The race for the No. 1 seed in the AFC is down to two teams, the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens.
With all due respect to the 8-3 Buffalo Bills, the Patriots and Ravens are the only true contenders for homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
The Patriots enter Week 13 with a slim one-game lead over the Ravens. The defending Super Bowl champions are 10-1, while the Ravens are 9-2. However, the Ravens only need to finish in a tie with the Patriots for the conference's top record because they own the head-to-head tiebreaker as a result of their 37-20 win in Week 9.
ESPN's Football Power Index projects the Patriots to finish with the No. 1 seed and a 14-2 record, while the Ravens come in at 13-3 and the No. 2 seed. Which team has an easier path to the top seed? The Patriots' strength of opponents is a little more favorable. That said, let's break down the remaining schedules for both clubs.
Week 13: at Houston Texans
The Texans are the No. 3 seed as the AFC South leaders with a 7-4 record entering Sunday night's game. The Patriots have totally dominated this matchup, though, winning nine of their last 10 games against the Texans.
Week 14: vs. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are the No. 4 seed with a 7-4 record atop the AFC West, and there are real issues with their defense. Star quarterback and reigning league MVP Patrick Mahomes also has dealt with multiple injuries and even missed a few games earlier this season. The Chiefs were expected to take the next step and eclipse the Patriots as the AFC's top team after nearly beating them in last season's AFC Championship Game, which makes Kansas City's performance through 11 games pretty disappointing. The Patriots are 2-0 against Mahomes, including a thrilling 43-40 win at Gillette Stadium in 2018.
Week 15: at Cincinnati Bengals
There's not much to say about this game. The Bengals are the league's only winless team and could become just the second franchise ever to finish 0-16. In fairness to the Bengals, six of their losses have come by seven points or fewer, but it's hard to imagine Cincy's inept offense scoring more than 10 points against an elite Patriots defense.
Week 16: vs. Buffalo Bills
The Bills nearly beat the Patriots in Week 4 but ultimately lost 17-10 at home. The Pats are 17-2 against the Bills in Foxboro since Tom Brady became the starting quarterback in 2001. This game isn't likely to be a blowout, but it still would be a surprise if the Bills won, especially if the Patriots still need to keep pace with the Ravens for the No. 1 seed.
Week 17: vs. Miami Dolphins
The Patriots have won 10 consecutive games versus the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. The last home loss for New England in this matchup came in 2008 when Matt Cassel started at quarterback because Brady was injured. Does anyone think the Patriots will lose to the Dolphins at home if the No. 1 seed is at stake? Nope? Yeah, we didn't think so.
Week 13: vs. San Francisco 49ers
This game is the Ravens' toughest remaining test of the regular season. The 49ers have arguably the best defense in the league and are well-equipped to slow down a balanced Ravens offense led by quarterback Lamar Jackson. San Francisco's defense has speed all over the field, a versatile linebacker corps and a very talented, veteran secondary that forces turnovers.
Week 14: at Buffalo Bills
Buffalo isn't an easy place to play, but the Ravens are a better team than the Bills in many areas. Baltimore is actually scoring 14 points per game more than Buffalo, and there's no reason to think Bills quarterback Josh Allen is capable of winning a shootout against Jackson.
Week 15: vs. New York Jets
The Jets are not a good team, but quarterback Sam Darnold has, in several instances, teased fans with good performances against quality opponents. The problem for New York is Darnold doesn't play at that level on a consistent basis. The Jets have quality victories over the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders, and they enter Week 13 with a season-high three-game win streak. The Ravens should be heavy favorites in this game, but the Jets aren't a total pushover. New York's top-ranked run defense could pose problems for Baltimore's run-heavy offense.
Week 16: at Cleveland Browns
The Browns handed the Ravens their worst loss of the season with a 40-25 win in Cleveland in Week 4. The Browns weren't able to build on that victory as they went on to lose four straight games, but these division games are usually tough matchups. Cleveland has won three consecutive games entering Week 13 and still has a chance to earn a wild card playoff berth. This won't be an easy game for the Ravens.
Week 17: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Baltimore's seven-game win streak began in October with a 26-23 road win over the Steelers. Pittsburgh has all sorts of issues on offense, highlighted by No. 1 wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster's injury and Mason Rudolph's ineffective play. The Steelers should still be in the playoff mix in Week 17, so this game could have major implications for both teams. But unless something drastic changes, it's hard to envision Pittsburgh scoring enough points to hang with Baltimore on the road.
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