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AFC Week Fourteen Playoff Picture: Colts Now the Projected Third Seed

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We take a weekly look at the AFC playoff picture.

Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

Just three weeks remain in the NFL regular season - something that seems pretty hard to believe, as this season has gone by pretty quickly.  But seeing as there are only three weeks remaining, the playoff picture is really starting to take shape, though at the same time there are several teams still fighting for a spot.

This weekend, three of the four division leaders face a "win and you're in" scenario in which they can each clinch their division.  The New England Patriots, who host the Miami Dolphins, would clinch the AFC East title if they win.  The Denver Broncos, who travel to face the San Diego Chargers, would clinch the AFC West title if they win.  And the Indianapolis Colts, who host the Houston Texans, would clinch the AFC South title if they win.  In other words, there's a real chance that we could have three of the four division leaders decided by the end of week fifteen.  The only other division is the AFC North, in which all four teams are still alive for a playoff spot and a division that could very well come down to the final week of the season.

With the Colts winning and the Bengals losing last weekend, Indy has taken over the third seed in the AFC playoff race and they control their own destiny when it comes to that spot.  Why is that significant?  Because it's likely that the Patriots will get the number one overall seed in the AFC playoff field, giving them home field advantage.  I've written before that perhaps the biggest obstacle to a Colts' playoff run would be traveling to New England, and if the Colts are the third seed and the Patriots the first seed, there is no way the Colts could go to New England for the divisional round.  If the Colts were to win in the wild card round, they would travel to Denver in the divisional round instead of New England.  Still tough, absolutely, but not quite as tough as a trip to New England would be (though the Patriots would still hold home field advantage for the AFC Championship game should it get to that point).  That's really why the third seed would be so significant.  If the Colts got the fourth seed, they would need the wild card team to beat the third seed to prevent a trip to New England in the divisional round should they win.

Even though the Colts rose to the third seed this week from the fourth seed, the projected matchup is still the same as it was a week ago, thanks to the Chargers falling from the projected fifth seed to the projected sixth seed after their loss to the Patriots.  So as it stands right now, the Chargers would travel to Indy and the Steelers would travel to Cincinnati in the wild card round of the playoffs, with the Patriots and Broncos getting byes.

Of course, while the possibility is there of three of the four division leaders clinching this weekend, there will still be quite a bit left to be figured out over the remaining three weeks of the season.

Complete AFC Playoff Picture - Week Fourteen:

First Round Bye:

1.  New England Patriots (10-3)

2.  Denver Broncos (10-3)

Other Division Leaders:

3.  Indianapolis Colts (9-4)

4.  Cincinnati Bengals (8-4-1)

Wild Card:

5.  Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5)

6.  San Diego Chargers (8-5)

In the Hunt:

7.  Baltimore Ravens (8-5)

8.  Houston Texans (7-6)

9.  Miami Dolphins (7-6)

10.  Kansas City Chiefs (7-6)

11.  Buffalo Bills (7-6)

12.  Cleveland Browns (7-6)

Eliminated:

New York Jets (2-11)

Tennessee Titans (2-11)

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11)

Oakland Raiders (2-11)