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AFC Playoff Picture: Patriots, Bengals fighting for No. 2

The AFC Playoff Picture is less jumbled than it was a week ago, but intrigue lingers at the top of the food chain.

On NFL Network
NFL Replay
will re-air the New England Patriots' 27-26 win over the Cleveland Browns from Week 14 on Wednesday, Dec. 11 at 9 p.m. ET.

With the Broncos (11-2) clinging to home-field advantage, the loss of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski casts doubt over New England's grasp on the No. 2 seed.

Sitting one game up on the Bengals, the Patriots (10-3) play the Dolphins, Ravens and Bills to close the slate. The Bengals (9-4) face the Steelers, Vikings and Baltimore. If Cincy can make up one game on New England, the Bengals are your second seed based on their win over the Pats in Week 5.

I don't see it happening.

Gronk's injury might be a fatal blow to their Super Bowl hopes, but Bill Belichick's Patriots teams -- even those giving up 494 yards at home to the Cleveland Browns -- don't historically crumble in the regular season.

Get revved up for Colts-Chiefs

The Colts are a ghost ship.

Sunday's 42-28 loss to the Bengals all but locked Indy into the AFC's No. 4 seed as the champion of the South. Barring Denver's roster disappearing at sea, the Chiefs are bound for second place in the AFC West and the conference's fifth slot.

We've talked before about Kansas City (10-3) looking like a classic one-and-done team in the playoffs, but Indy looms as an outstanding matchup for the Chiefs' defense in Week 16. The Colts -- stumbling into the playoffs -- run a stuck-in-the-mud attack that can't find itself on the ground and doesn't have the requisite weapons for Andrew Luck to build leads through the air.

Meanwhile, K.C.'s offense is expanding. The group couldn't keep pace with the Broncos, but Alex Smith has led the Chiefs to 37 points per game over the past three weeks. We like their chances against a Colts defense allowing 31 points per game since Week 7.

Sixth seed down to two?

Emerging from a tire fire of mediocrity, the Ravens and Dolphins are the most realistic options for the AFC's No. 6 spot.

Baltimore closes out with a tough schedule against the Lions, Patriots and Bengals, but the Ravens hold the tie-breaker after beating the Dolphins in Week 5. Miami faces the Patriots before two winnable meetings with the Bills and Jets.

I'm going with the Super Bowl champs. The Ravens are far from a perfect beast, but John Harbaugh's bunch is giving off the scent of another playoff run with Sunday's incredible finish on the heels of knocking off the Steelers on Thanksgiving.

Brink of death

The Chargers and Jets -- both 6-7 -- need to think about winning three consecutive games for a shot at January. The Chargers face a rugged slate against the Broncos, Raiders and Chiefs. I'm not listing Gang Green's opponents, because the team hasn't won three in a row since 2011. The GenoCoaster won't go there.

And let's not waste too much server space on Pittsburgh. If the Steelers (5-8) can't knock off the Dolphins in a snowstorm at Heinz Field, playoff material they're not. Unless the Black and Gold roll against the Bengals, Packers and Browns -- and Miami loses out -- Pittsburgh is cooked.

Looking ahead to Week 15

San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos: San Diego's fully back in the playoff picture with a win on Thursday night.

Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts:Backing into January: The Story of the 2013 Indianapolis Colts.

The playoff picture


How would your team's prospects look if the season ended today? See where each team stands in the playoff picture midway through the season. **More ...**

New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins: Isn't this the game Miami spent all that money to win?

New York Jets at Carolina Panthers: Here's your shot to silence the doubters, Geno Smith.

Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders: Alas, Chris Wesseling's softball pants will go undigested.

Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers: Lose three straight, and it's fork time in the Steel City.

Baltimore Ravens at Detroit Lions: Quietly the game of the week, leaving the loser in a dark place.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" recapped all the Week 14 games.

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