AFC Playoff Picture: Six competing for two spots


There are so few teams truly out of the playoff race after 10 weeks. It's hard to count any team out of the desultory AFC South, where only two games separate first place from the cellar. That might be the only decent division race, but there are a total of eight (!) teams with four or five losses.

After diving into the NFC playoff picture on Monday, we are only comfortable saying three AFC teams are definitely not going to be a factor in the playoff race this season: Baltimore, San Diego, and Cleveland. It's a reminder that quarterbacks can't save everything. Philip Rivers and Joe Flacco are still in the upper echelon of AFC quarterbacks, but they haven't been able to save their teams.

So how does this AFC race shake out and what do we know so far?

Eight is enough

Here are the eight teams with four or five losses in the AFC: Pittsburgh, Buffalo, New York Jets, Kansas City, Oakland, Miami, Indianapolis, and Houston. We're going to just assume the AFC South is only going to send one team to the playoffs because any other scenario is too horrific to imagine.

That leaves six AFC contenders competing for two spots. Pittsburgh has to be considered the favorite for one spot because they are 6-4 and have the best quarterback of the group by far. Miami is the only team that we would rule out from that group because of their general malaise and lack of distinguishing characteristics. They are headed to another seven- or eight-win season at best.

That would leave Buffalo, Kansas City, Oakland and the Jets battling for one spot. Each team has real strengths and look better than any team in the AFC South. The Bills have the highest ceiling because of their overall talent, but the Chiefs are playing the best right now. Don't be shocked if Kansas City, once 1-5, is still playing for a playoff spot in Week 17.

Bengals loss could be costly

Cincinnati significantly reduced its margin for error for the No. 1 seed with its home loss to the Texans. They now trail New England by a game for homefield advantage, and conference record is one potential tiebreaker if they end up with the same record.

The Bengals have to go to Arizona this week, which is a recipe for another loss. The Bengals and Patriots don't play one another this season, but both teams have a common game against Denver down the stretch. The Broncos, now 7-2, were helped immensely by the Bengals' loss. They just need to stay within one game of the Bengals before the two teams face off in Week 16, and then take care of business at home. The three-way battle for the two byes depends largely on Brock Osweiler. What a world.

Every game, all season

Could AFC North and AFC West still be in play?

It's hard to imagine the Broncos or Bengals blowing a three-game lead in their respective divisions. But it's not the craziest scenario to imagine. Denver's entire season is a mystery at this point with Osweiler taking over at quarterback. Could Kansas City or Oakland get on a run to make things interesting?

The Bengals are even more likely to be caught in a surprising division race. Pittsburgh is a frisky second place team. If the Bengals lose in Arizona this week, the Steelers could be only two losses back with another Bengals-Steelers game still on the schedule.

AFC South shenanigans

Thursday night's Titans-Jaguars game is a battle of fun young quarterbacks to watch for relatively dreadful teams. But it means a lot for both squads in terms of continuing relevance. The Titans could finally be ruled out of realistic "contention" if they fall two wins behind all three teams in the division. The Jaguars, meanwhile, could tie Houston and Indianapolis with four wins. Jacksonville has the easiest schedule in the division down the stretch. They only face one team currently with a winning record the rest of the season: Atlanta.

It's a strange year when two division leaders (Indianapolis and Denver) are dealing with struggling starting quarterbacks that are now on the shelf with injuries. The division races may not be great down the stretch, but the playoff positioning promises to be a lot of fun.