSITION: Seventh in AFC (second in AFC West)
WHO THEY HAVE LEFT: Redskins, at Chiefs, at Jets, Raiders
HOW TOUGH IS THEIR ROAD? It all depends, really. The Chiefs will most definitely be fighting for their lives in Week 15, but will the Raiders still even have a shot at the playoffs by the time Week 17 rolls around?
WHAT WE THINK WILL HAPPEN: The Chargers are not particularly good, but they’ve at least got a chance to win out and take the top spot in the AFC West. Philip Rivers the GOAT.
POSITION: Eighth in AFC (second in AFC East)
WHO THEY HAVE LEFT: Colts, Dolphins, at Patriots, at Dolphins
HOW TOUGH IS THEIR ROAD? Not very. They should beat the Colts and Dolphins at home, so even though a win in New England is a longshot, there’s at least a chance they’ll still be in contention for a Wild Card spot by the time they play the Dolphins Week 17 in Miami.
WHAT WE THINK WILL HAPPEN: They probably make the playoffs if they beat the Patriots in addition to the aforementioned there winnable games. They probably miss the playoffs if they lose to the Pats in New England. So yeah, they’re not going to make the playoffs.
POSITION: Ninth in AFC (third in AFC West)
WHO THEY HAVE LEFT: at Chiefs, Cowboys, at Eagles, at Chargers
HOW TOUGH IS THEIR ROAD? Very hard! Yeah, the Chiefs are a mess, but if they get their act together that’s a potential loss to a team that they only beat by one point in their first meeting. The Cowboys game should be a win, but the Eagles are one of the best teams in the league and the Chargers should be fighting for dear life.
WHAT WE THINK WILL HAPPEN: They miss based on the fact that the two teams in their division with whom they’re tied record-wise (the Chiefs and Chargers) have an easier schedule to finish the season.