The AFC Playoff Picture: El Mustachio's Week 15 Picks

4 Sport BostonCorrespondent IDecember 18, 2009

(Originally posted on )

Just because you just got knocked out of one of your fantasy leagues doesn’t mean the season is over. At least that’s what I’m telling myself this week. Many of you are probably saying the same thing. 

Fortunately for all of us, this is the fifth most exciting season in NFL history. I base this on the fact that 24 teams still have playoff hopes. Only eight teams have been eliminated with three weeks to go, the fifth fewest since 16-game seasons began in 1978. Nice stat, . Tie that into two teams remaining undefeated and we have a fantastic last few weeks ahead of us.

One of those teams, the Indianapolis Colts, has already won their matchup in Week 15.  We watched Peyton conduct another fourth-quarter comeback against the Jags, setting Jacksonville’s playoff hopes back, and moving them one airline ticket closer to becoming the Los Angeles Jaguars of Anaheim.

Rather than breakdown individual matchups this week, I’m going to look at the AFC playoff picture and explain how I think things will shape up for the rest of the season.

AFC West

Indy has clinched their division and home-field advantage in the conference. They’ll have a bye week in the first round and, provided they can keep their head in the game for the next four weeks, will be tough to beat at home in January.

San Diego hasn’t quite clinched the West, but can this weekend with a win and a Denver loss. Unfortunately, it likely won’t happen for the sky-blue Chargers this weekend as the Broncos draw the Raiders in Mile High. San Diego has a fairly tough matchup at home against the Bengals. Their remaining games are:

Denver: @PHI, KC

San Diego: @TEN, WAS

My scorecard has both teams winning Week 15, losing Week 16, and winning Week 17, which is good news for the Chargers. However, if Denver takes care of business against the Eagles, and San Diego loses to Cincy , look out! The NFL tie-breaking procedure is hard enough to follow that I have to look up the rules constantly and compare teams’ schedules side by side.

If Denver wins outright, including a victory over Philly, and San Diego loses to Cincinnati and Tennessee, both teams will be 11-5. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head matchups , which the teams split this year. Tiebreaker No. 2 is wins in the division, and both teams took care of business going 5-1 (if it plays out this way). Tiebreaker No. 3 is winning percentage against common opponents.  In this case, the Bengals game and a freak TD at the end of regulation in Week One will be the reason the Broncos win the division. 

If you’ll recall in Week One, Brandon Stokley had an 87-yard TD that was tipped off of a Bengal defender's hands in the final minute of what was, up until that point, the most boring game of the week. If the Chargers lose to Cincy , the Broncos will hold that tiebreaker edge and will win the division.

All of that is pretty interesting—unfortunately for the rest of the AFC it doesn’t quite matter much. Both teams would be in the playoffs at 11-5. Denver just gets the extra home game.

AFC North

Cincy still holds all the cards with a 9-4 season record and an undefeated division record.  All they need to do is win one of the next three games to capture the division title.  Honestly, I don’t think it will be this weekend in San Diego, but it will definitely be next weekend at home against the Chiefs. The "Criminengals " finish off their season in the Meadowlands against the hated New York Jets.

AFC East

Unfortunately, this is really the wild-card division in all this. The Pats are in the driver’s seat with an 8-5 record, but the Jets and Dolphins are both 7-6. Let’s look at the remaining schedules and pick a division winner, shall we?  We shall.

Pats: @BUF , JAX , @HOU

Dolphins: @TEN, HOU , PIT

Jets: ATL , @IND, CIN

At first glance, it appears the Pats have the easiest schedule. However, they do have two road games, and we all know they haven’t fared well on the road this year. They have to win at Buffalo to keep their division record tied with Miami.

If the Dolphins win out, however, and the Pats drop any one of these games, the Dolphins will win the third tiebreaker and the division. In other words, in order to win the division, the Pats must have a better record than the Dolphins and at least the same record as the Jets.

The Jets have it harder. Having been swept by the Dolphins, and finishing the division with a 2-4 record, the Jets won’t win any tie-break scenarios, which means they have to have the best record in the division.

If I am the Jets though, I have to be pleased at my three-week look ahead. Beating the Falcons is not a mystery to anyone and the Jets could be drawing the Colts and Bengals at the best possible time. It’s likely Indy will begin resting players next weekend against the Jets and the Bengals should have their division locked up by Week 17. 

If the Bengals win the next two and Denver loses in either Week 15 or Week 16, Cincy will also have clinched a first-round bye (Denver holds the tiebreaker over Cincy with the previously mentioned Week-One miracle TD.)  In those scenarios, the Jets could come up with victories against better teams, and possibly triumph as the AFC East champs.

So those are the divisions.  As for the wild card, it’s anyone’s guess how this could turn out. With so many division titles still undecided, maybe we can talk about the wild cards again in Week 17. For now, these are the teams that are still in the running and their schedules:

Baltimore: 7-6 CHI, @PIT, @OAK

Jacksonville: 7-7 @NE, @CLE

Pittsburgh: 6-7 GB, BAL , @MIA

Tennessee: 6-7 MIA, SD, @SEA

Houston: 6-7 @STL , @MIA, NE

If I were going to put money down, I’d plan on losing all of it. For now, I’ll just make my picks:

New Orleans over Dallas +7. Nobody beats the Saints in that stadium, not even the worthless Cowboys.

Buffalo +7 over New England. I think the Pats will break their road losing streak this week, but I’m not prepared to give them seven points to go along with it.

Detroit +12 over Arizona. I hate the Cardinals. They do nothing but ruin my "pick’em percentages."

Tennessee over Miami (even). Tough draw for the Dolphins. If I were to pick only one team to win out, I’d take the Titans, who have two home games (against tough teams, however) and a cupcake game against Seattle left. Lookout for the 0-6 Titans everybody.

KC over Cleveland +1.5. Ehh…why not?

Houston over St. Louis (even). This could be their last win of the year.

NYJ over Atlanta (over). As I said, no mystery on how to beat the Falcons.

San Fran +9 over Philly . I hate the Niners like I hate the Cardinals. Eagles win the game.

Baltimore over Chicago +10.5. The Ravens offense woke back up last week and it could be a sign of future success.

Oakland +14 over Denver . Denver wins, but not by 14.

Green Bay +1.5 over Pittsburgh . Really? Pittsburgh is a favorite here?

Seattle over Tampa Bay +7. These two teams came into the league together and faced off completely defeated to that point. This game rivals that first one.

Minnesota over Carolina +9. The Vikings are just too good for the Panthers. When does Brett start resting for the playoffs though?

NYG over Washington +3. This game could be a push. I kind of expect it to go into OT with a Giants victory.

Next week we break down the NFC playoff picture and/or AFC wild card picture, so stay tuned! If I made any errors this week, let me know.


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