Thursday, November 17, 2011

AFC Playoff Picture

After taking a look at the NFC Playoff Picture earlier in the week, I will now delve into the AFC. The AFC is much different than it used to be, as the Colts, Steelers, and Patriots are no longer as dominant as they used to be. The Colts have been a mainstay in the AFC playoffs for a decade, but hey, you lose a guy like Peyton Manning and you're team will not be nearly as competitive. With that being said, there are just 4 teams that I can safely say are out of the playoffs. The entire AFC West is up for grabs, while the two Wild Cards will probably be produced from the AFC East or North. Tonight, the Jets play the Broncos, which will is a very important game for both teams. The Jets need to avoid losing their second straight, while the Broncos hope the Tim Tebow show has only begun.

I will use the same structure again, ranking each team in order of the likelihood they make the playoffs.

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3) - Picking a top team was almost impossible. There is no team that is definitely into the postseason even after ten weeks, but the Steelers are the closest to it. The Steelers have lost two to the Ravens, but they will probably be okay considering the rest of their schedule. Winning 4 of their last 6 will get them in easily, and I think they will do that.

Chances of making postseason: 95%

3 Toughest Games: @KC, CIN, @SF

2. New England Patriots (6-3) - The Pats are in good position considering the Jets and Bills aren't playing their best football right now. They have the inside track to the AFC East crown and have a cake-walk of a schedule. The Patriots lost a game to the Steelers, so it will be an interesting race to get home-field advantage in the AFC.

Chances of making postseason: 95%

3 Toughest Games: @PHI, @DEN, BUF

3. Houston Texans (7-3) - The Texans would have been the first ranked team here, if it weren't for the injury to Matt Schaub. With Mario Williams and now Schaub out for the season, this team will have to regroup dramatically. Good news is that Andre Johnson will be back in action in Week 12 (after the bye) against Jacksonville, providing new QB Matt Leinart a go-to option. With Arian Foster and Ben Tate leading the most talented running attack in the game, the Texans will hold off the Titans for the AFC South title.

Chances of making postseason: 90%

3 Toughest Games: ATL, @CIN, TEN

4. Baltimore Ravens: The Eagles are definitely the most disappointing team this season, but the Ravens are probably the most confusing. After demolishing the Steelers in Week 1, they travelled to Tennessee and were doubled up 26-13. Blips like that happen, so I discounted it as a one-time thing. Then the Ravens went out and beat the Jets and the Texans in consecutive games, before losing to the Jaguars in Week 7. To make matters even worse, the Ravens beat the Steelers again in Week 9 and then followed it up with a loss to the Seattle Seahawks. No team has been so up and down as the Ravens this year. The combined record of the teams they beat is: 31-26 (counting the Steelers twice). The record of the teams they lost to? 11-16. Not good to see from a team that many picked to play in the Superbowl. With their struggles against bad teams, the Ravens should be in the postseason, as long as they can split with Cincinnati and take care of the other winnable games. The Ravens need to win 4 more games at least to contend for the Wild Card, with 5 necessary for the division.

Chances of making postseason: 75%

3 Toughest Games: CIN, SF, @CIN

5. New York Jets (5-4) - The Jets are coming off of a disappointing loss to the Patriots and look destined for the Wild Card race. With so many teams in the race, the Jets will have a tough time beating out the likes of the Ravens/Steelers, Bengals, Bills. The Jets have an okay schedule remaining, but winning tonight is a must. Rex Ryan & Co. will need to win 5 of their last 7 to get to 10-6.

Chances of making postseason: 60%

3 Toughest Games: @DEN, @PHI, NYG

6. Oakland Raiders (5-4) - Somebody's gotta win the AFC West right? The Raiders are in the best position to take the division considering the other three teams are all a game back from Oakland in the standings. The schedule isn't favorable, but it's not going to take a great record to take this division. A 9-7 record will probably do it, which the Raiders have the ability to do. There are two fairly soft games on the schedule, starting this week against Minnesota.

Chances of making postseason: 40%

3 Toughest Games: CHI, @GB, DET

7. Cincinnati Bengals (6-3) - The surprise team of the AFC, the Bengals have a tough road to the playoffs; however, if the very good Cincinnati defense can keep dominating, Andy Dalton can lead this team to victories. Cincannti gave Pittsburgh a fit last week and the Bengals look to do so again against the Ravens on Sunday. The remaining schedule is tough, but it will be interesting to see if the Bengals can stick around in the playoff race. They seem to win the games that they are expected to and compete in those they are underdogs. That's the recipe of a solid football team that can catch fire at any time.

Chances of making postseason: 40%

8. Buffalo Bills (5-4) - The Bills quickly won the hearts of America in the first three weeks, knocking off the Chiefs, Raiders and Patriots. Since then, the Bills are 2-4 and have been blown out the last two weeks by the Jets and Cowboys. The Bills need to win 5 of their last 7 in order to have a shot at the Wild Card and it doesn't seem likely. Miami has really played better of late and unfortunately for Buffalo, they play the Dolphins twice more this season.

Chances of making postseason: 25%

3 Toughest Games: @NYJ, @SD, @NE

9. Tennessee Titans (5-4) - The Titans are playing better as of late, mostly due to the emergence of their running game. The offensive line and Chris Johnson did not play well the first half of the season and the Titans struggled to move the ball down the field. Johnson has put up better numbers as of late, but do they have enough to catch the Texans? The Titans have a better chance of hoping the Texans falter without Schaub, but at least they have a shot.

Chances of making postseason: 20%

3 Toughest Games: @ATL, NO, @HOU

10. Denver Broncos (4-5) - You could put the Chargers or Chiefs here too, but I'm just going by remaining schedule. The AFC West is really a toss up at this point, but the Broncos have won 3 of 4 and have reason to believe in themselves. John Fox has really gotten the running game going with the Tebow Option playbook in full effect. The Broncos have a tough game against the Jets tonight, followed by an important divisional matchup next week against the Chargers.

Chances of making postseason: 20%

3 Toughest Games: NYJ, CHI, NE

11. San Diego Chargers (4-5) - The Chargers can't seem to ever come through, despite putting together one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. Rivers has played awful the past few weeks, but I expect him to get better. Still it's a longshot they make the playoffs based on their inability to win close games.

Chances of making postseason: 20%

3 Toughest Games: @CHI, BAL, @DET

12. Kansas City Chiefs (4-5) - The Chiefs have lost their most talented players on both the offense and defense (Charles and Berry), but they were able to win some games in October to bounce back. They face the improbable task of winning with a backup quarterback, now that Matt Cassel is likely out for awhile. The Chiefs will need to run the ball better and open up the passing game with their talented receivers, but it's highly unlikely they make the playoffs.

Chances of making postseason: 20%

3 Toughest Games: @NE, PIT, GB (Also have games against CHI and NYJ on the road)

So there are the 12 teams that I give a chance to make the playoffs. The AFC West will be an interesting race, as will the Wild Card race. It's going to be a fun seven weeks and there is a lot to look forward to. Here are the last 4 teams ranked based on the probability they make the playoffs.

13. Jacksonville
14. Miami
15. Cleveland
16. Indianapolis

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