Going into this season, many people including myself expected the AFC to be a two-team race between Kansas City and Baltimore, but looking at that now, that could not be further from the truth. There are plenty of teams that look like clear contenders coming out of the AFC. We are in the middle of a pretty tight race for the #3 to the #7 seed for the playoffs, which we will breakdown today. Many surprises have popped up this year, like the current undefeated Steelers and the struggling Ravens, who many had as a clear favorite coming out of the AFC. Let’s take a look at the current playoff picture:
#1 Steelers 10-0
If the playoffs started today, the Pittsburgh Steelers would have a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the postseason. They’ve picked up some big wins this year over the Ravens, Titans, and Browns. These were games that weren’t that close for the most part. The defense has been absolutely dominant all season long, even at times when the offense hasn’t been running all on cylinders.
Big Ben is now 38 years old and at times this season, you can clearly see his age. There are certain games where he relies on James Connor to have a strong running day; but, when he decides to go pass-heavy, he has plenty of options at receiver. Rookie Chase Claypool has an astounding ten touchdowns already this year and is looking like a great option moving forward. They also have JuJu Smith-Schuster and Deontae Johnson, who are great playmakers and are there whenever needed. Eric Ebron at tight end has also been a very helpful option for Big Ben, and this offense.
He has 24 touchdowns to just 5 interceptions this season, and if the defense keeps playing like they are, they will be an extremely difficult team to face in the postseason.
Wild Card Matchup: #2 Chiefs 10-1 vs #7 Colts 7-4
The #2 seeded Chiefs would be looking at a home matchup with the Colts currently. The Colts have been a very confusing team this year. They picked up some big wins against the Titans and the Packers, but they also lost to the Titans and the Browns. In January, they look like a team that would be a lot better at home than on the road. They have arguably the best offensive line in football but that will only take them so far, especially with a declining and aging QB under center like Philip Rivers.
Since this matchup would be in Kansas City, I could see the Chiefs picking up a pretty comfortable win in this with the Colts reduced to a running game, the defense should make the proper adjustments. The Chiefs are just too explosive on offense for most teams to keep up with.
Wild Card Matchup #3 Titans 8-3 vs #6 Dolphins 7-4
The Titans are coming off a big divisional win vs the Colts; the same as the Dolphins. We have all been pleasantly surprised at how well this Dolphins team is playing, especially on the defensive end. They have also played two QB’s this season in Fitzpatrick and Tua. While they do look like a team that is certainly overachieving based on last season, they still may have a ceiling.
If they have to travel to Tennessee on the road in January, they may have a very limited offensive game plan, which could play right into the Titans’ hands. Running back Derek Henry, however, is playing on an MVP level this season, and if the Titans want to give him the ball 30 times in a playoff game, there may not be much that other teams can do about that, especially such a young team like Miami.
Wildcard Matchup #4 Bills 8-3 vs #5 Browns 8-3
This may be the closest matchup on paper and could be one where we see a lower seed win. The Browns and Bills would play this matchup in Buffalo, where the weather will be cold, and both teams will try to put a huge emphasis on the run game. We know the Browns rely heavily on the run game with both Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb having great seasons under this offense. The Bills’ offense, however, relies a lot more on their QB than the Browns do.
Josh Allen pretty much has to play excellent every single game for them to even have a shot at winning, two weeks ago in Arizona was a perfect example of that. Baker Mayfield, however, is required to do a lot less when it comes to the success of his team. As long as Baker finds a way to limit the turnovers, he can rely strongly on the two-headed beast at running back they have, which is why this game could easily fall into the Browns favor, depending on which defense actually shows up.
It is important to keep in mind that with the upcoming Tuesday night matchup with the Ravens and the Steelers, the seeding of the AFC could certainly change. The Ravens are currently on the outside looking in and one Steelers loss will elevate the Chiefs to the #1 seed, assuming they win all of their remaining games. Despite the underwhelming season the Ravens are having, they would be a tough out for anyone in the postseason; the Chiefs and the Steelers especially know that. Looking forward to the last five weeks of the season coming up, look for teams like the Ravens and Patriots to possibly enter the playoff picture in what looks like a wild year for the AFC.