By: Jacob Gallipeau @nflfanaticpod
AFC Playoff Picture
Week 10 is finished, and there are only 7 weeks left. It seems like an appropriate time to begin looking at the playoff picture. By this point in the season, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from each team, so let’s take a look at the rankings for each AFC division and predicts some wild card teams. Be sure to check back next week for the NFC article.
AFC East: New England Patriots (7-2)
The Patriots are coming off a dominating 41-16 win against the helpless Broncos. After starting off the season 1-2, they have been a complete powerhouse, winning six straight and returning to the form we expected them to be in from the beginning. They now have a two game lead over the Buffalo Bills, who are second in the division.
While the Patriots defense hasn’t been quite what he hoped, the offense has been spectacular. Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, and the newly re-acquired Martellus Bennett highlight the dynamic pass-catchers. And Rex Burkhead, fresh off an injury, returns to the an already stacked RB core, joining James White, Dion Lewis, and Mike Gillislee. All four of these backs have looked great, and the combination of all of them is making it incredibly hard for opposing teams to game plan against them.
At this point, the Patriots look like a lock to win their division, and most likely a first-round bye as well.
AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs (6-3)
The Chiefs, while not looking as dominant as they did early in the season, are still a very good team. They are fresh off a late bye, which has hopefully helped them to regroup and figure out why things aren’t working. (If you’d like my opinion on how the Chiefs can return to form, you can read this article I posted last week.)
The Chiefs have a two game lead over the second place Raiders. And while the Raiders have a pretty difficult schedule coming up, the Chiefs will only face 1 more team with a record above .500, and that’s the Bills, who haven’t been looking as good as they did at the beginning of the season. So the Chiefs should have a pretty easy path to the playoffs, and should compete with the Pats and Steelers for a first-round bye. Look for the Chiefs to return to their earlier success and cruise to the playoffs on a long winning streak.
AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2)
We all know how good the Steelers offense is. Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and LeVeon Bell are still balling, and newcomer JuJu Smith-Schuster has looked a star opposite Brown as the team’s new #2. But the real strength of this team is their defense, which is ranked #1 in yards and are second only to the Jaguars in scoring defense. This is an extremely well-balanced team that, as long as they can stay healthy, should have no trouble making the playoffs and doing well in them.
The Steelers have a three game lead over the second place Ravens, and the way the Ravens are playing, the Steelers could go 2-4 in the rest of their games and still make the playoffs. There is not a lot of competition in this division right now, and the Steelers should make the playoffs easily.
AFC South: Tennessee Titans (6-3)
The Titans are actually tied in record with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The amazing thing is for the Titans, despite the fact that they are 6-3, they actually have more points scored against them this season than they have scored (205-213). So while their record looks good, the team looks like it could struggle down the stretch. They play the Steelers this week, and then play the Rams and Jaguars in weeks 16 and 17. Weeks 12-15 don’t look too bad though, so assuming they win those and go 4-3 the rest of the season, their 10-6 record should be just enough to make the playoffs. But they definitely need to improve as a team.
The team is 22nd in total offense and 21st in scoring defense, so there are definitely a lot of areas that need work. DeMarco Murray finally seemed to return to form last week, scoring 3 touchdowns, which was more than he had scored the entire season until that point. If they can maintain their offensive success, they should be able to squeak into the playoffs. How far they will make it is anyone’s guess.
Wild Card Potentials
Jacksonville Jaguars (6-3)
As previously mentioned, the Jaguars are currently tied with the Titans in the AFC South, and have the best record of any AFC team not leading their division. They are vastly improved from previous years, in large part due to the fantastic play of their defense – they are #1 in scoring this year, allowing only 134 points in 9 games. That’s only 14.8 points per game. This team has made many big defensive free agent moves over the past few years, and it has finally payed off. We all know Blake Bortles is not the best NFL quarterback (to put it nicely). The defense being dominant has helped take the pressure off Bortles.
Not only has the defense helped, but the addition of rookie Leonard Fournette has also helped the Jaguars. This has become a slug-it-out, run-first team, and that’s why they are playing so well – they are keeping the ball out of Blake Bortles’ hands. As long as the defense continues to play at the level they are, the Jaguars should continue to find success. They should overtake the Titans and win the division.
Also, it doesn’t hurt that the combined record of their remaining schedule is 23-41.
Buffalo Bills (5-4)
The Bills started off the season fast, but have fallen off the map a bit as of late. They’ve lost their last two games by a combined score of 31-81, and their defense, once in the top 10, has now fallen to the bottom third in many important categories. On top of that, they only managed ten points in their last game. It got so bad that Tyrod Taylor got benched late in the game in favor of rookie Nathan Peterman. Granted, they were playing against a red-hot Saints team, but this is not what you want to see from a team with playoff aspirations.
On top of that, their schedule doesn’t get any easier: the Bills have to play Kansas City in Arrowhead and play the Pats TWICE still this season. Things aren’t looking great for the Bills, and while they are still a game up on the other teams for the #6 seed, they may fall out of contention if they can’t stop this downward spiral.
Oakland Raiders (4-5)
While the Raiders have improved from their woes at the beginning of the season and are technically still in the playoff race, it’s very unlikely they’ll make the playoffs. Here is their upcoming schedule: Patriots, Broncos, Giants, at the Chiefs, Cowboys, at the Eagles, at the Chargers. Broncos and Giants are pretty winnable, but to go even 2-3 in the remaning games would be extremely impressive, and that would only be 8-8, which probably will not be enough. Then again, the way the other teams below the Raiders are shaping up right now, maybe it will.
Baltimore Ravens (4-5)
Baltimore hasn’t been great this season, but things are looking up for them. Danny Woodhead should return either this week or next, which should help their offense significantly. Joe Flacco has also been heating up as of late. He’s thrown 3 touchdowns in the past two weeks, after throwing 2 touchdowns in the previous 5 weeks. While that isn’t great, that might be enough, as Baltimore’s defense hasn’t been half bad either – 6th in yardage and 7th in scoring. If the defense can keep that up, and Flacco’s weapons like Woodhead and Jeremy Maclin can keep getting more and more healthy, than this Baltimore team should have a chance.
Their upcoming schedule isn’t bad either – they play the struggling Packers next, followed by the DeShaun Watson-less Texans and the inconsistent Lions before traveling to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. Then, their final three matchups have a combined six wins so far – Browns, Colts, Bengals. If they can take advantage of an easy home stretch of games, they may just be able to sneak into the playoffs.
Miami Dolphins (4-5)
Who’s their quarterback? Oh, Jay Cutler. Yeah. Forget it.
Oh, that’s not enough for you? How about this one: Until Monday’s garbage time score, the Miami Dolphins had scored ZERO rushing touchdowns this entire season! That was even before they traded away one of their best players in Jay Ajayi.
Still need more? They have a -87 point differential. There are only Three teams worse than that: the Browns, Colts, and Giants. Those three teams have a combined four wins on the season. And the 49ers, who have one win this season, are ahead of the Dolphins in this category.
Not only that, but the Dolphins have spent 5% of playing time in the lead, and 95% tied or behind. Only the Browns and 49ers are worse. And that stat was recorded before Monday night’s blowout loss to the Panthers, in which they were losing the entire team. It may look even worse now.
Truly, I have no idea how the Dolphins are where they are right now. But mark my words: They aren’t making the playoffs.
Los Angeles Chargers (3-6)
The Chargers are probably the best 3-6 team out there, but they can’t seem to finish games. Five of their six losses have been by 8 points or less, and the one that wasn’t was against the Chiefs in Week 2. And four of those losses were by 3 points or less, so only a field goal would have tied/won them the game. Part of their current record is the fact that Younghoe Koo, their kicker at the beginning of the season, missed 3 out of 6 field goals in their 0-4 star to the season. If they had a different kicker at the beginning of the season, they likely would have won 2 or even 3 of those games.
Now, their hole may be too deep to dig out of, but it also may not be. Call me crazy, but the way the Bills, Raiders, and Ravens are looking (along with their schedules) the Chargers may just have a chance to sneak into the playoffs. They are definitely a long shot, but they play the Bills next week, which would put them within one game of them. Then, they play the Cowboys (who looked awful last week sans Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith, and Sean Lee), the Browns, the up-and-down Redskins, the Chiefs, the Jets, and the Raiders. So two of the three teams ahead of them in record so far (Raiders and Bills) are coming up on the schedule. If they can win those two games, they may well have a chance to sneak in.
MY SEEDING PREDICTION:
And a bold pick for #6… the Chargers.
Reminder: Be sure to come back next week when we take a look at the NFC playoff picture! And be sure to follow me on twitter – @nflfanaticpod – where I share links to all the articles I write for FFD260, along with links to my NFL podcast that I produce two or three times a week.