Five AFC teams have separated from the pack and look to be moving into the playoffs. While much could change, it would be surprising to see a January without the Chiefs, Patriots, Steelers, Chargers and Texans.
But with the NFL requiring six teams to participate in each conference’s postseason bracket, this leaves an interesting race for what will probably be the AFC’s No. 6 seed. There are five five- or four-win AFCers entering Week 11. Each has between a 19 and 41 percent chance of securing a playoff berth, per Football Outsiders.
The Titans have become the leader in this pursuit, with Football Outsiders giving the resurgent team a 41 percent chance to make the playoffs. They qualified last season for the first time since 2008 and notched one of the NFL’s better wins this year in pummeling the Patriots 34-10. The Titans’ No. 16 DVOA placement is third among the AFC’s middle-class teams, but their defense leads the NFL in points allowed (16.8). After entering Week 9 with just three touchdown passes, Marcus Mariota threw two in each of Tennessee’s two November wins.
At 5-4, the Titans could knock the Texans (6-3) down into the No. 6 seed conversation as well. As could the Colts, potentially.
Andrew Luck was a frequent conversation topic while he recovered from a career-threatening injury, but now that he’s back, the former No. 1 overall pick has been delivering a borderline-dominant season off the grid. Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes have understandably dominated the MVP discussion, but Luck’s 26 touchdown passes — at least three in six straight games — rank second in the league. The Colts (No. 15 DVOA, 18 percent playoff odds) gave off an obvious rebuilding vibe this offseason but have an outside shot at the playoffs. Their only games against winning teams down the stretch are against the Texans and five-win Titans (twice).
The AFC North’s fringe contenders have endured humbling midseason stretches. The Bengals (playoff odds: 21 percent, No. 21 DVOA) and Ravens (32 percent, No. 7 DVOA) are a combined 1-5 in their past six contests. Cincinnati’s without its best player, with A.J. Green nursing a foot injury, and Baltimore looks set to start either Lamar Jackson or Robert Griffin III against the Bengals on Sunday.
The Bengals’ opportunities against top-tier opposition could not have gone worse, with both the Chiefs and Saints posting at least 45 points, but they did play the Steelers close and at 5-4 are still firmly in contention. Baltimore’s defense ranks second in points allowed (17.8), giving the Ravens a major edge on their rivals’ 31st-ranked unit, and the Ravens played the Saints much closer than Cincy did in a one-point defeat. The Bengals have three road games left against winning teams — the Ravens, Chargers and Steelers — but the Ravens also venture to Kansas City and Los Angeles, complicating matters.
Football Outsiders gives the Dolphins a 19 percent chance at playoff qualification. Tied for the longest Super Bowl odds entering the season, Miami booking its second postseason berth in three years would be an obvious surprise. All five of the Dolphins’ losses came by double digits, and Ryan Tannehill‘s uncertain status clouds their second-half outlook. They rank outside the top 20 in DVOA offense and defense. While they do play the Bills twice in December, their Patriots rematch and a Minnesota trip also loom.
Can a long-odds team creep back into this? The Jaguars were picked by many to repeat as AFC South champs, but they’ve lost five straight. The Broncos are still ninth in DVOA, but close losses — and three combined games against the Chargers and Steelers — likely doom them. Do the Browns (3-6-1) have faint hope?
So, who is going to round out the AFC bracket? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your take in the comments section.
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