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Everything you need to know about the AFC playoff picture entering Week 15

Ken Pomponio Avatar
December 14, 2016


While your Denver Broncos lost last Sunday, they didn’t lose ground in the AFC playoff race, maintaining their hold – albeit a tenuous one – on the conference’s sixth and final postseason seed.

So how tenuous is that tenuous? The Dolphins have a matching 8-5 record but fall short in the common-games tiebreaker while the Ravens and Titans are each a game back at 7-6. And Tennessee, of course, now would win the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Throw in the Orange & Blue’s murderous remaining schedule – its three opponents each have double-digit wins for a combined 31-8 record – and it’s going to be tricky indeed for the defending Super Bowl champs to have an opportunity to defend their championship come January.

Still, the fifth seed – and even the AFC West title and the conference’s top seed – are still within mathematical reach, but it’s most likely going to require Denver winning out and some serious stretch stumbling by the AFC’s other heavyweights.

The Broncos’ most reasonable best-case scenario is overtaking the Raiders for the fifth seed and earning a likely easier wild-card round game against the AFC South champ instead of opening the playoffs in Pittsburgh or Baltimore.  That’s either going to take a 3-0 finish by the Broncos and a 1-2 finish for the Silver & Black – with the two losses coming Sunday in San Diego and Week 17 in Denver – or a 2-1/0-3 scenario where Denver loses Week 15 to the Patriots but closes by beating the Chiefs and Raiders.

Again, not likely but still within the realm of possibility. And after seeing the 2015 Broncos go from 10-4 and in danger of missing the playoffs entirely to 12-4 and the AFC’s No. 1 seed en route to the Lombardi Trophy in the final two regular-season weekends last winter, Broncos Country isn’t about to write anything off at this point

Anyway, your full AFC playoff picture entering Week 15:

No. 1 seed: New England Patriots (11-2)

  • Remaining schedule: at Broncos, vs. Jets, at Dolphins
  • Remaining opponent combined record: 20-19 (.512)
  • Quick read: A Miami loss Saturday or New England win Sunday would put the wraps on the Pats’ 13th AFC East title in the last 14 seasons. Belichick’s bunch also has the inside track to the AFC’s No. 1 seed, but two of the three remaining games are in Denver and Miami where Tom Brady is combined 8-15 as a starter.

No. 2 seed: Kansas City Chiefs (10-3)

  • Remaining schedule: Titans, vs. Broncos, at Chargers
  • Remaining opponent combined record: 20-19 (.512)
  • Quick read: Like a season ago, K.C. is the AFC’s hottest team in mid-December with eight wins in its last nine games and can put the wraps on a playoff spot by beating the visiting Titans on Sunday.

 No. 3 seed: Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5)

  • Remaining schedule: at Bengals, vs. Ravens, vs. Browns
  • Remaining opponent combined record: 12-26-1 (.321)
  • Quick read: Big Ben and Co. have followed a four-game midseason skid with four consecutive wins, and the defense has been sneakily good, allowing an average of 12.5 points over the current win streak.

No. 4 seed: Houston Texans (7-6)

  • Remaining schedule: Jaguars, vs. Bengals, at Titans
  • Remaining opponent combined record: 14-24-1 (.372)
  • Quick read: Brock Osweiler’s bunch picked up a huge win in Indy on Sunday and is sitting pretty atop the AFC South. And at 4-0 in the division, the Texans join the Chiefs and Ravens as the only teams in the league with unblemished records in their respective divisions.

No. 5 seed: Oakland Raiders (10-3)

  • Remaining schedule: at Chargers, vs. Colts, at Broncos
  • Remaining opponent combined record:
  • Quick read: The Silver & Black have to be slightly concerned about Derek Carr and his dismal showing in last Thursday’s loss in Kansas City, but they can erase a lot of that angst with a win Sunday which would clinch the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2002.

 No. 6 seed: Denver Broncos (8-5)

  • Remaining schedule: Patriots, at Chiefs, vs. Raiders
  • Remaining opponent combined record: 31-8 (.795)
  • Quick read: The focus will be on Von Miller and the Denver D vs. Brady, Alex Smith and Carr down the stretch, but whether or not Trevor Siemian and the offense can shake their scoring struggles figures to be the telling factor for the Broncos.

In the hunt: Dolphins (8-5), Ravens (7-6), Titans (7-6), Colts (6-7), Bills (6-7), Bengals (5-7-1), Chargers (5-8)

Quick read: The South Beach spotlight is suddenly on Dolphins veteran backup QB Matt Moore, who hasn’t started a game since 2011, after Ryan Tannehill went down with what looks to be a season-ending knee injury Sunday.

Eliminated: Jets (4-9), Jaguars (2-11), Browns (0-13)

If the season ended today: Wild-card round – (3) Steelers vs. (6) Broncos, (4) Texans vs. (5) Raiders. Divisional round – (1) Patriots vs. Texans, Raiders or Broncos; (2) Chiefs vs. Steelers, Texans or Raiders.

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