Through 11 weeks, we're starting to get a better idea of the playoff race in both the AFC and NFC. Both North divisions look the strongest and both could send three teams to the playoffs.
The 2011 NFL playoff picture in the AFC isn't very clear at the moment as 15 of the 16 teams are still mathematically alive in the playoff race. Fifteen of the 16 teams in the AFC are between 3-7 and 7-3 and at the moment only one team has more than a 1.5 game division lead.
We can, however, see some trends developing. The AFC West, for example, seems unlikely to send more than one team to the playoffs while the AFC North is on pace to have two, possibly three, playoff teams.
If the playoffs ended today, the seeds in the AFC would be: 1.) Ravens 2.) Texans 3.) Patriots 4.) Raiders 5.) Steelers and 6.) Bengals.
But the season doesn't end today and there are plenty more teams still in the mix. In the AFC East, the Jets (5-5) and Bills (5-5) are 1.5 games behind the Patriots. In the AFC South, the Titans (5-5) are two games behind the Texans, who just lost their quarterback for the year. And in the AFC West, the Broncos (5-5), Chiefs (4-5) and Chargers (4-6) are all within 1-2 games of the Raiders.
So of the 16 teams in the AFC, 12 of them are within two games of a playoff spot. Four teams -- Dolphins, Browns, Jaguars and Colts -- are effectively out of the race.
With the Chiefs-Patriots still to go on Monday night, here's a more detailed look at the AFC playoff picture:
AFC East: Patriots (6-3), Jets (5-5), Bills (5-5), Dolphins (3-7).
The Patriots have a 1.5 game lead in the division with the chance to go up two full games if they beat the Chiefs on Monday Night Football. They're clearly the leaders of the division and at this point it would be an upset if they didn't clinch the division title later in the season. Two teams tied for second place -- Jets and Bills -- are still in the wildcard race trailing the Cincinnati Bengals by one game. Of those two, the Jets appear to have the better shot of leaping ahead of Cincy as the Bills are playing some of their worst football lately.
Prediction: Patriots win the division, Jets get the wildcard.
AFC North: Ravens (7-3), Steelers (7-3), Bengals (6-4), Browns (4-6).
This might be the best division in football as there are two teams tied for first -- Ravens and Steelers -- and Baltimore has the tiebreaker with a 3-0 record in the division. The Ravens or Steelers will likely come out on top of this division and the other should be pulling in a wildcard. The Bengals are the biggest question here as they stand at 6-4 and have a one game lead in the wildcard but, in our predictions, they can't do enough down the stretch to hold onto a playoff spot.
Prediction: Ravens win the division, Steelers get the wildcard.
AFC South: Texans (7-3), Titans (5-5), Jaguars (3-7), Colts (0-10).
The Texans have a two-game lead in the division so, on paper, they should win this division. But they'll be playing the rest of the season with backup Matt Leinart at quarterback after Matt Schaub suffered a foot injury. The question here is whether the Texans two-game cushion will be enough down the stretch. With Chris Johnson struggling and Matt Hasselbeck getting banged up last week, it's hard to see how the Titans will overcome a two-game lead with six weeks to go.
Prediction: Texans win the division, no wildcard.
AFC West: Raiders (6-4), Broncos (5-5), Chiefs (4-5), Chargers (4-6).
The AFC West is one of the worst divisions in football so they're likely to send just the division winner to the playoffs. Oakland has to be the favorite right now but that's more about their competition than it is the Raiders themselves. It's hard to see how the Broncos keep winning with Tim Tebow (even though we've been saying that for a month now) and the Chiefs face a brutal stretch starting on Monday night against the Patriots. The Chargers might be the most talented team but Philip Rivers is playing like one of the league's worst quarterbacks and they have a two-game deficit with just six weeks to play.
Prediction: Raiders win the division, no wildcard.
If our predictions hold true, the playoff seeds would look like this: 1.) Ravens 2.) Patriots 3.) Texans 4.) Raiders 5.) Steelers and 6.) Jets.
The Ravens and Patriots would get an opening week bye while the Texans would host the Jets and the Raiders would host the Steelers.