Breaking Down the AFC Wildcard Race, Which Now Features a Five-Way Tie

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The lower end of the AFC playoff picture became as clear as mud today. Two teams, Cincinnati and Tennessee, had a chance to put some distance on division rivals in Baltimore and Indianapolis, and instead, we now sit at a five-way tie for the final AFC wildcard spot (with Miami having a bye already at 5-5).

So let’s break down the race for the last spot, because every division leader plus the Los Angeles Chargers have at least a two-game lead on all the 5-5 teams. Meanwhile, Denver also got a big road win and is lurking one game behind now.

Here’s a look at the upcoming schedules and outlook for the contenders:

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

The Colts put together their most complete performance of the season today in blasting the Titans. With Andrew Luck back, they have the most explosive offense of any of the wildcard hopefuls, but also have allowed 249 points in ten games. They are trending in the right direction and have a schedule that is not so difficult that it would prevent a run to the postseason. Because of questions about Joe Flacco’s health, and the fact that other 5-5 teams have a significantly worse point differential, you would have to put the Colts as the favorite.

Remaining schedule:

Miami
at Jacksonville
at Houston
Dallas
NY Giants
at Tennessee

Expected wins: 8.7
Tiebreaker wins: Tennessee (for now, on H2H)
Tiebreaker losses: Cincinnati
Upcoming Tiebreaker games: vs. Miami, at Tennessee

BALTIMORE RAVENS

The Baltimore Ravens have the best point differential of any wildcard hopeful, at +56. They just gutted out a win over the Bengals at home with Lamar Jackson starting his first game. They’ve only given up 181 points, best in the conference. Joe Flacco’s injury status casts a shadow, but the team is built to make a rookie’s transition easier by being able to run the ball and play defense. The schedule has some games they should be heavily favored … and some tough road tests.

Remaining schedule:

Oakland
at Atlanta
at Kansas City
Tampa Bay
at LA Chargers
Cleveland

Expected wins: 8.9
Tiebreaker wins: Tennessee, Denver
Tiebreaker losses: none, but a 2-3 division record could put them in trouble if tied with Cincinnati. They do have a nice 5-3 conference record.
Upcoming Tiebreaker games: none

TENNESSEE TITANS

Tennessee has been a true Jekyll-and-Hyde team. The latest example is dominating New England then turning around and getting crushed by the Colts. They’ve also lost to Buffalo while winning at Dallas and coming within a 2-point play of beating the Chargers.

As such, they are the wildcard among the wildcards. They could be in some tiebreaker trouble with losses to Miami and Baltimore, and will hope to now get to that Colts game in Week 17 with a lot on the line.

Remaining schedule:

at Houston
NY Jets
Jacksonville
at NY Giants
Washington
Indianapolis

Expected wins: 8.3
Tiebreaker wins: none
Tiebreaker losses: Miami, Baltimore, Indianapolis for now
Upcoming Tiebreaker games: Indianapolis

CINCINNATI BENGALS

After a 4-1 start, the Bengals are in free fall mode. They’ve lost 4 of 5 and have been getting gashed on defense. A.J. Green is out. What they do have going for them is some key early wins.

Remaining schedule:

Cleveland
Denver
at LA Chargers
Oakland
at Cleveland
at Pittsburgh

Expected wins: 7.8
Tiebreaker wins: Indianapolis, Miami
Tiebreaker losses: None
Upcoming Tiebreaker games: Denver

MIAMI DOLPHINS

The Dolphins are somehow here, so far hanging in despite the injury to Ryan Tannehill, and some stinker performances. They are -57 in point differential which puts them right with the Bengals for worst among the 5-5 teams. They do have Buffalo on the schedule twice, but the key to surprising is to pull an upset in Indianapolis. Without that next week, their chances are slim.

Remaining schedule:

at Indianapolis
Buffalo
New England
at Minnesota
Jacksonville
at Buffalo

Expected wins: 7.2
Tiebreaker wins: Tennessee
Tiebreaker losses: Cincinnati
Upcoming Tiebreaker games: Indianapolis

DENVER BRONCOS

Denver played Kansas City, the Rams, and Houston tough in recent weeks, but lost. They finally broke through with a big road win at the Chargers and that has them coming up on the outside of the wildcard race. They still need to get a big win against Pittsburgh at home, then follow it up by knocking down the Bengals, to realistically stay in it. If they do that, the three weeks that follow are very winnable.

Remaining schedule:

Pittsburgh
at Cincinnati
at San Francisco
Cleveland
at Oakland
LA Chargers

Expected wins: 7.4
Tiebreaker wins: None
Tiebreaker losses: Baltimore
Upcoming Tiebreaker games: at Cincinnati