Patriots

Patriots

So now that Denver's overtime victory over Cincinnati is in the books, what does it mean? To the Patriots specifically, and the AFC playoff race in general?

For New England, it means, basically, the same thing it meant before Monday night's kickoff: The Pats will clinch the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC playoffs with a victory Sunday in Miami. If they lose, their hopes for the top spot then would rest on the Chargers upsetting the Broncos in Denver later that afternoon . . . a fairly unlikely scenario.

As for the rest of the conference, we now have a much clearer picture of how things stand, and what the various scenarios are. The Chiefs are in, the Texans are sitting pretty, the Steelers need help and the Colts need a miracle.

Here's how the AFC playoff race stacks up heading into Week 17, with the teams ranked as they currently reside in the standings:

1. Patriots (12-3; at Miami on Sunday): See above. The worst the Pats can do is finish as the No. 2 seed.

2. Broncos (11-4; vs. San Diego on Sunday): Denver clinched a playoff berth last night, but not the division title. The Broncos can still lose the AFC West if they fall to the Chargers and Kansas City beats Oakland. But if they win and the Patriots lose, they'll wind up as the No. 1 seed. If they win and the Pats win, they'll be No. 2 (and get that all-important first-round bye). Fairly safe to say Denver won't be letting up on the gas Sunday, not with so much at stake.

 

3. Bengals (11-4; vs. Ravens on Sunday): The Bengals lose all the various tiebreakers to the teams ahead of them, so their only hope for the No. 2 seed is for them to win Sunday and Denver to lose. The good news for them is, they can't fall any lower than No. 3.

4. Texans (8-7; vs. Jaguars on Sunday): Bill O'Brien's team is all but in. The only way the Texans can lose the AFC South title is if they lose at home to Jacksonville, Indianapolis beats Tennessee, and then a bunch of other games break the Colts' way to give Indy a strength-of-victory tiebreaker. Don't bet the house on it.

5. Chiefs (10-5; vs. Raiders on Sunday): Kansas City has already clinched a playoff spot, and still has an outside -- albeit unlikely -- shot at the AFC West title (see Denver, above).

6. Jets (10-5; at Buffalo on Sunday): Boy, did Bill Belichick's decision to kick off in overtime help the Jets. Now all they need to do to make the playoffs is beat Rex Ryan's Bills. If they lose, they can still make it if Pittsburgh loses to Cleveland.

STILL HAVE A SHOT
Steelers (9-6; at Cleveland on Sunday): Boy, did Bill Belichick's decision to kick off in overtime hurt the Steelers. Now their only path to the postseason, as noted above, involves them beating the Browns and the Bills beating the Jets. Of course, Pittsburgh could have avoided all this by simply beating Baltimore last Sunday . . . something the Belichick-deliberately-lost-to-the-Jets-to-screw-the-Steelers crowd (oh yes, they're out there) conveniently ignores.

Colts (7-8; vs. Titans on Sunday): See Houston above. Who in New England isn't reveling in this particular piece of Deflategate karma?