AFC Playoff Picture

Okay, folks, we’re ten games into the season and headed toward the big finish. Let’s take a look at how the playoff race is shaping up.

First, the AFC…

Seed
Team
Record
Div.
Conf.
1
Indianapolis Colts
10-0
4-0
8-0
2
Denver Broncos
8-2
3-0
6-1
3
Pittsburgh Steelers
7-3
3-1
6-3
4
New England Patriots
6-4
2-0
4-3
5
Jacksonville Jaguars
7-3
2-1
6-2
6
Cincinnati Bengals
7-3
2-1
4-3
San Diego Chargers
6-4
2-1
5-2
Kansas City Chiefs
6-4
2-2
5-3

TIEBREAKERS:

1.) Pittsburgh wins the head-to-head matchup tiebreaker against Cincinnati. (So far.)

2.) Jacksonville wins the head-to-head matchup tiebreaker against Cincinnati.

Here’s why Pittsburgh’s loss to Baltimore last weekend was so brutal.

If the Steelers hadn’t been upset, they would be a game ahead of the Bengals right now and challenging the Broncos for a first-round bye. Instead, they’re tied for the AFC North division lead with Cincinnati, and they have put themselves in a situation where they must win the next two games — at Indy, then at home against the Bengals — to get any kind of separation from the Bengals, who have it pretty easy the rest of the way; road games against the Steelers and Chiefs are their biggest challenges in the next 6 games. 11-5 is entirely reasonable for the Bengals.

Tall order for the Steelers. They have to beat the Bengals and finish 11-5 to keep that #3 seed. They also have to hope New England only finishes 10-6, since the Pats have the head-to-head tiebreakeron Pittsburgh. If Pittsburgh falls into a Wild Card battle, Jacksonville has the tiebreaker on them, but the Steelers have the tiebreak on the Chargers.

Of course, San Diego has enough problems. This team may only be a game behind the Bengals and Jags, but they have a tough climb ahead of them if they want a wild card spot, let alone the division title. The way Denver is playing right now, they don’t have to do much to keep that all-important first-round bye. I don’t see the Broncos having their annual December swoon this year. I’ve been wrong about these things before, though.

THIS WEEK’S BIG GAMES:

1.) Pittsburgh at Indianapolis. (Mon., 9:00 PM, ABC): Game of the week. Ben Roethlisberger is expected to return for this one, which should give the Steelers a big boost. If Pittsburgh wants to win this game, the offense has to stay on the field and keep the ball out of Peyton Manning’s hands. Because Manning is going to torch Dick LeBeau’s defense on every 3rd down play he runs. That will be the Steelers’ downfall in this game if they lose.

2.) Denver at Dallas. (Thu., 4:15 PM, CBS): While you’re prone on the sofa in a tryptophan-induced coma, these two division leaders will attempt to solidify their playoff positions. This could be one of the best Thanksgiving-Day games that the NFL has put on in years, come to think of it.

3.) New England at Kansas City (Sun., 1:00 PM, CBS): The Pats seem to have a lock on the horrid, horrid AFC East, but they still have to win games like this to prove they can defend their title. Playing at KC isn’t easy for any team, and the Chiefs are still in the race and still fighting for a playoff berth. I have my doubts, though, that Larry Johnson will get half the yards he got against Houston last Sunday night. Just a hunch.

4.) San Diego at Washington (Sun., 1:00 PM, CBS): Two teams on the outside looking in will beat the crap out of each other to climb back into the race. If the Skins shut down LT and make a dent in Drew Brees’ passer rating, there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth in SoCal.

5.) Baltimore at Cincinnati (Sun., 1:00 PM, CBS): Yet another reason why last Sunday’s Steelers-Ravens game was so painful for Steelers fans. Cincinnati put 37 on the Colts last Sunday, and their confidence is high. Meanwhile, someome will remind Kyle Boller that he’s Kyle Boller, so Chester Taylor will get the opportunity to run on the Bengals’ questionable run defense. Yes, Chester Taylor. Brian Billick has lost patience with Jamal Lewis. Prison changes a man.

6.) Jacksonville at Arizona (Sun. 4:00 PM, CBS): Lucky bastards, those Jags.

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