This is the AFC Playoff Picture. Click this link for the NFC Playoff Picture.
The Chiefs are good again, so are the Bills, so are the Titans. Oh! Browns, Dolphins … when did you get good? Welcome to the party.
The AFC is the superior conference this year. The AFC playoff teams have better records than those in the NFC and their top teams – namely the Chiefs – hold the highest chances of taking home the Lombardi Trophy in February.
Right now in the AFC we have a 9-5 team on the outside looking in while the NFC has Washington who is likely to get into the tournament with a losing record. The AFC has 3 teams with at least 11 wins – the NFC has 1.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots will miss the playoffs this season for the first time since 2008 and are at risk of their first losing season since 2000.
So does this finally settle the Brady-Belichick debate? If you ask Brady supporters, yes it does. Belichick supporters will give you many reasons why it does not.
Hmm what else is going on in the AFC? Oh yeah! We have the closest division race in football happening in the AFC South.
The Colts and Titans are each 10-4 and do not play each other down the stretch. This opens the door to all sorts of wonderful tiebreaker scenarios which will be detailed below.
We may be witnessing one of the greatest collapses in history as the once 11-0 and infallible Steelers are now 11-3, in danger of losing the division to Cleveland, and are very very fallible.
Did you see Roethlisberger’s stats in that Cincinnati loss? His completion percentage barely surpassed 50%, he totaled just 170 yards passing, and had more turnovers (2) than TDs (1).
My dad didn’t see a lot of the game, he only saw the score. He said, “wow, the Bengals must’ve played really well. What got into them?”. I explained that the Bengals played about par for the course – Big Ben just didn’t feel like doing quarterback things.
Maybe Ben had placed a Chargers-Jets-Bengals parlay with his bookie earlier in the week and needed that last leg for a massive payday.
Regardless of how we got here, the stage is now set for an awesome final 2 weeks. Let’s break down the playoff scenarios for each team. First, here is a look at the current AFC standings:
Kansas City Chiefs 13-1
Clinched AFC West
>99% Chance to Earn First-Round Bye
Kansas City is an NFL team, but they are on a whole different plane.
At quarterback is one of the greatest arm talents to ever play the position – Patrick Mahomes. When Mahomes drops back, he has his choice of throwing to Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, or Travis Kelce. If he doesn’t like any of those options, he can turn to Sammy Watkins or Demarcus Robinson.
Kelce has 1318 receiving yards this year while the blazing-fast Hill is right behind him with 1211. Mahomes’ 4th option – Sammy Watkins – was once a 1000-yard receiver himself in Buffalo. Tell me how you’re supposed to stop this passing game.
It’s not like you can sell out to stop the pass, either. The Chiefs feature not 1 but 2 excellent running backs – the sensational LSU rookie Clyde Edwards-Hellaire (4.4 yards per rush) and the long-time vet Le’Veon Bell (4.0 yards per rush).
On top of the raw talent on the field, you’ve got offensive mastermind Andy Reid backstage pulling all the strings. Here is a glimpse of the latest brainchild of Andy Reid:
I don’t know where I’d even begin my preparation if I was tasked with stopping the Chiefs’ offense.
In the preseason, many thought the Chiefs could go undefeated. They stumbled once – against Las Vegas – and then avenged their loss later in the season. KC has practically clinched the top seed in the AFC (although not officially) and may be our first 15-1 team since the 2015 Panthers.
What Needs to Happen for Kansas City to Clinch 1 Seed
Chiefs win or tie at least 1 of their remaining games
Chiefs lose out and the perfect storm does not materialize
- The Chiefs are practically guaranteed the first-round bye in the AFC. Even if KC loses out, the team still holds greater than a 99% chance of remaining on top of the conference.
- The only way KC could be bested is in a 3-way tie scenario. If the Bills and Steelers both win out while KC loses out – the trio would all finish at 13-3. Head-to-head tiebreakers would not apply. Neither would conference record nor record against common opponents. The tiebreaker would go all the way down to strength of victory – in which case tons of games would need to break the right way to tilt the edge away from the Chiefs (who own that tiebreaker currently).
Buffalo Bills 11-3
Clinched AFC East
<1% Chance to Earn First-Round Bye
Not much to talk about with Buffalo. They practically have no shot at earning a bye. Read the above section on Kansas City to see what I’m talking about.
Buffalo may finish as high as 2nd in the AFC or may fall down as far as 4th – depending on their own 2 games and the games of Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and Tennessee.
The Bills have qualified for the postseason as a Wild Card twice in the past 3 years but have not taken down the division since they were coached by Marv Levy in 1995.
Pittsburgh Steelers 11-3
Clinched Postseason Berth
73% Chance to Win AFC North
<1% Chance to Earn First-Round Bye
Pittsburgh really has no shot to finish atop the AFC. Read Kansas City’s section to see why.
The Steelers had a golden opportunity to clinch the division Monday night against the 2-10-1 Bengals and blew it. The now 3-10-1 Bengals rose up and capitalized on a terrible night by Big Ben to win 27-17 and keep the division race alive – not for themselves, but for Cleveland.
Remember when the Steelers were 11-0 and the most likely team for the first-round bye? Those days are long gone. 3 straight losses have Steelers Nation reeling and Mike Tomlin desperately searching for answers.
Imagine the storylines if Pittsburgh blows the division and has to go on the road during Wild Card Weekend …
What Needs to Happen for Pittsburgh to Clinch AFC North
Steelers win 1 of their remaining games
Steelers lose out AND Browns lose in Week 16 to Jets
- Pittsburgh was just 1 win away and blew it against Cincy. Now the path to finish out this race becomes more difficult. The Steelers face Indianapolis in Week 16 while Cleveland gets the Jets. I know it’s dangerous, but let’s assume the Browns handle the 1-13 Jets. If Pittsburgh fails to get the job done once again, this sets up a winner-take-all showdown for the AFC North in Week 17 between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. The game is in Cleveland!
Tennessee Titans 10-4
98% Chance to Clinch Playoff Berth
56% Chance to Win AFC South
The Titans were the darlings of the AFC playoffs last season – advancing past New England and Baltimore before running into a buzzsaw in Kansas City. Tennessee was the underdog in each game.
Opinions differed on whether the deep run was a one-time spurt brought on by the rah-rah style of HC Mike Vrabel or if the run signified a change in expectations in Nashville.
It appears the Titans are now a good team – as they have continued their winning ways deep into the 2020 regular season. Their secret? The combo of Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill.
Henry is the NFL’s current leading rusher with 1679 yards through 14 games (119.9 per game). Ryan Tannehill ranks 5th among all NFL quarterbacks with 31 touchdowns in 14 games. The 32-year-old has already set a new career-high for passing TDs in a season and is averaging his 2nd-most yards per attempt (8.1) of his career.
What Needs to Happen for Tennessee to Clinch AFC South
Titans win out
Titans win just 1 of their remaining 2 games AND Colts lose 1 of their remaining 2 games
Titans lose out AND Colts lose out
- Tennessee is in a good spot – they control their own destiny. The Titans are currently tied with the Colts atop the South but Tennessee controls the tiebreaker. This means Indy must gain ground on Tennessee over the last 2 weeks to win the division. The Titans finish with Green Bay (difficult) and Houston (easy). The Colts finish with Pittsburgh (difficult) and Jacksonville (easy).
What Needs to Happen for Tennessee to Clinch Playoff Berth
Titans win 1 of their remaining games
- Tennessee is not out of the woods yet, but 1 more victory against either Green Bay or Houston will do the trick.
Titans lose out AND Dolphins lose 1 of their remaining games
- Even if the Titans fail to win 1 of their final 2 games, they are in good shape. Tennessee would just need Miami to drop a game to either Las Vegas or Buffalo – both of which are very tough matchups.
Titans lose out AND Ravens lose 1 of their remaining games
- Tennessee is really in trouble if they lose out and Miami wins out. This would put the Titans’ fate in the hands of Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. The Ravens would need to win out to leapfrog Tennessee. Baltimore finishes with the Giants the Bengals – so winning out is very likely.
Cleveland Browns 10-4
93% Chance to Clinch Playoff Berth
27% Chance to Win AFC North
What Needs to Happen for Cleveland to Clinch AFC North
Browns win out AND Steelers lose or tie with Indianapolis in Week 16
- The door was left open when Pittsburgh failed to beat Cincinnati on MNF in Week 15. The Browns and Steelers play in Cleveland on Week 17. The division may be on the line if Pittsburgh loses for a 4th straight time against Indianapolis in Week 16.
What Needs to Happen for Cleveland to Clinch Playoff Berth
Browns win out
- Cleveland controls their own destiny and finishes with the Jets and the Steelers
Browns win just 1 of their remaining games AND the Ravens lose 1 of their remaining games
- This scenario is not very likely because the Ravens finish with the Giants and the Bengals – two awful teams.
Browns win just 1 of their remaining games AND the Dolphins lose 1 of their remaining games
- This scenario is quite likely because Miami finishes with a mini-gauntlet of the Raiders and the Bills.
Browns win just 1 of their remaining games AND the Colts lose 1 of their remaining games
- The Colts finish with Pittsburgh and Jacksonville. It is very conceivable that Indy could lose to Pittsburgh, but Jacksonville will actually be better-suited to lose in Week 17 for draft pick purposes, so don’t expect any crazy upsets there.
Browns win just 1 of their remaining games AND the Titans lose out
- The Titans finish with Green Bay and Houston.
Browns lose out AND Ravens lose out
- Once again, this scenario is incredibly unlikely because Baltimore finishes with such a weak final 2 games (Giants and Bengals).
Browns lose out AND Dolphins lose out
- It would not be a shock to see the Dolphins drop each of their final 2 games because they finish with Las Vegas and Buffalo – a couple of stout opponents
Browns lose out AND Colts lose out
- Indy finishes with Pittsburgh and Jacksonville. The Jaguars gain more from trying to lose their final 2 games, so I don’t see the Jags pulling the upset in Week 17. Don’t expect this scenario to unfold.
Indianapolis Colts 10-4
92% Chance to Clinch Playoff Berth
44% Chance to Clinch AFC South
What Needs to Happen for Indianapolis to Clinch AFC South
Colts win out AND Titans lose 1 of their remaining games
Colts lose 1 of their remaining games AND Titans lose out
- The Colts finish with Pittsburgh and Jacksonville while Tennessee has Green Bay and Houston to close out the season. The Colts and Titans are currently tied at 10-4 but Tennessee controls the tiebreaker. Indy needs to gain a game in the standings over these finals 2 weeks if they want to take down the division.
What Needs to Happen for Indianapolis to Clinch Playoff Berth
Colts win out
- Indy controls their own destiny. They finish with Pittsburgh (tough game) and Jacksonville (easy game). The Jags will likely be playing to lose so there is no chance of upset there.
Colts win 1 of their last 2 AND the Browns lose out
- Cleveland has the Jets in Week 16. I know New York is coming off a big road win, but Cleveland is not likely to lose this game.
Colts win 1 of their last 2 AND the Dolphins lose 1 of their remaining games
- This scenario is incredibly likely and is the major reason for the Colts’ 92% chance of a playoff berth. The Dolphins finish with Las Vegas and Buffalo – 2 tough matchups. Miami will be extremely hard pressed to win both of these games.
Colts win 1 of their last 2 AND the Ravens lose 1 of their remaining games
- Don’t bank on this one if you’re a Colts fan. The Ravens finish with the Giants and the Bengals – so losing 1 of their last 2 will be unlikely.
Miami Dolphins 9-5
31% Chance to Clinch Wild Card Berth
Despite being inside the top-7 if the season ended today, Miami is likely to get passed up by Baltimore before season’s end. This is because the Dolphins play 2 very tough games to close out the regular season.
What Needs to Happen for Miami to Clinch Playoff Berth
Dolphins win out
- Miami controls their own destiny but they have a tough road to navigate over these final 2 weeks. The Dolphins get the Raiders and Bills, both on the road.
Dolphins win 1 of their remaining games AND the Colts lose out
- Indy has Pittsburgh in Week 16 (which they very well could lose) but then plays a cupcake in Week 17 – Jacksonville. The Jags will almost certainly be trying to lose and won’t be an obstacle for a team with something to play for
Dolphins win 1 of their remaining games AND Baltimore loses to Cincinnati in Week 17
- Not too likely, but the Bengals did just pull 1 major upset. Why not another?
Dolphins lose out AND the Raiders lose to Denver in Week 17 AND the Ravens lose out
- The Dolphins very well may lose out, but Baltimore has a super soft final 2 games and Las Vegas will be favored over Denver. Don’t expect this to happen. Should Miami lose out, they are only given a 1% chance of a playoff berth.
Baltimore Ravens 9-5
86% Chance to Clinch Wild Card Berth
Despite currently being on the outside looking in, Baltimore has a much better chance than Miami to secure a playoff spot. The disparity lies in the strength of their remaining schedules.
Miami finishes with Las Vegas and Buffalo – 2 killer games. Baltimore gets to relax and feast upon the remains of the Giants and the Bengals.
What Needs to Happen for Baltimore to Clinch Playoff Berth
Ravens win out AND Dolphins don’t win out
- It is a little scary for Baltimore that they don’t control their own destiny, but I’m sure Miami would trade spots with the Dirty Birds in an instant. If Baltimore does win out, the Dolphins need to match. Even a win and a tie for Miami would see them fall short.
Ravens beat the Giants but not the Bengals AND the Dolphins lose out
Ravens beat the Bengals but not the Giants AND the Dolphins lose 1 of their remaining games
- Due to tiebreakers, Baltimore has a much easier path if they beat the Bengals and lose to the Giants rather than vice versa. By beating the Bengals, Baltimore needs Miami to lose only once – which is quite likely given that the Dolphins play Las Vegas and Buffalo in their final 2 games.
Ravens win 1 of their remaining games AND the Browns lose out
- The Browns finish with the Jets and Steelers – so losing out is not very likely.
Ravens win 1 of their remaining games AND the Colts lose out
- The Colts finish with the Steelers and Jaguars – so losing out is not very likely.
Las Vegas Raiders 7-7
<1% Chance to Clinch Wild Card Berth
What Needs to Happen for Las Vegas to Clinch Playoff Berth
Raiders win out AND Dolphins lose out AND Ravens lose out
- What?! That’s it?! How come Vegas has less than a 1% shot? That seems simple. You are forgetting the Ravens’ schedule. Baltimore plays the Giants and the Bengals in their final 2 games. This fact alone makes this scenario incredibly unlikely. Even if Vegas wins out and the Dolphins lose out – the Raiders are still a monumental longshot with a 3% chance to qualify for the postseason.