The Colts did exactly what they needed to at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. They got a great win and put themselves back atop the AFC South with a chance to go into Houston and cement it further. With the playoff picture slowing beginning to come into focus, let’s take a look at how things stand around the AFC.
1st Seed – New England Patriots (9-1)
The road to the Super Bowl seems as if it is primed to go through Foxboro yet again. The Patriots boast a very good defense that has showcased its ability against lesser offenses throughout the season. The back stretch of their schedule should be telling about how good this team really is, but it would be surprising to see them fall out of a first-round bye situation given the schedule they face.
2nd Seed – Baltimore Ravens (8-2)
Perhaps the most exciting team in football right now, the Ravens have been electric this season and Lamar Jackson has shut up all but the most stubborn and illogical critics. He is making a strong bid for MVP, and made a very good Patriots defense look inept and slow. This team is playing a different style of football, and have put themselves in a good spot to secure a first-round bye.
3rd Seed – Indianapolis Colts (6-4)
After Sunday’s win over Jacksonville and the Texans’ crushing loss to Baltimore, the Colts hold the lead in the division. If they can beat the Texans on Thursday Night Football, they’ll be in great shape, and they’ll host the Titans the following week in a game that could really lock down the division lead. With their receivers getting healthier and their rookies beginning to emerge as contributors, this could be a team that hits its stride at the right time to make some noise.
4th Seed – Kansas City Chiefs (6-4)
The Chiefs managed to weather the storm that was the injury to Patrick Mahomes, and came through on the other side still atop their division. That’s a place that is far from secure, with the Oakland Raiders hot on their heels, but they’ll have a winnable schedule to close out the season and will face the Raiders in two weeks in a game that could decide the division winner. With such a high-powered offense, it is tough to see this Chiefs team not playing meaningful football in January.
5th Seed - Buffalo Bills (7-3)
Are the Bills as good as their record? That depends on who you ask. What we’ll get to see though, is how they hold up against top teams down the stretch. They’ll face the Ravens at home as well as the Patriots in Foxboro before this season is through, and the results will tell if they really belong. Given the teams they face apart from those two, however, it seems unlikely they will fall completely flat and miss out on the playoffs. This is a team that seems like a lock for a wildcard spot.
6th Seed – Houston Texans (6-4)
The Texans might be the team whose flaws finally become too great to overcome. They have struggled on defense in 2019, and the loss of J.J. Watt is one that will undoubtedly catch up to them late in the season. They were absolutely demolished by the Ravens, and have very little room for error with a tough slate of games ahead. They’ll host the Colts on Thursday night and if they lose that game, they are in real trouble as they’ll follow it up with the Patriots. The pressure is on, and teams like the Raiders and Titans are hanging out on the fringe, hoping for a chance to bump them off. Since both games against the Titans are still in front of them, that makes keeping their one game lead even more critical.
Outside Looking In
The Raiders have been a bit of a surprise this season. Jon Gruden despite his cartoonish and awful mannerisms on Hard Knocks, has demonstrated himself to be a solid coach and has led a relatively rough group to a disciplined and successful season. They are scrappy, tough, and aren’t going anywhere soon. With a win over the Colts and a relatively easy schedule ahead, the Raiders are very much alive in the playoff picture.
Another team with a win over the Colts that could bite them, the Steelers have managed to crank up their turnover factory of a defense and have themselves on the precipice of the playoffs. If the Colts falter Thursday, it opens the door for both the Raiders and the Steelers to secure a better chance at the playoffs. The issue for the Steelers is that they simply don’t have a good offense. They’ll face a few tough teams over the remainder of the season, and it seems unlikely they can keep producing on defense at the rate they have been. If they can, the Colts may end up regretting that loss even more.
A long shot to make the playoffs, the Titans are by no means out of it. They won in a surprising upset over the Chiefs, and face a winnable schedule down the stretch. They have 4 division games ahead still, and winning all those would put them in a strong position. There isn’t much wiggle room for them to be less than excellent in December, but they should not be overlooked.
For the NFL’s tiebreaking procedures, head here.