2021 NFL Playoff Picture: Latest update on race for AFC's No. 1 seed


The playoff races in the NFL are heating up with the calendar turning to December and each team having just four or five games remaining in the regular season.

The battle for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, specifically, is super close. The Patriots lead the conference with a 9-4 record. The other three division leaders behind them are all 8-4. The next three teams are 7-5. The final standings after Week 18 could look a lot different than they do today, and that should make for an exciting final few weeks.

Here's a breakdown of the race for the No. 1 seed in the AFC entering Week 14, beginning with the remaining schedules for the teams in a playoff spot. 

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1) New England Patriots

Record: 9-4 (AFC East leader)

Relevant head-to-head wins: Bills, Chargers, Browns, Titans

The Patriots have the longest active win streak in the league at seven games entering their Week 14 bye. Mac Jones has been the best rookie quarterback in the league by a mile. The defense ranks No. 3 in yards allowed per game and No. 1 in points allowed per game. The run game is fantastic, the offensive line is healthy and playing well, and the coaching is elite. 

New England has nearly all of the required ingredients for playoff success. Now the goal is getting the No. 1 seed and only having to win two home games to reach the Super Bowl.

Game Story: Patriots run all over the Bills in win in Buffalo

2) Tennessee Titans

Record: 8-4 (AFC South leader)

Relevant head-to-head wins: Colts (twice), Bills, Chiefs


The Titans looked like they would run away with the AFC South title just a few weeks ago. And then the Indianapolis Colts won four of their last five games, and now they are just 1.5 games behind the Titans for the division lead. It's a race again, but luckily for the Titans, they have a fairly easy schedule the rest of the way. The Titans also don't have the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Patriots, but they do have it over the Bills and Chiefs.

3) Baltimore Ravens

Record: 8-4 (AFC North leader)

Relevant head-to-head wins: Chiefs, Colts, Chargers, Browns

The Ravens lost the No. 1 seed last Sunday as a result of their Week 13 loss to the Steelers. They also have a brutal schedule to finish the regular season, with three of their last five opponents currently in a playoff spot. The other two teams are the Steelers and Browns, two decent teams still in mix for a wild card berth. Baltimore has just a one-game lead over the Bengals for the division lead, and that battle should be an exciting one over the next month.

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4) Kansas City Chiefs

Record: 8-4 (AFC West leader)

Relevant head-to-head wins: Browns, Raiders

The Chiefs are one of the hottest teams in the league with a five-game win streak. They are starting to find their groove at the perfect time after some surprising struggles early in the season. Kansas City's defense, in particular, has made great strides. This unit has allowed an average of just 11.2 points over the last five games. The Chiefs are still the biggest threat in the AFC as long as superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes is healthy.

5) Los Angeles Chargers

Record: 7-5 (First wild card)

Relevant head-to-head wins: Chiefs, Raiders, Browns, Steelers, Bengals

The Chargers earned an impressive 41-22 win over the Bengals last week, giving them an important head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over another wild card contender. The Bolts are a single game behind Kansas City for the AFC West lead, and these rivals have one more meeting in Los Angeles in Week 15. A victory would give the Chargers a huge edge in the division race. Another positive for the Chargers is their remaining schedule, which includes four non-playoff teams over the last five weeks.

6) Cincinnati Bengals

Record: 7-5 (Second wild card)

Relevant head-to-head wins: Steelers (twice), Ravens, Raiders

The Bengals, as noted above, are still very much a threat to the Ravens in the AFC North race. The next two weeks are important for the Bengals. They need to beat the 49ers and Broncos -- two inferior teams -- to put themselves in a good position before entering a final three-game stretch featuring tough matchups against the Ravens, Chiefs and Browns.

7) Buffalo Bills

Record: 7-5 (Third wild card)


Relevant head-to-head wins: Chiefs, Dolphins (twice)

Here's how outcome of Bills-Bucs will impact Patriots' AFC East, No. 1 seed odds

The Bills are 1.5 games behind the Patriots for the AFC East lead after losing to New England at home in Week 13. It doesn't get any easier for the Bills, who have to face Tom Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road in Week 14. Brady has a 32-3 career record against Buffalo. If the Bills are going to keep the division crown, they'll need to beat the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Week 16, at the very least.