AFC Playoff Picture: In and Out
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 12/17/2009
Unlike the situation in the NFC, the AFC playoff picture is completely up in the air. Six AFC teams are on the outside looking in right now but each of those teams is well within striking distance. In the NFC, however, only three teams have a chance of crashing the playoff party. Besides the Colts, who not only have a playoff spot locked up, but also the division and home field advantage clinched, everything else seems up for grabs.
Indianapolis at 13-0 has this sealed up and may begin resting starters this week.
San Diego (10-3), riding an eight-game winning streak, is running away from 8-5 Denver in the West. They have home games against Cincinnati and Washington sandwiched around a date at Tennessee. The key game is against Cincinnati in terms of getting the bye week. San Diego is one-game ahead of Cincinnati (9-4) for the first round bye.
This race has gotten a lot closer than many people thought at first and that is a good reason it is one of only two divisions with odds still on the board (the other one being the NFC East). New England (8-5) is clinging on to its lead over Miami (7-6) and the New York Jets (7-6).
The odds on BetUS are New England -400, Miami +550 and New York Jets +650. The Dolphins at +550 have incredible value. The Jets have the easiest schedule with home games against the Falcons and Bengals and a trip to play an Indianapolis team that may be resting starters. What hurts their cause is the tiebreaking situation. They split against the Patriots but are 0-2 against the Dolphins. In the case of a three-way tie they have the worst division record of the bunch at 2-4.
If it comes down to Miami and New England, Miami has a 4-2 division record while New England is at 3-2 right now with a remaining game at Buffalo this week that looms large. The schedule is on Miami's side, keeping the Dolphins out of the cold weather locales as they travel to Tennessee this week and host the Texans and Steelers in the final two weeks.
This division belongs to the Bengals (9-4). They are undefeated in the division and have swept the Ravens (7-6), the only other team who could catch them.
This is where it gets much more interesting. If the playoffs began before Week 15 then the Denver Broncos (8-5) and Jacksonville Jaguars (7-6) would be in the playoffs. Neither helped their cause last week by both losing but they remain the same position. Thanks to those losses though, things are a lot more backed up. Now the Ravens, Dolphins and Jets are all barking on their heels at 7-6 with the Steelers, Titans and Texas at 6-7 still alive.
Things get easier this week for the Wild Card front runners. Jaguars play host the Indianapolis Colts and considering the oddsmakers only made the Colts three-point favorites, you can expect the Colts, who have everything clinched, to play this one close to the belt. Denver has it even easier, hosting the Raiders as two-touchdown favorites.
I would argue the Ravens are actually in the best position to snatch a Wild Card spot considering their matchup this week, hosting the Bears as 11-point favorites, and their conference record of 6-4. In case of a tie involving more than two teams, conference record is a tiebreaker likely to be used considering the circumstances. We talked about the Dolphins and Jets easy schedules and both are still very much alive at 7-6. While the Jets' division record hurts them, when it comes to the Wild Card the conference record is what matters and they are 5-5 there which could help them if they can string a couple wins together.
At 6-7, the Steelers, Titans and Texans are all on lifelines. The Titans are hurt big time by their 3-7 conference record. The Texans and Steelers are only on slightly better at 4-6 in AFC play. The Texans travel to St. Louis this weekend before critical games at Miami and hosting the Patriots.
The Steelers are a little more interesting. At 6-7 they need a lot of help but two of their final three games are at home and two of the games are against teams ahead of them in the Wild Card race, Baltimore and Miami. Unlike the Titans and Texans, the Steelers have a legitimate playoff roster, but have just been unable to put it together. If they can get past Green Bay this Sunday at home then they will be right back in the mix, somehow, after a five-game losing streak.
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