NFL Playoff Predictions: How AFC Playoff Picture Will Be Resolved
With two weeks left in the 2012 NFL regular season, questions remain about the playoff positioning for the top-six teams in the AFC. The New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens lost this past weekend, which has impacted the fight for home-field advantage and division battles moving forward.
The path to the playoffs in the AFC has been pretty simple. Home-field advantage has played a crucial part in determining who goes to the Super Bowl, with both the Patriots and Steelers accomplishing that feat the past two years.
How will the AFC playoff picture shape up the last two weeks? Here are my predictions for how it will turn out.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
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The Pittsburgh Steelers will be playing in the postseason despite a season riddled with injuries and inconsistencies.
Ben Roethlisberger was outspoken about Todd Haley's play-calling earlier this week, but that is no sign of panic for one of the AFC's elite teams this past decade.
Roethlisberger has a variety of receivers in Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, while Heath Miller continues to play at a high level in the pass-heavy offense.
Meanwhile, the defense ranks as the best in the league statistically despite the countless injuries on the secondary and defensive line.
If the offense can utilize its offensive weapons to its ability, the Steelers are always a threat in the postseason and can challenge for a championship as they end the regular season.
Projected Record: 9-7
5. Indianapolis Colts
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The Indianapolis Colts continue their surprising season as the team has rallied around rookie quarterback Andrew Luck to a 9-5 record.
Bruce Arians has taken the reigns as head coach during Chuck Pagano's leave of absence, and has instilled a group of veterans who compliment the up-and-coming rookies.
How far can this team go in the postseason? That remains to be seen. Luck has shown his potential as a rookie, but he has also displayed his ability to be accurate with the football on a consistent basis. The offensive line is one of the worst units in the league, and no receiver outside Reggie Wayne can be trusted on a weekly basis.
However, the postseason has proven to be an entirely different ball game each year, with some of the lower seeds making an impact in the earlier rounds.
Nonetheless, the fact that the Colts are in this position bolds well for their overall future.
Projected Record: 10-6
4. Baltimore Ravens
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The Baltimore Ravens are reeling, having lost three straight, and could potentially finish losing their last five entering the postseason.
Joe Flacco has been unable to lead a Ravens offense that fired longtime offensive coordinator Cam Cameron last week. He is committing turnovers at an alarming rate, especially in the biggest moments where his team needs him the most.
The Ravens defense has dealt with injuries since midseason and ultimately they have lost too many of their impact players to compete at a high level against the offenses of the Patriots or Broncos.
I don't envision the Ravens losing five straight—they will win at least one game before January. Unfortunately, it's tough to suggest that Baltimore can be a viable threat to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl after its poor play in recent weeks.
Projected Record: 10-6
3. New England Patriots
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The New England Patriots have established themselves as a contender for the Lombardi Trophy, especially after their victory over the Houston Texans and their close loss against the San Francisco 49ers.
However, a pair of early-season losses leaves the Patriots at 10-4. They will have to win on the road this postseason to return to a second straight Super Bowl.
The offense continues to produce record numbers and will become more lethal when Rob Gronkowski returns for the postseason. Meanwhile, the defense has been forcing turnovers each week, giving their offense plenty of more opportunities to produce points week to week.
However, the road to the postseason will not be a walk in the park. A likely first-round matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers awaits them, followed by two victories on the road, where the Patriots have been vulnerable in the past.
Projected Record: 12-4
2. Denver Broncos
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The Denver Broncos have been riding a nine-game winning streak and making a very good case for arguably the league's best team heading into the postseason.
The Broncos defense fails to garner much recognition for its dominant performance over the past two months. Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil have created a dynamic pass rush, while Champ Bailey anchors a veteran secondary that has played well in tight games this season.
The question remains, though, how will Denver do against the league's elite? Its three losses came to the Falcons, Texans, and Patriots, who all appear as viable threats to win the championship this year.
However, the Broncos are a much different team compared to 10 weeks ago, and will build on their momentum the last two weeks heading into their bye week.
Projected Record: 13-3
1. Houston Texans
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The Houston Texans rebounded from their debacle against the Patriots two weeks ago with a convincing win over the Indianapolis Colts.
JJ Watt and the Texans defense returned to its early-season form of pressuring the quarterback, as they typically have found success on their home turf.
Matt Schaub is the ultimate Achilles heel for Houston, which is going to need to get past either Tom Brady or Peyton Manning to reach its first Super Bowl in franchise history.
There are concerns about the Texans' lack of success against elite competition late in the season. Fortunately, the fact that they are playing on their home turf makes the journey to New Orleans a bit easier for the top seed in the AFC.
Projected Record: 14-2
Matt Miselis is a veteran NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.