AFC Playoff Projections: Can Kansas City Knock Denver to a Wildcard Game?
By Jason Lisk
The bye weeks are about over (only Pittsburgh and Carolina this week), and 12 AFC teams realistically have hope of a playoff appearance with some good results down the stretch.
Not all teams–or closing schedules–are created equal, however. Who projects to have the best chance at the postseason? Here is a breakdown of each team by division.
New England (12.0 projected wins): Sunday could not have gone any better for the Patriots. They beat the Colts on the road to push them down to 4 losses, and Denver lost. New England has that loss to Kansas City that could still come into play, but it may not matter. Other than a road game at Green Bay, they will be favored, sometimes heavily, in all remaining games. Only a home upset to the Dolphins could upset the outlook.
Miami (9.7 projected wins): The Dolphins close with the Vikings and Jets at home, but can they get there with reasonable playoff hopes still alive? Games at Denver, at New England, and at home against Baltimore will decide their fate. Miami needs at least one of those.
Buffalo (7.7 projected wins): There’s always next year in Buffalo, after that two game stretch of losses to Kansas City and Miami. Road games at both Denver and New England, and a date with Green Bay, make a surge less likely.
Denver (11.1 projected wins): Denver comes in barely ahead of Kansas City in projected wins, but it likely comes down to the showdown at Arrowhead in two weeks. A Denver win would clinch the tiebreaker and make them heavy favorites; a Kansas City win would swing the odds.
Kansas City (10.9 projected wins): The Chiefs have two games against Oakland to buffer an otherwise tough schedule against other contenders, none bigger than against Denver at home.
San Diego (8.6 projected wins): The Chargers will be an underdog in the final five games (at BAL, DEN, NE, at SF, at KC) so a home game against the Rams this week is “must-win”.
Indianapolis (10.2 projected wins): The Colts blew a big opportunity, and would have been the favorites for the #1 seed if they could have defeated the Patriots. The only remaining game against a team with a winning record is at Dallas. This only gets interesting if Houston can win on the road in Indianapolis.
Houston (8.7 projected wins): Can Houston get on a roll? Sunday’s win was pretty big. They now have three of their final six against Tennessee and Jacksonville, and also get Cincinnati and Baltimore, two teams they are chasing for a potential wildcard spot, at home.
Pittsburgh (9.8 projected wins): Pittsburgh and Baltimore are done playing. Pittsburgh has a slight advantage because Baltimore got swept by Cincinnati, if it goes to a tiebreaker. The Steelers have played to the level of the competition, and close with five games that should be near-toss ups, including two key games against the Bengals, against the two NFC South “leaders” and the Chiefs at home. Can they win 3 of 5?
Baltimore (9.8 projected wins): Baltimore, unlike the other AFC North teams, still has their game against Jacksonville, at home, coming. That’s part of why they project so highly. They then need to win 3 of 5 in road games at New Orleans, Miami, and Houston, and home games against Cleveland and San Diego. One silver lining of getting swept by the Bengals. Because of the Cincinnati tie, it likely won’t come into play as a tiebreaker. (If Cincinnati had won that game at the end, much different story).
Cincinnati (9.1 projected wins): Cincinnati has only two home games in the last six, but one of those is Denver, who should have plenty to play for in week 16. That’s part of the reason why they do not project as highly even though they are currently leading the division by percentage. The games against Pittsburgh will be huge.
Cleveland (8.7 projected wins): The Browns blew it. Cleveland also has only two remaining home games, and the easiest part of the schedule is now behind them. They must win at least one of the next two on the road to have a chance entering the home stretch, and keep hope alive going into that week 17 road game at Baltimore.
#1 Seed: New England (12-4)
#2 Seed: Kansas City (11-5) [over Denver on division or common games tiebreaker]
#3 Seed: Pittsburgh (10-6) [over Baltimore on division or common games or conference tiebreaker, over Indy on H2H]
#4 Seed: Indianapolis (10-6)
#5 Seed: Denver (11-5)
#6 Seed: Miami (10-6) [over Baltimore, also at 10-6, on H2H]