NFL Playoff Picture: Broncos, Bengals In AFC Race; Jets, Titans Trailing

The NFL playoff picture is becoming clearer week by week but the AFC is a lot more muddled than the NFC right now as 10 of 16 AFC teams can legitimately claim a realistic chance at making the playoffs. The Patriots are the only team I feel good about predicting as division winners as the Ravens and Steelers continue to battle in the AFC North, the Texans hold a two-game lead but are missing their top two quarterbacks and the AFC West is as confusing as ever after the Broncos tied the Raiders for the division lead.

If the playoffs started today, the AFC seeds would be: 1.) Patriots 2.) Ravens 3.) Texans 4.) Broncos 5.) Steelers 6.) Bengals.

Those aren't the only teams with realistic shots to make the playoffs, though. The Jets are tied with the Bengals (by record) for the final spot, as are the Titans. The Raiders are tied with Denver for the AFC West lead and the Chiefs are two games back and play both Oakland and Denver in the final two games of the season.

In other words, things are far from settled in the AFC playoff picture. Here's where things stand right now:

AFC East: Patriots (9-3), Jets (7-5), Bills (5-7), Dolphins (4-8).

We're starting to get a better idea of what's going on in the AFC East. The Patriots, with a two-game lead and four games to play, will more than likely win the division (again). I don't see them losing multiple times down the stretch. The Jets and Bills were fighting for a wildcard spot but it looks like Buffalo is no longer in that race. That leaves New York, at 7-5, hoping to catch the Bengals for the final wildcard spot in the final month.

Prediction: Patriots win the division, Jets get the wildcard.

***

AFC North: Ravens (9-3), Steelers (9-3), Bengals (7-5), Browns (4-8).

The NFC North continues to shape up as we thought it would -- Ravens and Steelers on top. The only question with those two teams is which one wins the division and which one secures the wildcard -- they're both making the playoffs. Where things get interesting is the Bengals. If the playoffs started today, they would get in over the Jets but we have four more games to play so that could easily change. 

Prediction: Ravens win the division, Steelers get the wildcard.

***

AFC South: Texans (9-3), Titans (7-5), Jaguars (3-8), Colts (0-12).

Well, I'll tell you I didn't expect the Texans to win two in a row without their starting (or backup) quarterback. They have a two-game lead with four to play so they'll probably win this division but that's a tough bet to make with a rookie quarterback starting. The Titans, meanwhile, are getting hot at the right time, as is Chris Johnson. Tennessee is in consideration for the AFC South title, as well as a wildcard.

Prediction: Texans win the division, no wildcard.

***

AFC West: Raiders (7-5), Broncos (7-5), Chiefs (5-7), Chargers (4-7).

Don't look now but Tim Tebow's Broncos are now tied with Oakland for the division lead. Looking at the schedules, I'm not sure either has a big advantage. The Raiders play the Packers, Lions, Chiefs and Chargers down the stretch while the Broncos play the Bears, Patriots, Bills and Chiefs. And don't count the Chiefs out just yet -- they play both Oakland and Denver in the final two weeks of the season.

Prediction: Broncos win the division, no wildcard.

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