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NFL Playoff Picture: Predicting the AFC playoff bracket heading into Week 15

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USA Today Sports

NFL Playoff Picture: Predicting the AFC playoff bracket heading into Week 15

Week 14 has come and gone and the regular season is almost over.

With another week finishing, the playoff picture shifts and the bracket alters, if ever so slightly.

And while to no surprise the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots are sitting atop of the AFC, the wild card spots are still very much up for grabs. 

With three weeks to go, AFC teams have a lot to play for.

Let's take a look at all the possibilities. Let's take a look at the AFC Playoff Picture.

RELATED: NFC PLAYOFF PICTURE AFTER WEEK 15

AFC PLAYOFF BRACKET PROJECTION:

— #1 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) vs. BYE

— #2 New England Patriots (10-3) vs. BYE

— #3 Jacksonville Jaguars (9-4) vs. #6 Buffalo Bills (7-6)

— #4 Kansas City Chiefs (7-6) vs. #5 Tennessee Titans (8-5)

AFC Playoff Picture Week 15

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (#1 seed)
— Record/Division Record:
11-2/5-0
— Remaining Games: @Patriots (10-2), @Texans (4-9), vs. Browns (0-13)
— Playoff Scenarios: The Steelers sit atop of the AFC playoff picture and clinched the AFC North with their 39-38 win over the Baltimore Ravens.

Now they are fighting for home field advantage for their likely divisional round game against the New England Patriots.

Coincidentally, their next matchup is against Tom Brady and the Patriots. Needless to say, their Week 15 game will be an important one.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (#2 seed)
— Record/Division Record:
10-3/3-1
— Remaining Games: @Steelers (11-2), vs. Bills (7-6), vs. Jets (5-7)
— Playoff Scenarios: To everyone's surprise, the Patriots lost Monday night to the Miami Dolphins. You read that right, the Miami Dolphins.

Sitting in the second seed, this lost could mean a lot or a little depending on what they do Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It's highly doubtful that the Pats will allow back-to-back losses on home turf, but if they do they'll be fighting to keep the second seed to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags are hosting the Texans, which should be an easy win.

Sunday's game is a big one for the Patriots. 

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (#3 seed)
— Record/Division Record:
9-4/3-1
— Remaining Games: vs. Texans (4-9), @49ers (3-10), @Titans (8-5)
— Playoff Scenarios: If someone told you at the beginning of the season that the Jacksonville Jaguars would be the third seed in the AFC playoff picture, you probably wouldn't believe them. 

The Jaguars could have clinched a playoff berth Sunday with their win over the Seattle Seahawks and some help from a couple other teams.

They didn't get that help, but they did take control of the AFC South. On their tail is the 8-5 Tennessee Titans who still have to face the 49ers, Rams and Jaguars.

The AFC East title may not be decided until Week 17.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (#4 seed)
— Record/Division Record:
7-6/3-1
— Remaining Games: vs. Chargers (7-6), vs. Dolphins (5-7), @Broncos (4-9)
— Playoff Scenarios: The Chiefs' season has be filled with ups and downs.

They currently have the same record as the Los Angeles Chargers, but win the tie breaker based on head-to-head win percentage for the AFC West division title. The two will meet in Week 15 and just like the Patriots, a win is crucial for both. 

The Chiefs then face the 10th seeded Miami Dolphins and the already eliminated Denver Broncos. The Chargers still have to face the Jets and Raiders, and with the team on a four game winning streak, a lot could happen.

TENNESSEE TITANS (#5 seed)
— Record/Division Record:
8-5/4-1
— Remaining Games: @49ers (3-10), vs. Rams (9-4), vs Jaguars (9-4)
— Playoff Scenarios: The Titans are a mediocre team and if they want to keep their playoff spot, they're going to have to work for it. The 49ers should be a win, but then they face the red-hot Rams and a tough Jaguars defense.

With several AFC teams on the rise, the Titans are going to have to be on point for the remainder of the season if they want to keep their wild card spot.

BUFFALO BILLS (#6 seed)
— Record/Division Record:
7-6/1-2
— Remaining Games: vs. Dolphins (5-7), @Patriots (10-2), @ Dolphins (5-7)
— Playoff Scenarios: Right now, the Bills would win a three way tie breaker with the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers for the sixth and final playoff spot based on strength of victory and win percentage in conference games.

The Bills should win two of the next three, but the Ravens are likely to win their next three.

Either way, it's going to be a race to the finish line for both of them.

RELATED: UPDATED 2018 NFL MOCK DRAFT 3.0

IN THE HUNT:

7. BALTIMORE RAVENS
— Record/Division Record: 
7-6/2-2
— Remaining Games: @Browns (0-13), vs. Colts (3-10), vs. Bengals (5-8)
— Playoff Scenarios: The Ravens basically need to do their job and get three easy wins and they should secure a wild card spot.

Of course the Bills still have an easy remaining schedule and the Chargers have won their last four. At the moment though, the Ravens win a tie breaker over the Chargers based on win percentage in conference games.

A wild card spot for the Ravens looks easy and they are certainly in control of their own destiny. 

8. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
— Record/Division Record:
7-6/2-2
— Remaining Games: @Cheifs (7-6) , @Jets (5-8), vs. Raiders (6-7)
— Playoff Scenarios: Sunday's game against the Cheifs is a big one for the Chargers.

They're on a four-game winning streak, but a win is crucial if they want to remain in the hunt for the AFC West title. The Jets are 5-8 and should be an easy win for the Chargers and the 6-7 Raiders are just behind them in the rankings but don't pose too much of a threat.

Sunday's game will determine a lot for this team.

9. OAKLAND RAIDERS
— Record/Division Record:
6-7/2-3
— Remaining Games: vs. Cowboys (7-6), @Eagles (11-2), @Chargers (7-6)
— Playoff Scenerios: Things aren't looking good for the Raiders as they are in third in the AFC West and are facing the Cowboys, Eagles and Chargers over the next three weeks.

It doesn't seem as if there are any scenerios that would help them make the post season.

10. MIAMI DOLPHINS
— Record/Division Record:
6-7/2-2
— Remaining Games: @Bills (7-6), @Cheifs (7-6), vs. Bills (7-6)
— Playoff Scenerios: The Dolphins are coming off a big win against the New England Patriots, but their season looks pretty dim moving forward.

With a tough remaining schedule, their playoff hopes seem far fetched. While they have the same record as the Raiders, Oakland wins a tie breaker based on head-to-head win percentage.

11. NEW YORK JETS
— Record/Divison Record:
5-8/2-3
— Remaining Games: @Saints (9-4), @Chargers (7-6), @Patriots (10-3)
— Playoff Scenerios: Being the 11th seed in anything isn't good and with your remaining opponets being the Saints, Chargers and Patriots, you might as well call it a season now. 

12. CINCINNATI BENGALS
— Record/Division Record:
5-8/2-3
— Remaining Games: @Vikings (10-3), vs. Lions (7-5), @Ravens (7-6)
— Playoff Scenerios: Just like the Jets, the Bengals don't have a fighting chance with their remaining schedule and being third in the AFC North.

Eliminated

Houston Texans, Denver Broncos, Indianaplos Colts, Cleveland Browns

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Don Martindale wondered if he would ever get a second chance to be an NFL defensive coordinator after his one-and-done disaster with the Denver Broncos in 2010.

The Broncos went 4-12 that season and gave up more points (29.4 per game) and yards (390.8) than any team in the league. Those miserable numbers, not surprisingly, cost Martindale his job.

He latched on with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 as linebackers coach. After working diligently with several stars, including Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Zachary Orr and C.J. Mosley, the 54-year-old Martindale last week was promoted to defensive coordinator.

RELATED: WHO WERE THE RAVENS' MVP'S IN 2017?

To say he's pleased to be in charge of an NFL defense again would be a profound understatement.

"Without a doubt," Martindale said Thursday. "My family knows it. Everybody knows it. My players know it. I can't wait."

His performance in Denver eight years ago is hardly worth putting on a resume, but Martindale believes it was a worthwhile experience.

"Even though the stats were what they were, I was really proud with how we played," he said. "I'm glad I went through that process because I think that makes me a better coach today. It's like I tell my guys: You either win or you learn."

Martindale's new job with the Ravens carries the responsibility of overseeing a unit that has long been among the best in the NFL, thriving under notable leaders such as Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan, Chuck Pagano and Dean Pees, who retired on Jan. 1.

"I've been preparing for this job all my life," Martindale said. "It's very humbling, but I understand the pressure and I look forward to the challenge."

Martindale takes over a defense that this season ranked 12th in net yards allowed, first in takeaways (34) and sixth in fewest points allowed (18.9). He has no plans to revamp the unit or change the philosophy, especially since head coach John Harbaugh stressed the need to retain continuity before launching his search for Pees' replacement.

RELATED: CALVIN RIDLEY A TOP PROSPECT FOR RAVENS IN 2018 DRAFT

Martindale will, however, put his own stamp on the unit.

"I think personality-wise, and just calls, there's going to be some things that are the same. And then there are going to be sometimes where I'm going to pressure more," Martindale said. "I just think I have a more aggressive personality in calling the game. Sometimes, too aggressive. That's some of the things I've learned from the past."

His most daunting task will be finding a way to make the defense to come up big late in the game. In 2016, a fourth-quarter collapse in Pittsburgh cost Baltimore a playoff berth. This season, a fourth-down touchdown pass in the final minute by Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton bounced the Ravens from the postseason chase.

"Our mantra has always been to finish," Martindale said. "We're close. Obviously, the last two years, it's been the last play that's knocked us out of it. We are going to work diligently -- all of us -- with our package and situational football.

"That's going to be the next step, I think, that will skyrocket us. That's the big thing that I see. We were really good. Let's make it great."

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Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

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USA Today Sports

Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

The Ravens' season had it's ups and down, but out of it came some bright spots.

The defense continued to prove dominate and the offense found its groove during the second half of the season, but who stood out the most?

Offensive MVP: RB Alex Collins

Collins was a late preseason pickup after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks and Ravens fans are grateful they let him go. After new acquisition Danny Woodhead injured his hamstring on the first drive in Week 1 and Terrance West injured his calf Week 5 in Oakland, Allen emerged as a saving grace. He finished the season with 973 yards, six touchdowns and 212 attempts averaging 4.6 yards-per-carry. His longest rushing attempt was 50-yards against the Steelers in Week 4, and then in Week 14, rushed 120-yards on their defense. 

RELATED: RAVENS' 2018 NFL MOCK DRAFT ROUNDUP

Defensive MVP: OLB Terrell Suggs

This one was a toss up between Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, but considering the level at which Sizzle is playing at in his 15th season, his 2017 performance is MVP worthy.

The 35-year old finished the season with 49 combined tackles, 12 assist, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles. Suggs ranks 11th in the league in sacks and was voted to his seventh Pro Bowl, something that should be expected from the leader of a defense that finished the regular season ranked sixth in points allowed. During the Ravens' Week 12 matchup, Suggs proved he doesn't age when he strip sacked Texans QB Tom Savage with 4:44 remaining in the fourth, shifting the momentum back to the Ravens who were clinging on to a 23-16 win. He's suffered two Achilles tears and a torn bicep over the last 5.5 seasons but has remained Hall of Fame worthy. As of right now, T-Sizzle has no plans of retiring. 

RELATED: FIVE OFFSEASON QUESTIONS RAVENS MUST ANSWER

Rookie of the Year: CB Marlon Humphrey

The Ravens' 2017 first-round pick stepped up to the plate when starting CB Jimmy Smith's season was over after suffering a torn Achilles in Week 13. The rookie out of Alabama finished the season with 34 combined tackles, four assists and two interceptions. Pro Football Focus graded Humphrey the fifth-best cover corner in the league. QBs only had a 53.5 rating when they threw in his direction. PFF also gave Humphrey a 82.7 rookie rating. 

Humphrey will continue to prove his worth during the 2018 season if Jimmy Smith is still recovering come Week 1.

RELATED: IMPORTANT 2018 OFFSEASON DATES

Special Teams MVP: P Sam Koch

Koch is in his 12th season with the Ravens and he's continuing to prove how efficient that leg of his is. He had a season long of 67-yards and placed 40 of 84 punts inside the 20-yard line. Koch's accuracy earned him AFC special teams player of the week not once, but twice this season. The first came in Week 12 against the Houston Texans when he not only placed five punts inside the 20-yard line, but also faked a punt and threw a 22-yard pass to Chris Moore for a first down. The second honor came in Week 15 against the Cleveland Browns after placing four punts inside the 20-yard line, three of them inside the five. While neither Koch or kicker Justin Tucker were named to the Pro Bowl, Ravens fans never break a sweat when the game is in their hands, or should we say, legs.