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AFC Playoff Picture: North up for grabs

Can we talk about last night?

Baltimore's frenzied 18-16 win over the Detroit Lions all but reshaped fortunes in the AFC North, where the Ravens (8-6) now sit only one game back of the Bengals with two weeks to go.

Everything feels possible for Baltimore right now. Following wacky victories over the Steelers and Vikings, last night's triumph over the Lions was just another notch on the belt of this team's oddly beautiful campaign:

The task for the Ravens is clear. Baltimore can leapfrog the Bengals for the division crown by beating the Patriots on Sunday and deep-sixing Cincy in the regular-season finale.

The Bengals -- arguably the third best team in this division right now -- are on the brink.

Anyone interested in home field? Anyone?


The top spot in the AFC is up for grabs after Denver, New England and Cincinnati cratered hard in Week 15:

When it comes to the No. 1 seed, we'd be stunned if Denver (11-3) doesn't nail it to the floor with games against the Texans and Raiders to close out the schedule. The Patriots (10-4) need the Broncos to drop one of those two tilts (while sweeping the Ravens and Bills) to reroute the postseason through New England.

After what we saw from the Gronkowski-free Patriots on Sunday, New England's ceiling feels more realistically notched in ...

... the battle for No. 2


New England holds a one-game edge for the second seed, but the Bengals -- owning the tiebreaker -- remain in play for a bye if they win out and the Patriots don't.

I don't see it happening. Sunday night's implosion confirmed my worst fears about Cincinnati. They've been a good home team, but no squad in the playoff race is more prone to shrinking in a big spot.

While we're at it, even the Colts are alive for the bye. If (a) Indy were to win out and finish 11-5; (b) Cincy were to go 1-1 over the next two weeks; and (c) New England were to drop one of its final two matchups, the Colts would own the conference-record tiebreaker over the Patriots at the final gun.

But let's hop out of fantasy land, shall we?

Sixth-seed chase far from over


The final playoff spot in the AFC is bound to go down to the wire.

The Ravens and Dolphins -- both 8-6 -- currently lead the way, with Baltimore owning the tiebreaker after beating Miami in Week 5. If Baltimore wins the North, there's a scenario in which the Dolphins actually could hop over the eliminated Bengals for the AFC's final playoff spot.

San Diego (7-7) remains an intriguing outlier and can't be dismissed after slamming Denver on Thursday.

On NFL Network
NFL Replay
will re-air the Miami Dolphins' 24-20 win over the New England Patriots from Week 15 on Tuesday, Dec. 17 at 3:30 p.m. ET.

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I'd disregard any team without a legitimate passer, but that's what makes this race for No. 6 so intriguing: Joe Flacco is magic, Philip Rivers is reborn and Ryan Tannehill's toughness behind a junky line is underrated.

Best of the West?


Just for giggles: Kansas City still has a shot to overtake the Broncos inside the division if Peyton Manning and friends fall to Houston or Oakland and the Chiefs run the table. Don't hold your breath.

In and out


No surprises here. The Colts, Broncos and Chiefs have clinched a playoff berth.

The Jets were bounced with Baltimore's Monday night win, while the Titans, Bills, Raiders, Jaguars and Browns all have been laid to rest.

Looking ahead to Week 16


New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens: Suddenly, a game with massive implications in the AFC.

Oakland Raiders at San Diego Chargers: San Diego, you have our attention.

Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs: Chatter about Indy earning a bye likely to be reduced to utter nonsense by Sunday night.

Denver Broncos at Houston Texans: Denver's wiggle room in the division has shriveled up, but the Texans won't put up much of a fight.

Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills: Buffalo's a tough out at home, and the team's defense is legit. Not a gimme for Miami.

Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals: Lose this one, and Cincy's in boiling hot water.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" broke down the Cowboys loss and every other Week 15 game.

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