After 11 weeks of NFL action, the playoff picture for the American Football Conference is clearing up at the top but remains cloudy down below, with eight teams in serious contention for the final wild-card bid.
If the regular season ended today, the Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals, Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets would still be in contention for the Lombardi Trophy. Yes, that is correct, Rex Ryan and the Jets would be the final wild-card team in the AFC. New York currently has a better divisional record than the other 5-5 AFC team, their rivals, the Miami Dolphins.
Denver and Kansas City are both four games ahead of the seventh-seeded Dolphins with six games to go. The Chiefs and Broncos each have two teams with winning records on their remaining schedules, to include their Week 13 matchup.
Expect one of these teams to be the AFC's top seed and the other to be the top wild card.
Indianapolis is currently the AFC's second seed because they have a better conference record than New England. The Colts also hold a three game lead on the Titans. While Indianapolis has three tough road matchups against Arizona, Cincinnati and Kansas City, the Titans would have to win at Indianapolis and Denver to have any chance. This race is close to over.
The Dolphins and Jets have been wildly inconsistent. Miami has victories over Indianapolis and Cincinnati to pair with losses against Tampa Bay and Buffalo. New York defeated New England and New Orleans but were embarrassed by the Titans and Bills. The Dolphins and Jets will also square off twice. Because they will host the Patriots in Week 15, the Dolphins have a better chance of catching New England, albeit a slim one.
The Patriots will host the Broncos in Week 12 and their schedule is very soft after that, facing no team that presently has a winning record. Expect Tom Brady to win another division title.
Cincinnati has a 2.5-game lead over Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cleveland to go along with an easy schedule. Of their five remaining opponents only Indianapolis has a winning record. The Steelers host the Bengals in Week 15, giving them some hope to run down Cincinnati but A.J. Green and company are almost at the finish line.
As discussed before, pencil in Denver or Kansas City. The favorites for the final spot are the Jets and the Dolphins, based on their one game advantage and their schedule.
The 4-6 teams all have a difficult road.
Oakland will visit the Cowboys and host the Chiefs and Denver, as they battle for the division crown. The Ravens finish their season with games at Detroit and Cincinnati and a home game against New England. In the following three weeks, the Titans will visit the Raiders, Colts and Broncos. The Browns travel to New England, face the Bears at home and play their division-rival Steelers twice. The Chargers play Kansas City twice, will travel to Denver and play the Bengals at home.
Other than a road game against Carolina, the Jets' schedule is not daunting, facing no other team currently with a winning record. The Dolphins face the Panthers and Patriots at home and have four games against opponents that do not currently have a winning record.