A paltry amount of talent in the AFC this year is leading up to a surprisingly interesting race for the fourth and sixth playoff seeds. A once sizzling hot Kansas City Chiefs team has frozen as the weather has progressed with the season. Losing five of their last six, the AFC West finds itself wide open with the Chiefs at 6-5 and the Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers sitting just one game behind. A mass of 5-6 teams find themselves scrapping for the final wild card spot thanks to the inconsistencies of the 6-5 Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens. Anything can happen down the stretch, possibly even a team that started with four straight losses rebounding for the playoffs.
Analyzing the Current AFC Playoff Picture
Kansas City Chiefs (6-5)
Remaining Schedule: at Jets (4-7), vs Raiders (5-6), vs Chargers (5-6), vs Dolphins (4-7), at Broncos (3-8)
Projected Record: 10-6
Despite entering as a nine point favorite on Sunday, the Chiefs lost their fifth game of their last six in a disastrous stretch. Many expected the Chiefs offense to get back on track against a reeling Bills defense that had allowed 45 points per game in the three weeks prior. However, the Chiefs offense had a horrendous output with just 236 total yards and went an alarming 2/13 on third downs.
The Chiefs have a relatively easy remaining schedule, and don’t face a single team with a winning record. However, their midseason bump leaves the AFC West wide open after they had presumably sealed it back in week five when they were undefeated. This makes their two home games against the Raiders and Chargers must wins. The two suddenly recharged teams have won three of their last five and five of their last seven respectfully.
Los Angeles Chargers (5-6)
Remaining Schedule: vs Browns (0-11), vs Redskins (5-6), at Chiefs (6-5), at Jets (4-7), vs Raiders (5-6)
Projected Record: 10-6
After winning five of their last seven games, the Chargers look to be the first team to make the playoffs after starting 0-4 since they did it back in 1992. They’re a team that’s starting to heat up, thanks to a rolling Philip Rivers and a very underrated defense. In the past seven games, Rivers has 14 touchdowns to three interceptions. This is coming off of an MVP-like performance against the Cowboys with 434 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. An exceptional defensive line and solid secondary has led the defense to be sixth in points against, tied for third in interceptions and tied for fourth in sacks.
Buffalo Bills (6-5)
Remaining Schedule: vs Patriots (9-2), vs Colts (3-8), vs Dolphins (4-7), at Patriots (9-2), at Dolphins (4-7)
Projected Record: 9-7
After the disastrous Nathan Peterman experiment, the Bills were able to rebound somewhat with a victory over the stumbling Chiefs. For a team notoriously known for blowing hot early season starts, this was a big win to restore a little bit of faith for Bills Mafia. A defense that went from top ten conversations to worst in the league over the previous three games regained a little bit of ground against a stagnant Chiefs offense.
The jury is still out on Buffalo who’s currently tied for the sixth and final spot, even though the Baltimore Ravens own the tiebreaker. It’s known what the offense can do with a steady 17-24 points per game, not much more and not much less. The path to the playoffs for Buffalo depends on the consistency of the defense. The defense from last week and the beginning of the season will give Buffalo their first playoff appearance in 17 years. However, a return to the form that precipitated their three-game skid will quickly eliminate the Bills from postseason contention.
Baltimore Ravens (6-5)
Remaining Schedule: vs Lions (6-5), at Steelers (9-2), at Browns (0-11), vs Colts (3-8), vs Bengals (5-6)
Projected Record: 8-8
This Ravens team just struggled to survive a one possession game against a Houston Texans team led by Tom Savage. Their highly touted defense has played just four top 15 defenses, allowing 27.5 points per game throughout those four games. The number is skewed from the recent Texans game who have the sixth most points per game thanks to the fiery start by Deshaun Watson.
If you take out the outlying game against Savage and the Texans, Baltimore is allowing 31.3 points per game to top 15 offenses. None of those offenses find themselves in the top seven of the league. Baltimore is going to struggle with the Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers, and likely drop a must have win in the last three weeks of the season.
Oakland Raiders (5-6)
Remaining Schedule: vs Giants (2-9), at Chiefs (6-5), vs Cowboys (5-6), at Eagles (10-1), at Chargers (5-6)
Projected Record: 7-9
The Raiders entered the season as the AFC West favorites after finishing 12-4 last year. Their wildly inconsistent season hasn’t seen a quality win against a legitimate opponent since week one against the Tennessee Titans. Without the elite quarterback play from Derek Carr that we saw prior to his injury, the Raiders have struggled to find wins. Marshawn Lynch has come in and served largely as a bust with just 45 yards per game and five touchdowns which has led to the Raiders poorly ranked rushing game. The Raiders are likely all but eliminated with a tough three-game stretch that involves road trips to Kansas City and the Philadelphia Eagles as well as home game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Cincinnati Bengals (5-6)
Remaining Schedule: vs Steelers (9-2), vs Bears (3-8), at Vikings (9-2), vs Lions (6-5), at Ravens (5-5)
Projected Record: 6-10
Despite what appears to be a recent resurgence by the Bengals with a 5-3 record in the past eight, it is necessary to read deeper. Two of their five wins have come against a winless Cleveland Browns team, another against an inconsistent Bills team, and two three win teams in the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos. To this point in the season, the Bengals are 0-4 against teams with winning records and have four games to go against such teams. The Bengals season is all but dead; they lack the talent needed to make the playoffs in a weak AFC. The lack of their oft-injured, first round playmaking threat has been felt in Cincinnati, as they’re tied for 26th in 20+ yard pass plays with 25.
Projected AFC Playoff Seeds
1.) AFC East – New England Patriots
2.) AFC North – Pittsburgh Steelers
3.) AFC South – Tennessee Titans/Jacksonville Jaguars
4.) AFC West – Kansas City Chiefs
5.) Wild Card – Jacksonville Jaguars/Tennessee Titans
6.) Wild Card – Los Angeles Chargers
7.) Buffalo Bills
8.) Baltimore Ravens
9.) Oakland Raiders
10.) Cincinnati Bengals