After Week 11, three teams have separated themselves from the large pack of mediocre teams in the AFC. The Steelers and Patriots have predictably had excellent seasons so far, both at 8-2 with six games left. Then, the Jacksonville Jaguars at 7-3 may well be running away with the AFC South, though they’re only a game up on the Titans at the moment. With those three divisions reasonably locked up, the AFC Wild Card race has TEN teams currently between 6-4 and 4-6 who are all just as likely to make the playoffs as anyone else. If the season ended today, here’s how the AFC Playoff seeding would look, with the top six teams qualifying for the postseason.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-2): The most complete roster in the conference has found ways to win almost every week. The Steelers do not blow teams out, but they end up winning games with a dynamic offense that wills its way to victory.
2. New England Patriots (8-2): If you ever want to second guess the genius of Bill Belichick, watch the clinic that his team put on in Mexico City. The speed at which the Patriots played completely gassed the Oakland defense midway in the first quarter and took the entire game out of hand by halftime.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-3): Their defense gives the Jags a level of talent that can challenge any offense in the NFL.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (6-4): Are teams starting to figure out how to stop the Chiefs’ offense?
5. Tennessee Titans (6-4): The Titans have a tough road ahead of them. With the poor performance last Thursday night against Pittsburgh, their season could go either way.
6. Baltimore Ravens (5-5): Their defense has now pitched three shutouts this season. Even with Joe Flacco being beyond terrible, the Ravens’ defense is willing the team to the playoffs. Fun fact: Snce 2013, Flacco has the worst TD-INT ratio in the NFL.
IN THE HUNT:
7. Buffalo Bills (5-5): They are on the outside looking in because the Ravens have a better record against AFC teams. Sean McDermott sat Tyrod Taylor for Nathan Peterman and should have instantly regretted that decision as the rookie threw five interceptions against the Chargers. In one half. Big game for them against the Chiefs this week.
8. Dolphins (4-6): Jay Cutler and the Dolphins have lost four straight and are falling out of the AFC East playoff picture.
9. Jets (4-6): The best worst team in the NFL? The worst tanking team in the NFL? What are the Jets and where are they going?
10. Bengals (4-6): One of the worst offenses in the NFL has struggled the whole season and has not beaten a team with a winning record.
11. Texans (4-6): With the Ravens and Titans as their next two opponents, the Texans can leap-frog into definite playoff contention with three straight wins. Even with all the injuries, the Texans can still pull out another trip to the playoffs, even if they’re unlikely to win the AFC South again.
12. Chargers (4-6): That massacre of the Bills was just what the doctor ordered for the Chargers, who sit second in a bad AFC West.
13. Raiders (4-6): The most disappointing team in the NFL suffers from a tough schedule and poor secondary play.
FALLING BEHIND, BUT NOT OUT:
14. Colts (3-7): Their wins are against the 49ers, Browns, and the Texans. That puts the Texans in some really bad company.
15. Broncos (3-7): There are some red flags in life that tell you to avoid a critically bad error in judgment. (NAME REDACTED) playing for the Texans was a red flag, but John Elway ignored those signs, and he is paying for his willful ignorance.
16. Browns (0-10): It does not matter how many draft picks you have or how much money you spend in free agency. The “Factory of Sadness” is manufacturing another miserable season.
In the six games left on the schedule, the Texans play four teams who would be in the playoffs if they started today. They can really knock off some of these teams with a string of wins. At this point in the race, every team in the AFC is technically in it, but teams like the Bills, Raiders, Jets, and Dolphins are somewhere between tanking and competing. Like I said last week, with no draft picks in the first two rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Texans have no reason to tank and should chase the goal of a wild card berth.