While most of the playoff spots are already clinched in the AFC, four teams will be fighting in Week 17 of the NFL season to grab a wild-card spot.
The AFC playoff picture is almost set, with all four division titles clinched, along with one of the wild-card spots. That leaves the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers fighting for one spot, which means there's bound to be some drama in the final week of the season.
Let's take a look at what each team needs to happen this week in order to make the playoffs, breaking the teams down and explaining how realistic it is for each team to grab that last wild-card spot.
|AFC Playoff Standings|
|2||New England Patriots||11-4|
|5||Kansas City Chiefs||11-4|
|8||San Diego Chargers||8-7|
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8)
The Pittsburgh Steelers have the most unlikely path to the playoffs of the four teams. The thrilling victory over the Green Bay Packers kept them alive, but the Steelers are still just 7-8, and a few things are going to need to happen for them to get into the playoffs at 8-8.
The first thing the Steelers will need to do is beat the Cleveland Browns. That shouldn't be a problem, but then they are also going to have to hope for the Ravens, Dolphins and Chargers to all lose their games, and considering their matchups, that's not a guarantee.
While I certainly don't think it's impossible for the Steelers to get in, I do think that it's highly unlikely. Starting the season at 0-4 killed their playoff chances early, but somehow they've been able to get back in the race. The team as a whole has looked better over the past few weeks, but those four early losses will likely keep Pittsburgh out of the postseason.
San Diego Chargers (8-7)
Although they don't have as tough of a path as the Steelers, the San Diego Chargers are going to have to hope for some things to go their way in the final week of the season.
While a game against the Kansas City Chiefs would normally frighten teams trying to get into the playoffs, the Chargers might be in good shape. The Chiefs have locked up the No. 5 spot in the AFC, and no matter what they do in the last game, their seeding won't change. This means that they could be playing their backups, giving the Chargers a shot at winning this week.
If they can get the win, the Chargers will have to wait and see if the Ravens and Dolphins both lose. If both teams do fall, the Chargers would be the third team to represent the AFC West in this year's playoffs.
But there's no guarantee that the Chiefs lay back and take a loss in the final week of the season, and the Chargers still would have to bank on two losses. Their chances aren't bad, but they certainly aren't ideal, and I think they fall just short.
Baltimore Ravens (8-7)
The Ravens were in great shape to grab the last playoff spot heading into Week 16, but a 41-7 loss means that they are no longer in charge of their own destiny.
Instead, the Ravens will have to win a very tough game against the Cincinnati Bengals in the final week of the season. The Bengals won't be resting their starters, either, as there's still a possibility that they can grab a first-round bye with a win and a loss from the New England Patriots.
If they can find a way to get the win, all the Ravens will need is for either the Chargers or Dolphins to lose and they will be in. It's wild to think that the defending Super Bowl champions might not even make the playoffs, but that's where the Ravens are right now. If they want to have a shot, then their offense is going to have to step up, and Joe Flacco will need to make some big plays.
While they might have the toughest matchup of the week, I think that the Ravens have a good shot at winning, and I have them representing the AFC North with the final playoff spot.
Miami Dolphins (8-7)
Currently the No. 6 team in the AFC, the Dolphins are still in the playoff hunt Considering all of the drama surrounding this team in regards to the situation between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, this is a minor miracle.
But the season isn't over yet, and the Dolphins have one big game left against the New York Jets. While the Jets haven't always played well this season, they've had flashes of greatness at times and have the potential to get hot in any game. The Jets have a strong defense, and considering the Dolphins just gave up seven sacks this past week, this could be a real problem.
However, with the win, the Dolphins would still have to pull for either a loss from the Ravens or a win by the Chargers in order to get in.
Personally, I think that the Ravens take the last spot, but the Dolphins have looked good recently with the exception of the game against the Buffalo Bills, and they could come away with the wild-card berth.