As the weather turns to winter, the New England Patriots control the race for home field advantage in the AFC, but the Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts aren’t giving up the chase. The Week 12 AFC playoff picture is here.
With eleven games in the books, the AFC playoff picture is coming into focus. The New England Patriots (9-2) control the race for home field advantage, owning the head-to-head tiebreaker against the other division leaders by virtue of head-to-head wins over each. The race for the other first round bye is led by the Denver Broncos with their stellar conference record. However, a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday would give the edge to the Cincinnati Bengals.
The 6-5 Miami Dolphins’ loss to Denver also benefitted the Patriots, as New England now has a stranglehold on the AFC East race, up three in the loss column. New England faces division rivals Miami, the New York Jets (on the road), and the Buffalo Bills in the final three weeks of the season. Only a complete collapse can keep the Patriots from another division title.
The AFC West is controlled by the 8-3 Denver Broncos but they still have road games remaining against both Kansas City (7-4) and the San Diego Chargers (7-4). With a stumble during that stretch, the Broncos could find themselves in the middle of a scrum for the wild card. It is much more likely John Fox’s team takes care of business and ties up the division crown after the Week 15 clash with Mike McCoy’s Chargers.
The Indianapolis Colts (7-4) are nearly assured of a playoff spot and division title and can end the drama in Week 15 with a home victory against the Houston Texans (5-6).
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Cincinnati has the fewest losses in the AFC North by virtue of their Week 6 tie with Carolina. As a result, the 6-3-1 Bengals still control the AFC North – but just barely – over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, all holding 7-4 records. This race will likely come down to a series of head-to-head matchups in the final weeks. With all four teams running neck-and-neck-and-neck-and-neck for the division and the wild card, it will be a crazy finish. The Steelers own the inside track with their superior conference record on potential tiebreakers, but predicting who emerges at this point is mostly a guess. So… Cleveland wins the division and Cincinnati (with their tie) beats out the others on the slimmest of margins? Poor Browns fans might be looking at a ten-win season that results in no playoff appearance. Pedro hates Cleveland.
Follow David on Twitter @SoSH_davemc.