AFC Playoff Picture Heading Into Week 13

Will the number 13 be unlucky for your favorite AFC franchise? Entering Week 13 of the NFL season, the playoff landscape is beginning to take shape on the horizon. Each team’s five remaining games will decide the immediate futures of the NFL’s 32 franchises, driving fan-bases into euphoria or insanity.

What can we expect from the remaining slate? Upsets, injuries, and pandemonium certainly, but which teams will come out on top?

In the AFC East, a familiar logo stands alone at the top yet again. At 9-2, New England Patriots have a three-game lead on the Miami Dolphins, and should retain the title Bill Belichick has made a near fixture in owner Bob Craft’s living room for over a decade. All is not lost for the 6-5 Dolphins however, as Miami is currently just one game behind Kansas City, San Diego, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cleveland in the AFC Wild Card race. Heck, the Buffalo Bills are also in the mix at 6-5.

New England is cemented atop the AFC East, yet tough tasks stand in its way. In addition to two homes games against the Bills and Dolphins, Tom Brady’s squad has road contests against Green Bay and San Diego. Left out of the fun are the New York Jets who will continue to be a doormat for Brady to wipe the mud off of his hand-crafted Uggs on. Even if the Patriots manage to drop two of their remaining five games, 12-4 will be more than enough to put New England back on top in the AFC East.

Switching gears to the most competitive division in the game today, a Cincinnati Bengals’ tie stands between Marvin Lewis’s group and the rest of the division, as each of their division-counterparts stand at 7-4. Despite Baltimore’s upset win in New Orleans on Monday Night Football, it is still an uphill battle for those opposing the Bengals.

With an advantage in the loss column and two wins over the Ravens already in the books, the orange and black have a distinct advantage heading into the remainder of their schedule. Three division meetings will decide the future of this bunch, one in Week 15 at Cleveland, at home against the Steelers in Week 14, and in the season finale at Pittsburgh. Should the Bengals take care of business against Tampa Bay, Houston, and split their contests with the Steel Curtain, Cincinnati will have no problem repeating as AFC North champions.

Many expected Andrew Luck’ Colts to run away with the AFC South this season, and yet here they stand at 7-4, two games ahead of the Houston Texans. However, Ryan Mallet’s season-ending pectoral injury will widen this gap in the coming weeks.

Indianapolis has the worst of its schedule in the rear-view mirror as it plays just two teams with winning records in their final five. A win in Week 15 at home versus the Texans would all but wrap up Andrew Luck’s second division crown in as many years.

Luck’s predecessor, Peyton Manning, has not had the picturesque season one can come to expect from the perennial league MVP. After dropping two of their last three on the team’s three-game road trip, the most recent loss a 22-7 drubbing at the hands of the playoff-irrelevant Rams, Manning’s Broncos must regroup if they have a shot at the top seed in the AFC.

In the team’s final five contests, four of which are against teams fighting for playoff spots, and three are division games. Denver will have to win in Kansas City, San Diego, and Cincinnati if it hopes to solidify home-field advantage in the playoffs. The Chiefs loss to Oakland on Thursday night helped solidify Denver’s chances at the top of the division, but from a playoff standpoint Denver faces an uphill battle down the home stretch of the season.

With Week 13 prepared to start on Thanksgiving, the playoff race in the AFC has already begun. If the season were to end today, New England, Denver, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis would gain their division berths, an outcome that likely won’t change over the next month and a half.

Seed Team Record
1 Patriots 9-2
2 Broncos 8-3
3 Bengals 7-3-1
4 Colts 7-4
5 Chiefs 7-4
6 Chargers 7-4
7 Ravens 7-4
8 Steelers 7-4
9 Browns 7-4
10 Dolphins 6-5
11 Bills 6-5

If the Playoffs Started Today (bye week: Patriots and Broncos) 

San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals

Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts

The major uncertainty concerns the remaining wild card berths. Eight teams are currently fighting for two spots in the race for a Super Bowl trophy, with San Diego and Kansas City currently in the respective driver’s seats. Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Baltimore all have strong cases at 7-4 as well with the Dolphins and Bills clinging to hope at 6-5. And herein lies the beauty of the NFL. A six-team race for the AFC Wild Card is in full swing, rejoice football fans, the most wonderful time of the year is here.

Photo: USA Today