The NFC playoff picture has yet to come into focus, but all six of the AFC’s postseason participants have been decided.
Seeding still needs to be decided in the AFC, but regardless of which team takes home-field advantage, there are certain contenders who have proven themselves more capable of a deep run in January.
Here are my power rankings of all the AFC playoff teams.
1. Denver Broncos (12-3)
Denver is on a 10-game winning streak and currently ranks fourth in total offense and third in total defense. The Broncos are the only team in the NFL to rank in the top five in both categories.
Peyton Manning is an MVP candidate and one of two quarterbacks in the AFC playoffs who has won a Super Bowl. His leadership will be invaluable throughout the postseason.
The Broncos just need a victory over the 2-13 Kansas City Chiefs in order to seal a first-round bye and stay in contention for the top seed. At this point, no team in the conference is playing better football, and if Denver clinches home-field advantage, it will be extremely difficult to stop them from winning the conference.
2. New England Patriots (11-4)
Tom Brady is the other quarterback in the AFC playoffs who has won a Super Bowl, and he is also the last person Manning wants to see on the opposing sideline in January.
Another Brady vs. Manning showdown would be thrilling for NFL fans, and it would be a true toss-up. New England has a young and improving defense while its offense has racked up the most yardage of any team in the league.
With playmakers on both sides of the ball and the most championship experience of any team in contention, the Patriots should inspire some measure of fear in all the other AFC playoff teams.
3. Houston Texans (12-3)
While Denver may have the more impressive statistics, Houston also has exceptional balance and ranks in the top 10 in both total offense and total defense.
J.J. Watt has been the best defensive player in football this season, and he has helped the Texans defense play extremely well.
On the other side of the ball, Houston’s trio of Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Arian Foster have all stayed healthy this season, and that makes this team dangerous.
4. Baltimore Ravens (10-5)
Baltimore desperately needed a win this past weekend and came through with an impressive performance against the New York Giants. Now, the team must put its recent three-game losing streak in the past and continue to build momentum against the Cincinnati Bengals next week.
While the defense is not the dominant force it used to be, offensive playmakers like Ray Rice and Torrey Smith give the team the balance it needs to challenge the team’s ranked above them.
But ultimately, the Ravens will go as far as Joe Flacco takes them. If he makes a leap and proves to be a championship-caliber quarterback, Baltimore will finally return to the Super Bowl.
5. Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)
The AFC wild-card teams are not on par with the division winners, and there likely will not be any upsets in the conference during the first slate of playoff games.
The Bengals showed grit and determination in an overtime win against the Pittsburgh Steelers to earn a second consecutive postseason berth. With another year of experience, A.J. Green and Andy Dalton will be ready to take advantage of their time in the spotlight in January.
These two players make the Bengals better than the Indianapolis Colts, but the team is still too young and flawed to win a postseason game.
6. Indianapolis Colts (10-5)
Andrew Luck has answered all doubters this season and proven to be worthy of the top overall pick. The highly touted rookie is the primary reason that the Colts have been this season’s most surprising team.
But Indianapolis has just two wins against teams with winning records this season and has benefited greatly from an easy schedule.
The Colts run has been as inspiring as it has been unexpected, but Luck will have to wait until at least next season before he gets his first playoff victory.
AFC PLAYOFF PICTURE
|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|
Houston: at Indianapolis
Denver: vs. Kansas City
New England: vs. Miami
Baltimore: at Cincinnati
Indianapolis: vs. Houston
Cincinnati: vs. Baltimore