AFC Playoff Picture: Best Case Scenarios for Teams in the Hunt
After today's action, which included losses from three AFC North teams in playoff contention, the AFC playoff picture is no more clear. Who will earn first-round byes, home-field advantage and even wild-card berths is unclear at this point.
Here is the best that each of these teams can hope for.
New England Patriots (9-3)
The New England Patriots have already clinched their division, so they're playing for home-field advantage at this point.
To get the top seed, they would need to beat the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football, then hope for another Texans loss.
That's not out of the question, but they are more likely to end up the second seed. With a win over the Texans, the Patriots retain the second seed with a better record than the Baltimore Ravens and a head-to-head win over the Denver Broncos. They would still have to handle the San Francisco 49ers as well, though, to retain that second seed.
New York Jets (6-7)
Crazy to believe, but the Jets are actually in wild-card contention. If Cincinnati and Pittsburgh both lose two more games and the Jets win out, they take the sixth seed in the AFC. It would be difficult, but crazier things have happened.
For that to happen, Mark Sanchez would have to finally step up this season and the defense would have to continue it's strong string of games.
Baltimore Ravens (9-4)
The Ravens have probably lost their way out of a first-round bye, but they still have hope. With a Patriots loss and a win over the Denver Broncos next week, the Ravens would retake the second seed in the AFC.
If Joe Flacco steps up and the defense figures out its significant problems, the Ravens could still lock up that first-round bye. With a tough schedule that features the Denver Broncos, New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals to close out the season, the Ravens will need some tough wins to succeed in doing so.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6)
The Steelers are just playing for a wildcard spot at this point, although they are not technically eliminated for AFC North contention.
They are the front-runners for the sixth seed, as Ben Roethlisberger should shake off the rust that plagued him against the Chargers on Sunday. Also helpful is the fact that the Steelers can lose a game and still win the division by finishing at least 2-1 with a win over Cincinnati at home.
Cincinnati Bengals (7-6)
The Bengals, like the Steelers, are fighting for a wild-card spot at this point, but they too could still take the division.
Winning their remaining two games in the division, against the Ravens and the Steelers, will be crucial for the Bengals to take that remaining wild-card spot.
Houston Texans (11-1)
The Texans are in great shape to win the first seed in the AFC, as they can still lose one game and retain home-field advantage.
Losing to the Patriots on Monday Night Football would make each remaining game crucial for the Texans, but they have the most breathing room out of all AFC teams.
Indianapolis Colts (9-4)
With the same record as the Baltimore Ravens, the Indianpolis Colts are in the driver's seat for an AFC wild-card berth.
They are not technically eliminated from winning the division, but they would need to win out and see the Texans lose at least three of their last four for that to happen.
Denver Broncos (10-3)
The Broncos have already clinched the AFC West, and they are in good shape to earn a first-round bye as well. A Patriots loss to the Texans would cement the Broncos' status as the second seed with a first-round bye.
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