Updated playoff picture: Patriots loss' keeps Broncos on top of the AFC.
A convoluted AFC wild card picture should be getting clearer as we approach the end of the regular season. The San Diego Chargers did their best to muddy things up with a 27-17 win over the Denver Broncos on Thursday, however. With the win, the Chargers improved to 7-7 and put themselves in good position to take potentially take over the 6-seed in the AFC. The Broncos, meanwhile, are now 11-3, and in danger of losing the 1-seed and home-field advantage. Both teams will be watching the game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins very closely Sunday.
Here are the current AFC playoff standings through Thursday:
AFC playoff standings
1. (X) Denver Broncos 11-3
2. New England Patriots 10-3
3. Cincinnati Bengals 9-4
4. (Y) Indianapolis Colts 8-5
5. Kansas City Chiefs 10-3
6. Baltimore Ravens 7-6
(X) - clinched playoff berth (Y) - clinched division
The Chargers are rooting for the Dolphins and Ravens to lose. The Chargers wouldn't jump ahead of the Dolphins if they lose to the Pats -- Miami holds a tiebreaker advantage, courtesy of a Week 11 win over San Diego -- but they would move a step closer to eligibility. The Chargers don't play the Ravens head-to-head this season, so strength of victory could be a determining factor if San Diego and Baltimore finish the year with identical records.
The Broncos will be rooting for a Dolphins win. If the Patriots win, they will take hold of the 1-seed in the AFC. They would have an identical record to the Broncos, and would hold a tiebreak advantage thanks to their overtime win over Denver in Week 12.
Worse, the Broncos' loss also put them in danger of losing the AFC West to the Chiefs. If the Chiefs win this weekend and even their overall season record with the Broncos, the Broncos will remain No. 1 in the division due their season sweep of the Chiefs. Another Broncos loss -- they play the Texans and Raiders to end the season, but you never know -- could theoretically knock them all the way down to the 5-seed.
The NFC playoff standings look exactly same after Thursday's game. Observe:
NFC playoff standings
1. (X) Seattle Seahawks 11-2
2. New Orleans Saints 10-3
3. Philadelphia Eagles 8-5
4. Detroit Lions 7-6
5. Carolina Panthers 9-4
6. San Francisco 49ers 9-4
(X) - clinched playoff berth
The division races in the NFC North and NFC East are incredibly close, and deserve your rapt attention this weekend. The Packers and the Cowboys will be in do-or-die mode when they meet in Dallas on Sunday. Ditto the Bears in Cleveland, the Eagles in Minnesota and the Lions at home against the Ravens on Monday night.