The Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will finish with the best record in their conferences heading into the playoffs. With Thanksgiving football in the rearview mirror, it’s getting really close to playoff football.
Over the next month and a half, the final games of the season will be played and it’ll be up to 14 teams to make their runs at all-time greatness by winning the Super Bowl. Since the playoff format changed to seven teams from each conference last season, only one team will get the coveted bye week to start the playoffs. With an extra game during the regular season, this makes it even more important to win the first overall seed. Let’s get right into this with the seven AFC playoff teams first.
1 Seed: Kansas City Chiefs (Projected Final Record: 12-5)
- Current Record: 7-4
- Remaining Schedule: vs Broncos, vs Raiders, @ Chargers, vs Steelers, @ Bengals, @ Broncos
There was a time this season where the Chiefs were 3-4 and looked done for the season. Coming off a Super Bowl loss, the Chiefs had to bounce back and it started off rough. Turns out, the Chiefs figured it out. Patrick Mahomes was having the worst slump in his life and has finally turned it around, winning four straight games over the Giants, Packers, Raiders, and Cowboys.
Four of the remaining six games are against AFC West teams, a division where almost all the teams are in position to win. Who really comes out on top? I’m going with the team that has the experience.
2 Seed: Baltimore Ravens (12-5)
- Current Record: 8-3
- Remaining Schedule: @ Steelers, @ Browns, vs Packers, @ Bengals, vs Rams, vs Steelers
The Ravens are currently first in the AFC, but there are teams right on their heels. The Ravens continue to find ways to come from behind and win games when it matters the most. Lamar Jackson is the difference-maker on this team. With multiple ACL injuries in the preseason, everyone essentially counted the Ravens out. Jackson continues to be the best at the highest level and carries his team to win after win.
Four of the remaining six games are against AFC North teams. With a division that is in such flux, this should be a cakewalk down the final stretch. The Browns and Steelers continue to beat each other for third and fourth, and the Bengals showed last week that they are much better than people thought. It’s the Ravens that are proving to be the best in the division.
3 Seed: Indianapolis Colts (11-6)
- Current Record: 6-6
- Remaining Schedule: @ Texans, vs Patriots, @ Cardinals, vs Raiders, @ Jaguars
This seems to be a familiar sight. Frank Reich and the Colts start the season off 1-4 and fight their way back into the playoffs. What’s pushing the Colts into the playoffs? MVP candidate Jonathan Taylor leading the league in rushing yards, touchdowns, and basically every stat on the ground. Taylor has been a dominant force in the Indy backfield. This season might be headlined by Derrick Henry being out for the season, but Taylor seems to have taken the crown for now in the AFC South.
This isn’t going to be an easy schedule for the Colts to finish the season. Big matchups against the Patriots, Cardinals, and Raiders after a tough loss to the Buccaneers will make this difficult to finish the season by winning out. With a win over the Patriots, post-bye week, and then the Cardinals on Christmas night, the Colts make a strong push to win the AFC South over the Titans.
4 Seed: Buffalo Bills (11-6)
- Current Record: 7-4
- Remaining Schedule: vs Patriots, @ Buccaneers, vs Panthers, @ Patriots, vs Falcons, vs Jets
The Bills might just have one of the harder schedules down the stretch. Two games against the Patriots and one against the Buccaneers. After splitting the series with the Patriots and a loss to the Buccaneers, the Bills do end up winning the AFC East.
5 Seed: New England Patriots (11-6)
- Current Record: 8-4
- Remaining Schedule: @ Bills, @Colts, vs Bills, vs Jaguars, @ Dolphins
The Patriots are one of the hottest teams in the NFL after starting 2-4. With six straight wins, the Patriots are positioned to win the division. Unfortunately for the Patriots, a loss to the Bills and Colts will leave them tied with the Bills for the AFC East and into the playoffs as a Wild Card team.
Luckily, the Patriots have one of the greatest head coaches in the NFL and all you need is a chance. Could the rookie quarterback lead the Patriots back to the promised land after Tom Brady packed up and took his talents to Tampa? No. The simple answer is: not this year.
6 Seed: Cincinnati Bengals (11-6)
- Current Record: 7-4
- Remaining Schedule: vs Chargers, vs 49ers, @ Broncos, vs Ravens, vs Chiefs, @ Browns
The Bengals started the season off red hot even if it didn’t immediately show in the standings. There was a time where this team was 5-2, sitting atop the AFC North and looking down at the rest. Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase were lighting up the scoreboard and this team looked like the best offense in the NFL.
Times have changed. The Bengals look like the Bengals and can lose to any team, including the Jets, and a blowout loss to the Browns. This team is confusing, but after a dominating performance over the Steelers, the Bengals find their way to the playoffs.
7 Seed: Tenessee Titans (10-7)
- Current Record: 8-4
- Remaining Schedule: vs Jaguars, @ Steelers, vs 49ers, vs Dolphins, @ Texans
The mighty have fallen. The Titans started off with a brutal loss to the Cardinals and then followed up with a ton of wins. The biggest knocks to the Titans record are their two losses to the Jets and Texans. That paired with injuries to Derrick Henry, Julio Jones, and now AJ Brown (all on the Injured Reserve list), this sets the Titans up for some more heartbreak.
With five games remaining, you are probably wondering who they beat. With last week’s loss to the Patriots, that really hurts, especially coming off a loss to the Texans. The Titans have a bye week this week, which could be a great time to get healthy again. But with Brown entering the IR this week and Henry being out until January, this won’t be enough. Look for losses against the Jaguars, Steelers, and 49ers. That’s a five-game losing streak before finishing the season with the Dolphins and Texans to make a playoff push.
These teams just finished outside of the playoff hunt by the smallest fraction: Denver Broncos (9-8) and Los Angeles Chargers (9-8).
The following have no chance at making the playoffs after finishing under 500: Cleveland Browns (8-9), Las Vegas Raiders (8-9), Pittsburgh Steelers (7-9-1), and the surprising Miami Dolphins (7-9).
Lastly, these teams really should just be focusing on this year’s draft: New York Jets (4-13), Houston Texans (3-14), and Jacksonville Jaguars (3-14).