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AFC playoff picture: Houston Texans under pressure

The once-cloudy AFC playoff portrait cleared up considerably in Week 16. There's no more mystery about which six teams are in -- the Houston Texans, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals made the cut -- but there's still plenty to sort out when it comes to the postseason pecking order.



The intense race for the playoffs is in full gear. Check out the latest situation in the postseason chase. More ...

Here's what we learned:

Texans in hot water

The Texans have frolicked through this season as the likely No. 1 seed in the AFC. With one week to go, Houston's spot at the top is anything but secure.

Two weeks removed from being waxed by the New England Patriots, the Texans were shredded Sunday by the Minnesota Vikings. The Texans can seal up the top spot by knocking off the Indianapolis Colts in Week 17. Lose that game, and Houston risks losing home-field advantage.

The surging Broncos (12-3) can steal the No. 1 slot if the Texans fall to the Colts and Denver knocks off the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 17. It doesn't end there. The Patriots (11-4) can wrestle away the second seed if they wind up tied with the Texans at 12-4, because New England owns the tiebreaker.

Even the Patriots still have a shot at the top seed. If (a) New England beats the Miami Dolphins; (b) Denver loses to Kansas City; and (c) the Colts beat Houston, all three playoff-bound teams would finish 12-4. In that scenario, New England would own the three-way tiebreaker and Denver would be bumped from the bye into the No. 3 spot because the Texans own the tiebreaker with the Broncos.

No matter where they land, this hasn't been a pretty stretch run by the Texans.

More weirdness ... involving the Ravens

Baltimore's resounding 33-14 win over the New York Giants on Sunday -- combined with the now-eliminated Pittsburgh Steelers losing to the Bengals -- handed the AFC North to the Ravens (10-5). Baltimore is assured at least the No. 4 seed but can flip places with New England depending on what happens next Sunday.

If the Patriots fall to the Dolphins and the Ravens top the Bengals in Week 17, Baltimore would take the No. 3 spot based on the team's Week 3 win over New England.

A tale of horses and tigers

Let's take a look at the wild-card situation. The Colts (10-5) are locked into the fifth spot, and the Bengals (9-6) are welded into the No. 6 position, per the NFL Media research squad.

We'll need to wait out next week's games to see who their first-round opponents will be.

Does any of this look familiar?

It should. The AFC is set to field the exact same playoff lineup from a season ago, save for the Colts replacing the off-a-cliff Steelers. How it all ends, however, is anyone's guess.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

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