Unlike the NFC, which still has ten teams running over and crushing each other as they try to squeeze through the door to make the NFL Playoffs, the AFC is already set. The Patriots will win the East. The Steelers will win the North. Either the Jaguars or Titans will win the South, and the second place team in that division will take a wildcard berth. In the West,, Kansas City may somehow blow it. Who knows?
The field not entirely set like a stone staircase on your favorite hiking trail, but the crush is in and the rock is in place. Now it just needs to be covered with dirt overthese last five weeks.
The most intriguing spot in the AFC is the #6 seed/second wildcard. We can stick our fingers into the windpipe of the 4-7 teams; Miami, New York (J), and Houston are done. Cincinnati, Oakland, Los Angeles (C), Buffalo, and Baltimore are all within one game of that final playoff spot. Each team lives in various shades of terrible, and each one will hand the spot off like a frozen pizza fresh out the oven and instantly bit into, burning the gums, passed mouth to mouth.
Here is all you need to know on the teams in the hunt for the sixth spot in the AFC Playoffs.
Cincinnati Bengals: Record (5-6). DVOA (-7.6%, 20th). Playoff Odds (5.1%). Remaining Schedule: PIT, CHI, @MIN, DET, @BAL (12.3%)
The great Andy Dalton experiment has been answered. He needs a great offensive line, not great skill players, to make things work. Dalton has been below average efficiency-wise, struggling from down to down. But he still has 18 touchdowns, only 8 interceptions, and an ALEX of 1.1. Despite being sacked 28 times and Cincinnati ranking 26th in adjusted sack rate, Dalton still is pushing the ball downfield.
Oh, and about those skill players. John Ross has been invisible. I don’t think he has even caught a pass this year. Joe Mixon has been whatever and hasn’t been worth his draft spot so far. The capital the Bengals used to upgrade the roster, while letting their offensive line walk out, hasn’t panned out.
The defense is mediocre. The offense is slightly below average. The Bengals don’t do anything really well. They are bland. With the remaining schedule they are facing, they don’t stand a chance.
Oakland Raiders: Record (5-6). DVOA (-6.7%, 19th) Playoff Odds (12.0%) Remaining Schedule: NYG, @KC, DAL, @PHI, @LARCH (5.0%)
The Raiders were an overrated football team last year. They won a lot of close games by giving Derek Carr infinity to look into and an infinite amount of time to throw, which he did a lot of in the form of long jump balls to the then-excellent Amari Cooper and the still-excellent Michael Crabtree. The run game was fine. The defense was atrocious.
This year, it’s the same story. The offensive line is the best pass blocking unit in football. Carr has plenty of time. The difference is that Carr was injured during the season instead of at the end. The defense hasn’t forced any turnovers and is still atrocious. Marshawn Lynch is a great short yardage back but can’t handle 20 carries a game. Cooper has fallen off the wagon. Most importantly, the Raiders aren’t winning the close games they did last year. That’s the problem with winning close games. The margin of error is so slim. If things don’t break exactly right, seasons like this happen.
Oakland’s schedule, their defense, and the loss of Cooper to injury and Crabtree to gold chain fighting will be their demise.
Los Angeles Chargers: Record (5-6). DVOA (3.3%, 16th). Playoff Odds (28.7%). Remaining Schedule: CLE, WSH, @KC, @NYG, OAK (-7.2%, 25th).
I love Philip Rivers. I love his guffawing, hopping, and hollering as the play clock clicks down to the horror of a delay of game penalty, the screaming at teammates and opponents like a YMCA basketball player who spits in the face of sportsmanship like Edward Abbey and Modern Society, his hilarious attempts to scramble outside the tackle box when the immediate interior rush comes, and the floating passes he farts out to his receivers.
There would be nothing better than the Chargers making the playoffs. LARCH against Jacksonville or Tennessee would be a classic first round playoff game, filled with end game hi-jinks and entertainment that would never be forgotten. Aside from entertainment, the Chargers are so damn talented and have been for the last few years.
Yet there’s no way they make it. They are going to blow some close games and break their own stupid heart like the teary -yed man scrolling through Facebook photos. I 100% think they are going to lose to the Browns this weekend, and they are going to miss the playoffs, not because of the opponent, but because of their own masochistic love of eating their own fingers to show off the stubs.
Buffalo Bills: Record (6-5). DVOA (-8.8%, 21st). Playoff Odds (36.4%). Remaining Schedule: NE, IND, MIA, @NE, MIA (-12.8%, 31st).
It’s been 18 seasons since the Bills last made the playoffs. The year was 1999. They lost to Tennessee in the wildcard round 16-22. Since then, they haven’t been back, living in a constant world of talented units mired by awful coaching, strong starts, and midseason collapses. It looked like the Bills were on the way out again. They were sliding. They benched Tygod Taylor to start Nathan Peterman, who produced five interceptions in a half, something that I probably couldn’t even do in a NFL game. Buffalo’s season looked to be ending like all the others.
Then they played the Chiefs, a team whose offense is shaking in frustrating constipation. Taylor got the start again, and the Biills saved their season for a little bit longer.
For the Bills, it is going to come down how they play against the teams not named New England. The Patriots haven’t locked up a one seed. They are tied with Pittsburgh at 9-2. The Patriots still play Pittsburgh, Miami, the New York Jets, and Buffalo twice to end the season. The Bills won’t be facing second team players when they play New England. On their own, they are an average football team, and they don’t stand a chance against their longtime bully in those two games. Buffalo’s entire season is going to depend on winning out against Indy, Miami, and a lot of shut-eyed hoping with palms pressed together.
Baltimore Ravens: Record (6-5). DVOA (19.0%, 6th). Playoff Odds (78.6%). Remaining Schedule: DET, @PIT, @CLE, IND, CIN (-5.6%, 23rd)
The favorite. The Baltimore Ravens. All of these teams are good at somethings, or are generally mediocre. The Ravens are the only team of this bunch that has top shelf units. They are first in defense DVOA, pass defense DVOA, and special teams DVOA. They are one of the best teams at covering wide receivers and use a variety of different coverages to confuse quarterbacks. Jimmy Smith is having an All-Pro caliber year. Their front seven, led by Terrell Suggs, the ancient one, is filled with a variety of enormous late round selected monsters who all can hold the point of attack and bull rush the quarterback. Like all years, Baltimore’s special teams is among the best in the league.
The offense is disgusting. Joe Flacco is the worst quarterback in football not named DeShone Kizer. Sam Koch, the punter, is the best quarterback on this team. The offense depends on Alex Collins breaking a big run or two and the special teams and defense gifting the offense the field position they need to get Justin Tucker in his automatic 50 yard range.
You can win with a great defense, great special teams, and awful offense. The Ravens have done it before and they are doing it again. They also have an easy schedule to end the season.
My heart wants the Chargers. Being a human who can feel empathy wants the Bills. My brain says the Ravens.
Who do you have?
Who Will Capture The #6 Seed?
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Los Angeles Chargers