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AFC playoff picture: Pats, Broncos still superpowers

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Gregg Rosenthal outlined the NFC playoff picture on Monday, with the Packers sitting pretty and the surging Seahawks closing in on a postseason home game of their own.

Let's turn our attention to the AFC postseason outlook, which threatens to closely resemble last January's seeding.


Patriots and Broncos still reign atop AFC


Less than two months after meeting in the AFC Championship game, New England and Denver engaged in an offseason arms race to maximize the Super Bowl windows for their twilight quarterbacks. Here they are, standing eight months later as the prohibitive favorites for the top two seeds.

Having eviscerated the other three AFC division leaders by an average score of 43-19, the Patriots currently boast not only the most complete team but also a forbidding homefield advantage. If the Broncos can build on the impressive showings from their defense and ground attack in Week 13, a return trip to the Super Bowl is attainable even if they have to go through Gillette Stadium.


Colts are flawed favorites in AFC South


In addition to enjoying a two-game advantage over the second-place Texans, the Colts have confidence in the cavernous disparity between Andrew Luck and the rest of the division's quarterbacks. Indianapolis is on track to host another playoff game. The question is how far this team can go after watching the defense get bullied by the Pats, Broncos and Steelers. The combined record of the teams the Colts have beaten this season is 33-62. The combined record of teams to whom they have lost is 34-14.

Seeking a reason for optimism? Luck is coming off his best game of an incredible season with the play-making tag-team of Coby Fleener and Donte Moncrief elevated to featured roles. The league's top-ranked offense still has room to grow.


Bengals far from a lock in AFC North


The Week 6 tie essentially gives the Bengals a two-game edge in the division, but the schedule is far from inviting. They still have two matchups against the Steelers, to whom they have lost four of six games since Andy Dalton was drafted in 2011. Marvin Lewis' squad also travels to the 7-5 Browns and hosts the Broncos.

Cincinnati has the trump card over Baltimore thanks to a pair of head-to-head victories, but Cleveland and Pittsburgh still have a chance to sweep the season series.


Wild-card contenders need three more wins


Seven wild-card contenders have at least seven wins, which means it will take 10 or possibly even 11 victories to gain entry to the postseason. The field is crowded enough that no single member of the group has more than a 55 percent chance of making the dance, per Football Outsiders' playoff odds.

The Chargers are the lone team with eight wins, but that's counterbalanced by the toughest schedule of the bunch. The reeling Chiefs actually have a greater chance (54.8 versus 37.8) of making the playoffs, according to Football Outsiders metrics.

The Dolphins stand at 47.8 percent, compared to 44.8 for the Ravens, 34.1 for the Steelers, 10.7 for the Bills, 10.0 for the Browns and a scant 6.8 for the Texans.

Purely from a talent standpoint, the Ravens are the cream of this crop -- even with a patchwork secondary.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast recaps every Sunday game from Week 13 and debates whether Johnny Manziel deserves the starting job. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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