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NFL Playoff Picture: Colts hold on to number four seed in advance of huge AFC South matchup

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Taking a weekly look at the AFC playoff picture.

Jim Steve-USA TODAY Sports

If you entered week 14 hoping for more clarity in the AFC playoff race, you are probably disappointed.  We again saw shuffling at the top in the AFC seeding and didn't get much further into looking for the answers to the playoff race, instead having things become much more confusing.

The Patriots are back at the number one seed after a brief drop a week ago to the three seed, thanks to their convincing win over the Texans and the Bengals and Broncos both losing.  Cincinnati still is in line to get a first round bye, but they are in serious trouble with quarterback Andy Dalton now injured and potentially out for the rest of the season.  The Broncos lost an ugly game to the Raiders in which they gave up just 126 yards of total offense to Oakland's offense (remind me again why it's such an easy decision to start Brock Osweiler, whose team has averaged 19 points per game in his four starts, over Peyton Manning once 18 is healthy?).

Those three teams are still working things out as it pertains to the first round bye, and while it seems like the Patriots once again are the best of the best in the conference, the number two seed could go either way.  Actually, it's still not impossible (though unlikely) that either the Bengals or Broncos don't even win their division if their struggles continue.  Again, it's unlikely, but we've seen crazier things happen.

Speaking of crazy, that's one word to describe this year's AFC South (another would be pathetic, or terrible, or... you get the idea).  The Colts have lost back-to-back games by 35 points yet remain in first place because the Texans have failed to capitalize.  In each of the last two weeks, the Texans could have taken the top spot in the division with a win - and they lost both times.  That leaves the Colts and the Texans both at 6-7 and with the Colts holding the tiebreaker.  It all continues to point to this Sunday's game in Indianapolis as massive, one that very well could decide the division winner.  And at this point, it basically seems like either the Colts or the Texans will win the division and then the other will be sitting at home after missing the playoffs entirely.  We can't rule out the Jaguars either, but a bad loss to the Titans in week 13 could come back to hurt them, as they would now need a lot of help to win the division and it is unlikely to happen.

If the playoffs started today, the Colts would host the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, with one of the hottest teams in the NFL coming to Indianapolis.  After a 1-5 start, the Chiefs have now won seven in a row to place themselves firmly in the playoff discussion.  As long as they keep winning, they should have the five seed (at worst) and a trip to either Indy or Houston.  At this point, it would be a trip to Indianapolis for a rematch of one of the most stunning and memorable playoff results in recent memory, a 28-point Colts comeback in January of 2014.

The second wild card spot would currently go to the New York Jets, leaving the Pittsburgh Steelers - potentially one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL - at home for the playoffs.  There's still a few weeks left to go, but it's crazy to think that the Steelers might actually need help to get in the playoffs.  That's the current situation, however, as the Steelers would be the seventh seed if the playoffs started today and would be watching from home.

1.  New England Patriots (11-2)

2.  Cincinnati Bengals (10-3)

3.  Denver Broncos (10-3)

4.  Indianapolis Colts (6-7)

5.  Kansas City Chiefs (8-5)

6.  New York Jets (8-5)

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7.  Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5)

8.  Oakland Raiders (6-7)

9.  Buffalo Bills (6-7)

10.  Houston Texans (6-7)

11.  Miami Dolphins (5-7)

12.  Jacksonville Jaguars (5-8)

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ELIMINATED:


Tennessee Titans (3-10)