AFC Playoff Picture: Best & Worst Case Scenarios for Each Team
There's still a chance that some teams could move around but the dance card is set, as victories by the Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts have filled in the final remaining playoff spots in the AFC.
So, while next week won't be a dramatic one for the conference we can at least get a head start on speculating about each of this year's postseason participants, so let's do just that and take a look at the best and worst-case scenarios for each AFC playoff team.
Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)
Worst Case: This is a team making back-to-back playoff appearances for the fist time in three decades that hasn't won a playoff game since 1990, so another ceremonial playoff appearance and rapid exit would just be salt in the wound of a long-suffering fan base.
Best Case: The Cincinnati Bengals might not be Super Bowl material, but the Bengals have a solid defense and the type of offense that keeps games close, and if the team can stay hot a trip to the AFC championship game isn't inconceivable.
Indianapolis Colts (10-5)
Worst Case: There isn't one. After winning only two games last year and with a rookie under center, the Indianapolis Colts never thought they would be in this position to begin with. The Colts are playing with the house's money this year.
Best Case: Indianapolis rides the "Chuckstrong" wave to a victory in the Wild Card Round and an upset over the Denver Broncos before running into the Houston Texans or New England Patriots, two teams that have throttled the Colts this season.
Baltimore Ravens (10-5)
Worst Case: The Ravens may have double-digit wins, but they're also a team whose record is smoke and mirrors that conceals an inconsistent offense and a defense that has been absolutely destroyed by injuries in 2012.
Best Case: Honestly? The Ravens might win one playoff game, but given how badly this team has struggled away from home (especially on offense) it's hard to envision the Ravens beating any of the AFC's top teams on the road.
New England Patriots (11-4)
Worst Case: When you live in the land of heightened expectations the "worst case" scenarios get more plentiful, and that's the case with the New England Patriots, for whom anything less than a trip to New Orleans and Super Bowl XLVII will be viewed as a disappointment.
Best Case: The best case for the Patriots is the worst case for the rest of us.
Denver Broncos (12-3)
Worst Case: Speaking of heightened expectations, given how well Peyton Manning's first year at quarterback for the Denver Broncos has gone, fans in the Mile High City have their hopes, well...you know.
It's Super Bowl or bust for the Broncos
Best Case: Manning leads the Broncos to victory in New Orleans, the bromance between Manning and John Elway ratchets up about six notches, and the number of commercials Manning appears in actually increases.
Houston Texans (12-3)
Worst Case: The Houston Texans have dropped two out of three and are taking on water at the worst possible time, and for this team to win 12 games and a second straight division title only to be one-and-done in the playoffs would have to be viewed as a letdown.
Best Case: However, this is also a Houston team that went into Denver earlier this season and smacked Peyton Manning and the Broncos around, so it's just as easy to imagine the Texans as Super Bowl champions as it is to see them getting bounced.