AFC Playoff Picture
by Trevor Whenham - 12/29/2009
It's a wild and crazy playoff picture in the AFC heading into week 17. The playoff teams in the NFC are all set, and it's just a matter of jockeying for position. In the AFC, though, only the four division winners are set. The two wild card spots are wide open, and seven teams still have a shot at those spots. Here's a look at each team and what they need to do to play more than one game in January. For simplicity I have ignored the possibilities of ties - they add a bunch of complications and aren't very likely:
Baltimore Ravens - The Ravens play at Oakland. That's good news for them - all they need to do to make the playoffs is win. The Raiders aren't playing great, and they aren't likely to get a lot of crowd support in this one. The problem for Baltimore, though, is that they are just a lousy road team - they are 2-5 away from home, and one of those wins was at Cleveland so that hardly counts. If they lose their game then they just have to sit back and hope that five of the other six potential playoff teams eliminate themselves.
New York Jets - Like the Ravens, the Jets can make the playoffs just by winning this week. They play Cincinnati at home. The Bengals have some incentive - they can secure the No. 3 seed instead of the fourth, and that could be useful later in the playoffs if there are upsets. The Jets are favored by more than a touchdown in this one, and will have the added incentive of playing what will likely be the last game in Giants Stadium. Like Baltimore, if they lose then all they can do is sit back and wait and hope.
Denver Broncos - The Broncos had their fate in their own hands in past weeks, but they have thrown that away with their current three-game losing streak. The good news is that they can make the playoffs even if they don't win at home against Kansas City. The first thing they need in that case is a Pittsburgh loss. If the Steelers lose, then the Broncos also need losses from three of four teams - the Ravens, Texans, Jaguars and Jets. It would be easier for the Broncos if they won. In that case they need either the Jets or the Ravens to lose (or both, obviously) as well as a loss by Pittsburgh or Houston. There is one other strange situation that could help. The Broncos could make it even with a loss if Miami, the Jets, Baltimore, Houston and Jacksonville all lose. The Broncos still have lots of playoff life, but it won't be easy for them.
Pittsburgh Steelers - The Steelers will be eliminated from the playoffs regardless of what else happens if they lose their game at Miami on Sunday. If they win that game then they need either the Jets or the Ravens to lose, and they also need Houston to lose as well. If the Jets and the Ravens both lose then the Steelers would only make the playoffs if the Broncos lose as well. Needless to say, the Steelers face an uphill battle.
Houston Texans - Like the Steelers, the Texans will be eliminated from the playoffs with a loss - at home versus New England in their case. If they can beat the Patriots then they need either the Jets or the Ravens to lose, and they also need the Broncos to lose to the Chiefs. They would get into the playoffs regardless of what else happens if the Ravens and Jets both lose.
Jacksonville Jaguars - Jacksonville is one of two 7-8 teams that still have a glimpse of life. They would be eliminated from the playoffs with a loss at Cleveland. If they can end their three-game losing streak then they have a chance. Besides their win, they also need four teams to lose - the Jets or the Ravens are obviously essential, Pittsburgh would make it much easier if they lost as well, and the Jags need the Broncos and/or Texans to lose as well. If the Steelers and Jaguars both win then the Jets, Ravens, Broncos, and Texans all need to lose.
Miami Dolphins - The Dolphins are the other 7-8 team with an unlikely shot at glory. They have just one way to make it, and it's a longshot. First, they obviously need to beat the Steelers at home. They also obviously need both the Jets and the Ravens to lose. If that were all to happen then they would also need both Houston and Jacksonville to falter. I'm not saying that it won't happen, but it won't happen.
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