With the NFL playoffs just around the corner and with teams getting ready to clinch playoff spots, here is a look at how the AFC will be represented come January.
AFC East – New England Patriots:
After being torched by Drew Brees and the Saints, it is clear that the Patriots are not the same team that went undefeated in the regular season just two years ago. It appears that the experience that was lost on defense (Bruschi, Vrabel, and Harrison) is missed. Any other season New England could survive a lack luster defense with their high powered offense, but this season Tom Brady is playing like he is still not completely healthy after tearing his ACL last year. The Patriots continue their season with a relatively “easy” schedule, with only one game against a team with a winning record. If any team were to catch the Patriots, it would be the Jets who would need to win out in order to have a chance.
AFC North – Cincinnati Bengals:
The Bengals have arguably the toughest remaining schedule, having to play the Vikings, Chargers, and Jets. After losing to the Raiders and only beating the Browns by nine last week, I am starting to doubt whether or not the first half of the season was a fluke or not. With the aforementioned remaining schedule, I believe that they will lose three of the five games to finish 10-6. I will make another bold prediction and say that both the Ravens and Steelers will only lose one more game and also finish 10-6. This will produce a three way tie atop the division, with Cincinnati winning based on their undefeated divisional record.
AFC South – Indianapolis Colts:
With their victory last week over Houston, Indianapolis clinched the division and a playoff birth. They showed great resolve last week as they were down 14-0 early in the game. The Indy defense has shown that they can support the leads that Manning gives them, in addition to setting the offense up for winning drives. This is being done with two rookie corners and the absence of pro-bowler Bob Sanders which we all thought would be lethal for this team. As the season progresses the Colts will become healthier, which is scary to think about when they are sitting at 11-0 without these key players.
AFC West – San Diego Chargers:
The Chargers have won six straight games and are sitting at 8-3 after starting the season 2-3. Philip Rivers is playing like a MVP candidate, and LaDainian Tomlinson has recently looked like the LT of years past. The Denver Broncos are going to push the Chargers and make this great run to the finish. This is contrary to a few weeks ago when I thought the Broncos were left for dead, especially after being beat by the Chargers 32-3. Even with a tougher schedule than Denver, I think the Chargers will find a way to win more games and clinch the AFC West.
Wildcard – Denver Broncos:
The Broncos seem to have found their winning ways from earlier in the season when they started 6-0. Denver’s impressive win over the Giants on Thanksgiving showed that they are still in the hunt for the playoffs and possibly the AFC West title. At the end of the day, I don’t think they will have enough wins to outlast the surging Chargers but will have enough to get into the field of six. They still have remaining games against Indianapolis and Philadelphia, but I think that their two games against the Chiefs and one game against Oakland will provide them with the necessary number of wins. We will see if Josh McDaniels can bring the same playoff success that he had in New England to Denver, a team that has not seen playoff success since the playing days of Elway.
Wildcard – Baltimore Ravens:
Beating the Steelers on Sunday night was by far the biggest victory of the season, and probably in the careers of both John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco who went 0-3 against the bitter rivals last year. This win sent the Ravens to 6-5 and sets them up nicely for a playoff run. The defense showed a glimpse of the Baltimore defense we are used to, regardless of Big Ben being injured and not playing. They still have another showdown with Pittsburgh in week sixteen, in addition to games against the inconsistent Packers, Lions, and Bears of the NFC North. Baltimore closes the season against the Raiders which should be a win. If the Ravens make the playoffs, I don’t think there is one team that will want to play them.