The AFC Playoff Picture is unquestionably interesting and intriguing because of the different races that are occurring. The first of the three races is between the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers for the number one overall seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. If the Steelers are able to win on Monday Night against the 5-6 Bengals, they will move to 10-2 and put themselves into a tie with the Patriots for the number one overall seed. The Steelers would be given the number one seed in this situation because they have a better winning percentage in common games. This is due to the fact that the Steelers were able to beat the two teams that the New England Patriots suffered defeats to early in the season, Kansas City Chiefs and Carolina Panthers. Although both teams will definitely end up with playoff positions and first round byes, this race is incredibly important because of the home field advantage at stake. Over the past several years, the Steelers have had solid teams with impressive offensive talent, but they have not been able to overcome Tom Brady in Foxborough. Although it is possible that Roethlisberger and the Steelers can win in New England, in reality there only chance at reaching the Super Bowl and defeating the reining world champions is if they play them at Heinz Field. Fortunate for fans, the owner of the best record in the AFC will be decided in two weeks, when the red hot Patriots, winners of eight straight games, head into Pittsburgh to face the high flying Steelers. This is set to be an intriguing matchup, but I believe the Steelers will win due to their home field crowd.
The second race in the AFC playoff picture is the AFC West Division. After the first half of the season, it looked like the Chiefs were not only going to win the division, but also were the favorites to win the Super Bowl. However, since the midway point, the Chiefs have looked like one of the worst teams in football and are now tied with the Raiders and Chargers for the AFC West Crown. Although none of these three teams are particularly impressive or dominant, the Chargers are the most likely to win the division and claim the fourth playoff spot and a home game in the Wild Card round. Not only do they have an elite quarterback, who has led his team to the playoffs multiple times, they have the easiest of the three schedules and are the hottest of the teams. It is likely that 9-7 or maybe 8-8 will win the divisional crown, but the Chargers should win at least 2-3 of the remaining four games to clinch a playoff spot.
The final race in the AFC is for the final Wild Card position. At both 8-4, the Jaguars and Titans will make the playoffs as either the AFC South Champion or other Wild Card position. However, the 6th position is still up for grabs. The Ravens are currently the owner of the spot and it is likely that they remain in the playoffs. Although the Ravens should make the playoffs, it is more due to the strength of their remaining schedule or I should say lack of strength than their actual talent. Outside of a tough game at Pittsburgh, the team is playing at the Browns and then at home against the Colts and Bengals to finish the season. Although the team is volatile and goes through stretches in which they have trouble scoring or playing well in tight games, they will finish the season at 10-6 and play serious January football.
While the AFC has a clear difference in power between the top teams and teams that are struggling to make the playoffs, the NFC is stacked with quality teams. This race became even more interesting after the Philadelphia Eagles were defeated by the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday Night Football. The loss moved the Eagles in a tie for the first overall seed with the Minnesota Vikings. However, due to tie breakers they are the second seed. Over the past several weeks, the best team in the NFC and maybe the league is the Minnesota Vikings. The combination of great defense and impressive quarterback play from surprise starter Case Keenum enabled the team to defeat the Rams in Minnesota and Falcons on the road. The Vikes still have tough games verses the Packers and Panthers, but they are definitely going to make the playoffs and should keep at least a first round bye. The Eagles are in a similar situation because they will win the NFC East and should be able to claim a first round bye, especially if they can beat the Rams next week.
The next four playoff seeds will be fought between five different teams, Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, and Atlanta Falcons. The final four weeks should be incredibly exciting and high quality football because they will be competing against each other to claim their division title and playoff or Wild Card position. Ultimately, it is most likely that the Seahawks will win the NFC West over the Rams and the Saints over the Falcons and Panthers. The Seahawks have the fortunate opportunity to play the Rams at home, which should be the difference because they rarely lose at home. The Saints should claim the NFC South because they are the most complete team. Brees is the best quarterback of the bunch, even though Matt Ryan and Cam Newton are no slouches, and the defense, which has been notoriously terrible for years, is now above average. In addition, the Saints’ schedule is conducive for the championship because they do not have any difficult matchups besides for the Falcons. The last four weeks of the season should be interesting and exciting football as the playoffs come fast.