The NFL playoff picture is shaping up as teams head deeper into the 2014 season. Who looks promising? Who's on the edge? Check it out
The Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans are out. While both teams remain mathematically alive, the Texans are debating whether to start Case Keenum or Thad Lewisafter their devastation at quarterback. The Browns have suffered a similar quarterback apocalypse over the last month without any injuries.
The Texans are a reminder that two popular coachspeak maxims are nonsense. It is not one of the hardest thing in sports to win an NFL game. (Our analytics department determined 50 percent of teams win every week.) Houston is 7-7 despite deep problems on both side of the ball. The best opposing quarterback they beat this year was either Derek Carr or Brian Hoyer. Bill O'Brien did a great job coaching this team up, but you are not what your record says you are.
With those two teams out of the way, let's examine the remaining 10 teams in the AFC playoff picture trying to squeeze into six spots.
*You can play out the rest of the season and figure out what happens in every scenario with our playoff predictor. *
AFC North trio on track
I've been banging the drum for two weeks that three AFC North teams will get into the tournament: Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. That is looking better after they all took care of business on Sunday. The Bengals have two very difficult games left (vs. Denver, at Pittsburgh), but one more win clinches a playoff spot. The Bengals would also have a reasonable chance to get in as the No. 6 seed as a nine-win team because of their tie.
The playoff picture seas are parting for the Ravens. After dispatching the Jaguars, Baltimore faces the Texans' new quarterback in Houston and then wrap up the season at home with the slumping Browns. It would be stunning if the Ravens don't make the playoffs, although they will need a little help to win the division.
Best 8-6 chance
San Diego, Kansas City and Buffalo are right in the mix at 8-6. The winner of Chargers-Chiefs in Week 17 could sneak into the playoffs, but both teams need to win tricky road games this week. The Chiefs are in Pittsburgh, while San Diego faces the fighting Harbaughs in San Francisco. The Chargers, despite their pedigree as the team of Around The NFL, don't look capable of winning two straight tough road games. It's quite possible that Week 17 Chiefs-Chargers game will just be a battle to get to 9-7 and miss the playoffs.
Buffalo fans knew they would have to win two out of three against Denver, Green Bay and New England for a chance to make the playoffs. They still have a shot after the upset of the Packers. If the Bills win in Oakland this week, they should be alive for the final AFC playoff spot before heading to New England for the season finale.
The sad part for Bills fans: There's a decent chance they would still be left out of the playoffs if they won out, because their tiebreakers are mostly negative.
Less drama in byes
Denver needs New England to trip up in the final two weeks, and the Patriots' finale against Buffalo is not easy. But it's more likely that Denver loses this week in Cincinnati. The Broncos and Patriots both clinch first round byes with one more win. The Broncos finish with Oakland. In short: Denver and New England should be the top two seeds; we're just sorting out the order.