USA TODAY Sports
The AFC playoff race is all about position, with three teams battling for the top and everyone else waiting to see what happens in the AFC North.
The playoff picture in the AFC looks different Monday morning than it did at noon on Sunday. Kind of. The upper tier of teams in the playoff seeding all won this week to put even more distance between the teams fighting for a Wild Card spot. Houston and New England play Monday night in a game that will further shape the order.
Pittsburgh and Cincinnati both lost, keeping the race for the second Wild Card spot a tight one with a handful of teams in striking distance.
Here's a look at the seeding order in the AFC ahead of Monday night's game in New England:
1. Houston Texans, (11-1, AFC South)
2. Denver Broncos, (10-3, AFC West)
3. New England Patriots, (9-3, AFC East)
4. Baltimore Ravens, (9-4, AFC North)
5. Indianapolis Colts, (8-5, Wild Card)
6. Pittsburgh Steelers, (7-6, Wild Card)
Let's start with Monday night's game. A win would put New England in the second spot, thanks to a previous win over the Broncos this season The Texans stay on top either way, but a win makes it even tougher for one of those other teams to grab home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Patriots would move into the fourth spot with a loss because of a Week 3 loss to the Ravens.
Week 15 is a pivotal one for the AFC playoff picture. Denver in Baltimore is the big one that could shape the standings. The Patriots have a tough task playing in San Francisco. The Texans and Colts play their first of two games over the last three weeks of the season.
The Wild Card race stayed the same with Pittsburgh losing to San Diego and Cincinnati dropping one to Dallas. The Steelers have an edge for now because of a Week 7 win over the Bengals. Both teams play on the road next week, the Bengals in Philadelphia and the Steelers in Dallas.
Wild Card Weekend Matchups
Steelers vs. Patriots - I'm not putting much stock in either of these matchups happening right now. If they did, you have to think the Patriots have an edge given the up and down play from the Steelers.
Colts vs. Ravens - Baltimore lost its second game in a row this week, to a Kirk Cousins-led Redskins team in overtime. Last week it was Charlie Batch. Those results don't portend much postseason success for the Ravens. Look for the Colts in the upset here.
Outside Looking In
I'm going to list more than one team here, but know that this is essentially a race between the Bengals and the Steelers, apart from some catastrophic meltdown one of the other teams listed above. The AFC is a hive of mediocrity, or worse.
Cincinnati Bengals, 7-6: The Bengals could still win the AFC North. After a Week 15 game in Philly, the Bengals play the Steelers in Pittsburgh and host the Ravens to end the season. The Steelers play the Cowboys, Bengals and Browns to end the season. The Ravens play the Broncos, Giants and Bengals, a tough schedule that's even tougher if the Ravens keep playing like this.