NFL Predictions: Projecting How the AFC Playoffs Will Play out

Scott SewellCorrespondent IOctober 20, 2011

NFL Predictions: Projecting How the AFC Playoffs Will Play out

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    The race for the AFC playoffs is shaping up to be almost as exciting as the 2011 MLB pennant races.

    Teams that have struggled for a decade (Oakland)—or even decades (Cincinnati)—could be battling with playoff mainstays (Pittsburgh and New York) to snag one of the two wild-card spots.

    Let's go through the schedule week-by-week and see how this could play out.

    We're going to make ten assumptions before we jump in.

    1. New England will win the AFC East
    2. Baltimore will win the AFC North
    3. Houston will win the AFC South
    4. San Diego will win the AFC West
    5. Miami Dolphins will not make the playoffs 
    6. Cleveland Browns will not make the playoffs
    7. Jacksonville Jaguars will not make the playoffs
    8. Indianapolis Colts will not make the playoffs
    9. Kansas City Chiefs will not make the playoffs
    10. Denver Broncos will not make the playoffs

    The only assumption that I don't feel entirely comfortable with is discounting Denver after only five games. The AFC West is very weak, and Tim Tebow could be a difference maker. They probably won't make the playoffs, but I won't be surprised if Tebow is able to bring winning back to Denver this season. 

    That leaves six teams for two spots:

    Buffalo Bills (4-2)
    New York Jets (3-3)
    Cincinnati Bengals (4-2)
    Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2)
    Tennessee Titans (3-2)
    Oakland Raiders (4-2)

    Let's look at the remaining schedules and do some projections for each team.

Buffalo Bills

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    The Bills are currently 4-2.

     

    Remaining Schedule with Predictions

    vs Washington (WIN) 5-2.
    vs New York Jets (LOSS) 5-3.
    @ Dallas (LOSS) 5-4.
    @ Miami (WIN) 6-4.
    @ New York Jets (LOSS) 6-5.
    vs Tennessee (LOSS) 6-6.
    @ San Diego (LOSS) 6-7.
    vs Miami (WIN) 7-7.
    vs Denver (WIN) 8-7.
    @ New England (WIN) 9-7.

     

    Predicted Record 

    9-7.

     

    Key Swing Games

    Jets (2) and New England.

     

    Analysis

    I haven't been a believer of the Bills all season long, and I'm still not now. However, at this point, it's hard to think that they won't at least be in the discussion towards the end of the season.

    If the Patriots choose to rest their starters in Week 17, then the Bills have a legitimate shot at finishing above .500.  

    If they can steal a game from the Jets, then they have a legitimate shot at the playoffs.

New York Jets

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    The Jets are currently 3-3.

     

    Remaining Schedule with Predictions

    vs San Diego (WIN) 4-3.
    @ Buffalo (WIN) 5-3.
    vs New England (LOSS) 5-4.
    @ Denver (WIN) 6-4.
    vs Buffalo (WIN) 7-4.
    @ Washington (WIN) 8-4.
    vs Kansas City (WIN) 9-4.
    @ Philadelphia (LOSS) 9-5.
    vs New York Giants (WIN) 10-5.
    @ Miami (WIN) 11-5.

     

    Predicted Record

    11-5.

     

    Key Swing Games

    Buffalo (2), Philadelphia and Giants.

     

    Analysis

    The two Buffalo games take on an extra level of importance. If the Jets don't sweep them—as I've predicted—then that pushes the Bills up to 10 wins and the Jets down to 10 wins. This could mean a three-way tie for the sixth spot between New York, Buffalo and Oakland.

    All of the NFC East games are tough match-ups, but I think the Jets' stingy defense is about to come back in a big way over the next two weeks, setting the tone for the rest of the season.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    The Bengals are currently 4-2.

     

    Remaining Schedule with Predictions

    @ Seattle (LOSS) 4-3.
    @ Tennessee (WIN) 5-3.
    vs Pittsburgh (WIN) 6-3.
    @ Baltimore (LOSS) 6-4.
    vs Cleveland (WIN) 7-4.
    @ Pittsburgh (LOSS) 7-5.
    vs Houston (LOSS) 7-6.
    @ St. Louis (LOSS) 7-7.
    vs Arizona (WIN) 8-7.
    vs Baltimore (LOSS) 8-8.

     

    Predicted Record

    8-8.

     

    Key Swing Games

    Houston, Tennessee and St. Louis.

     

    Analysis

    As a Bengals fan, I'm basing my projections on the 20 years of losing that I've experienced. That being said, something does feel a little different about the organization this season. Perhaps they are too young to know that they are supposed to fall apart in clutch situations?

    It's tough to get too carried away with wins over four teams that are a combined 7-16 in 2011. So I'm going to stick with my instinct, which is that they have played an easy schedule and will be beaten handily a few times this season, ultimately finishing with the "Marvin Lewis Special" at 8-8.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Steelers are currently 4-2.

     

    Remaining Schedule with Predictions

    @ Arizona (WIN) 5-2.
    vs New England (LOSS) 5-3.
    vs Baltimore (LOSS) 5-4.
    @ Cincinnati (LOSS) 5-5.
    @ Kansas City (WIN) 6-5.
    vs Cincinnati (WIN) 7-5.
    vs Cleveland (WIN) 8-5.
    @ San Francisco (WIN) 9-5.
    vs St Louis (WIN) 10-5.
    @ Cleveland (WIN) 11-5.

     

    Predicted Record

    11-5.

     

    Key Swing Games

    San Francisco, Baltimore and Cincinnati (2).

     

    Analysis

    I have them splitting with Cincinnati. It's a heated rivalry and normally doesn't go according to plan. Pittsburgh could easily sweep a young and inexperienced Cincinnati team, which will put them in position to possibly win the division.

    San Francisco is the big x-factor game. If they go to San Francisco and lose, then they drop back to the pack and open things up for Oakland to sneak their way to the playoffs.

Tennessee Titans

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    The Titans are currently 3-2.

     

    Remaining Schedule with Predictions

    vs Houston (LOSS) 3-3.
    vs Indianapolis (LOSS) 3-4.
    vs Cincinnati (LOSS) 3-5.
    @ Carolina (WIN) 4-5.
    @ Atlanta (LOSS) 4-6.
    vs Tampa Bay (LOSS) 4-7.
    @ Buffalo (WIN) 5-7.
    vs New Orleans (LOSS) 5-8.
    @ Indianapolis (WIN) 6-8.
    vs Jacksonville (WIN) 7-8.
    @ Houston (LOSS) 7-9.

     

    Predicted Record

    7-9.

     

    Key Swing Games

    Cincinnati, Buffalo and Indianapolis.

     

    Analysis

    I could see the Titans actually ending up 5-11 or 6-10. Indianapolis isn't going to lose all of their games this season, and I could see them sweeping one of the teams in their division. The one-dimensional Titans make a perfect candidate.

    The big tests for Tennessee will be if they can take care of business against Cincinnati and Buffalo—two teams that are fighting for playoff berths themselves.

    I don't think they will.

Oakland Raiders

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    The Raiders are currently 4-2.

     

    Remaining Schedule with Predictions

    vs Kansas City (LOSS) 4-3.
    vs Denver (WIN) 5-3.
    @ San Diego (LOSS) 5-4.
    @ Minnesota (WIN) 6-4.
    vs Chicago (LOSS) 6-5.
    @ Miami (LOSS) 6-6.
    @ Green Bay (LOSS) 6-7.
    vs Detroit (WIN) 7-7.
    @ Kansas City (WIN) 8-7.
    vs San Diego (WIN) 9-7.

     

    Predicted Record

    9-7.

     

    Key Swing Games

    Kansas City, Miami and Detroit.

     

    Analysis

    The Raiders are going to have some turnovers against Kansas City this week. Carson Palmer hasn't played since the end of last season, and he's even admitted to falling behind on his training regimen once the season started. An already turnover-prone quarterback is going to be rusty, and that's not a good combination.

    The cross-country away games always produce surprising results. The Raiders will be pressing for a victory, and Miami won't have anything to lose when they meet in Week 13.

    Similarly, the Detroit game in Week 15 provides a chance for them to steal a win against a team making the cross-country trip out west.

    If those games swing in the Raiders' direction, they could end up as good as 11-5, which would get them in the playoff discussion. If they lose any of those games, they likely won't make the playoffs.

2011 AFC Playoff Bracket

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    1. New England (bye).
    2. Baltimore (bye). 

    4. Houston.
    5. New York Jets.

    3. San Diego.
    6. Pittsburgh.

     

    Analysis

    Possible match-ups of Pittsburgh vs. New England and Baltimore vs New York Jets, set the stage for an epic second round.