AFC Playoff Picture: Projecting Conference's Wild-Card Matchups

Patrick Clarke@@_Pat_ClarkeCorrespondent IDecember 24, 2012

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 23:  Quarterback Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts passes during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on December 23, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The playoff picture in the AFC may be coming together, but it's far from determined. Yes, all six AFC playoff teams are locked in coming into Week 17's final Sunday of action. But there is still plenty of shuffling that can happen before January. 

The Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals are locked into the wild-card spots, while the four division winners look to finalize their seeds this weekend. 

The Houston Texans can lock up home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with another win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday afternoon. Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos can, along with the Texans, secure a first-round bye with a win of their own over the Kansas City Chiefs at Mile High.

New England and Baltimore will both take on division rivals in Week 17 as well in Miami and Cincinnati respectively. A Patriots win would lock them into the No. 3 seed, and Baltimore into the No. 4 spot.

Here we'll project the two AFC Wild Card Round matchups this winter, and provide you with a complete breakdown of the current NFL playoff picture. 

No. 6 Cincinnati Bengals vs. No. 3 New England Patriots

The Bengals are locked into the No. 6 seed in the AFC, which means that they'll be on the road on Wild Card Weekend, taking on the conference's third-best division winner. Expect that team to be the New England Patriots.

New England is home to Miami in Week 17, and should win comfortably to finish up 12-4 this season. Unfortunately, the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos both have winnable matchups this weekend. 

If the Texans and Broncos both win, they'll each finish 13-3 and earn a first-round bye, forcing the Pats to host a wild-card team.

In a potential Bengals-Patriots matchup, I would give the advantage to New England at home. The Patriots still possess the NFL's No. 1 offense, and until they are forced up against one of league's top defenses, they will continue to roll along.

What would be great about this matchup is that fans haven't seen New England and Cincinnati square off since Week 1 of the 2010 season. Bengals-Pats would be a refreshing postseason matchup that would pit a hot wild-card team against a Super Bowl favorite in the first weekend of the playoffs. 

No. 5 Indianapolis Colts vs. No. 4 Baltimore Ravens

Like Cincinnati, Indy has locked up its spot as the No. 5 seed in the AFC, meaning the Colts will hit the road to face off against the AFC's division winner with the worst record, which looks to be the Baltimore Ravens. 

Even if the Ravens beat the Bengals in Week 17, they can still finish behind the Pats, Broncos and Texans. 

Much like the potential Bengals-Pats Wild Card Round matchup, this contest would put two teams together that have yet to face off this season. The Ravens and Colts haven't played each other since 2011, but have met twice in the postseason since 2006, with Indy winning both.

In the Colts' return to Baltimore, I would side with the Ravens, though. Sure, Baltimore has looked vulnerable at times at home this season, but going up against a rookie in Andrew Luck gives the Ravens too big an edge in my eyes.

Joe Flacco has played in nine playoff games in four years and will make his 10th career postseason start this coming January. Luck has a bright future without question, but Flacco and the Ravens boast the experience necessary to advance to the AFC Divisional round. 

Here's a look at the current AFC playoff picture heading into Week 17:

AFC Playoff Picture

Division Leaders
 No. 1 Seed Houston Texans (12-3) Clinched AFC South
 No. 2 Seed Denver Broncos (12-3) Clinched AFC West
 No. 3 Seed New England Patriots (11-4) Clinched AFC East
 No. 4 Seed Baltimore Ravens (10-5) Clinched AFC North
Wild Card Leaders
 No. 5 Seed Indianapolis Colts (10-5); Clinched Playoff Berth
 No. 6 Seed Cincinnati Bengals (9-6); Clinched Playoff Berth

Remaining Schedule


Houston: at Indianapolis

Denver: vs. Kansas City

New England: vs. Miami

Baltimore: at Cincinnati

Indianapolis: vs. Houston

Cincinnati: vs. Baltimore

For the rest of the NFL playoff picture, check out the tables below: 

NFC Playoff Picture

Division Leaders
 No. 1 Seed Atlanta Falcons (13-2) Clinched NFC South & Home-Field Advantage
 No. 2 Seed Green Bay Packers (11-4) Clinched NFC North
 No. 3 Seed San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1) Lead NFC West; Clinched Playoff Berth 
 No. 4 Seed Washington Redskins (9-6) Lead NFC East
Wild Card Leaders
 No. 5 Seed Seattle Seahawks (10-5); Clinched Playoff Berth
 No. 6 Seed Minnesota Vikings (9-6)
In the Hunt
 Chicago Bears (9-6)
 Dallas Cowboys (8-7)
 New York Giants (8-7)

Remaining Schedule


Atlanta: vs. Chicago

San Francisco: vs. Arizona

Green Bay: at Minnesota

Washington: vs. Dallas

Seattle: vs. St. Louis

Minnesota: vs. Green Bay

Chicago: vs. Detroit

Dallas: at Washington

New York: vs. Philadelphia

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

Follow _Pat_Clarke on Twitter


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