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AFC Playoff Picture: Nine teams looking for six spots with two weeks to go

The AFC Playoff picture has narrowed down to nine teams looking to claim one of the six spots in the post season tournament. Only one division champion has been crowned, despite there only being two weeks left in the season.

Jim Rogash

The AFC Playoff hunt is down to its final two weeks, and all six positions in the tournament still up for grabs. From the Denver Broncos, with an 11-3 record, to the Pittsburgh Steelers,6-8, nine teams still have dreams of playing January football and having a shot at the Super Bowl.

Starting with a look at the division championship hunt for all four AFC divisions, the Indianapolis Colts are the only team to have clinched their four team grouping, the AFC South in this instance. The New England Patriots currently lead the AFC East with a two game lead over the Miami Dolphins (10-4 to 8-6), the Cincinnati Bengals lead the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North (9-5 to 8-6), and the Broncos have a tie-break claim on the top AFC West spot, with the Kansas City Chiefs having an identical 11-3 record.

The postseason tournament's six available positions start with the four division winners, then open up two more positions to Wildcard teams, the two conference teams with the best record who do not win their division. Currently, three positions are filled, with the Broncos, Chiefs, and Colts having locked themselves into the playoffs, though no seeding has been settled. That leaves six teams vying for the final three slots, two division winners and a Wildcard.

The Wildcard race standings are currently:

  • Denver/Kansas City (11-3; whichever does not win the Division clinches the fifth seed)
  • Cincinnati/Baltimore (9-5, 8-6 respectively)
  • Miami (8-6)
  • San Diego (7-7)
  • Pittsburgh (6-8)

Denver and Kansas City will work out the division winner and the top Wildcard position over the next two weeks. The real battle will come down to the sixth and final position, a position currently held by the Ravens.

Ruling out San Diego and Pittsburgh for now, that battle comes down to the Bengals, Ravens, and Dolphins. Baltimore and Cinncinati face each other in Week 17, meaning one of the two teams will suffer at least one more loss. That leaves Miami with control of their own destiny, simply needing to win each of the last two games and earning a berth in the postseason. That leaves the Bengals and Ravens to fight for the AFC North title or miss the playoffs, unless the Patriots also lose both remaining games (including one against the Ravens), in which case, Miami could be playing for the AFC East crown, and opening up the last Wildcard slot.

If both the Bengals and Ravens win or lose this week, they will be playing for the AFC North title in Week 17. If Cincnnati wins, but Baltimore loses, the Bengals will have wrapped up the division, meaning the Ravens will, at best, be trying to get to January football simply through the Wildcard; a Miami loss would be required over the last two weeks for Baltimore to claim the Wildcard.

For the Steelers or the Chargers to make it into the postseason, the Dolphins and Ravens would both need to lose during the last two weeks, with the Steelers needing both teams to lose both games remaining, as well as needing a Chargers loss.

Remaining schedules for playoff contenders:

New England: Week 16 at Baltimore Ravens, Week 17 vs Buffalo Bills

Miami: Week 16 at Buffalo Bills, Week 17 vs New York Jets

Cinncinnati: Week 16 vs Minnesota Vikings, Week 17 vs Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore: Week 16 vs New England Patriots, Week 17 at Cincinnati Bengals

Pittsburgh: Week 16 at Green Bay Packers, Week 17 vs Cleveland Browns

Indianapolis: Week 16 at Kansas City Chiefs, Week 17 vs Jacksonville Jaguars

Denver: Week 16 at Houston Texans, Week 17 at Oakland Raiders

Kansas City: Week 16 vs Indianapolis Colts, Week 17 at San Diego Chargers

San Diego: Week 16 vs Oakland Raiders, Week 17 vs Kansas City Chiefs