The NFL playoff race is heating up, and the AFC picture features four teams with a 6-5 record – the Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders, Indianapolis Colts, and Tennessee Titans – fighting for one of two wild-card berths.
The New England Patriots (10-1) currently have the #1 seed locked up in the AFC playoffs picture. The Baltimore Ravens (9-2) sit pretty in the #2 spot, and would secure an opening-round bye if the playoffs were to begin today.
The Houston Texans (7-4) and Kansas City Chiefs (7-4) lead their respective divisions, and currently hold the #3 and #4 seeds.
AFC Division Leaders
#1 New England Patriots (10-1)
#2 Baltimore Ravens (9-2)
#3 Houston Texans (7-4)
#4 Kansas City Chiefs (7-4)
AFC Wild-Card Teams
#5 Buffalo Bills (8-3)
#6 Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)
The Buffalo Bills (8-3), who are in second place in the AFC East behind the Patriots, currently occupy the first wild-card spot.
It’s a free-for-all for the other wild-card spot. That’s where the NFL playoff pictures gets murky in the AFC, with a quartet of 6-5 teams fighting to make the postseason.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently in the second wild-card spot, but they have a pair of 6-5 AFC South teams clawing back into contention with the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans.
The Oakland Raiders lost their wild-card spot after an ugly loss to the New York Jets in Week 12.
Wild-Card Place Holders: Bills and Steelers
The big knock against the Buffalo Bills (8-3) is their lack of schedule strength. Only one of their eight victories came against a winning team. The Bills Mafia has a chance to shut up the haters with a couple of big wins in the upcoming weeks. They only have one east game the rest of the season, with a meeting against the LOLJets in Week 17.
The Bills fly down to Dallas to play the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. Next week, they host the Baltimore Ravens, and we’ll finally see how the Bills stack up against a real team. They’ll need the couple of extra days to prep for Lamar Jackson. In Week 15, the Bills face the Steelers in Pittsburgh in a game that will most likely have playoff implications. The Bills also square off against the New England Patriots in Foxboro in the penultimate week of the season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) won five out of their last six games, and are somehow in the mix due to a weak AFC this season. Mike Tomlin should get some votes for coach of the year, considering how banged-up the Steelers are this season. They’re essentially playing without key starters, including Big Ben, James Connor, and Juju Smith-Schuster. The Steelers rely on a third-string QB (Mason Rudolph) and a rookie running back (Benny Snell), but somehow get the job done.
The Steelers have only one headache remaining on the schedule when they meet the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17. If the Steelers are fortunate, the Ravens will lock up a first-round bye early on so they can rest players in the final game of the season. Otherwise, it might come down to an AFC North clash to determine a wild-card berth.
The Steelers face another potential brawl this week with a rematch against the Cleveland Browns (5-6). They also have games at Arizona (3-7-1), vs. Buffalo, and at the NY Jets (4-7).
On the Bubble: Raiders, Colts, Titans, Browns
The Indianapolis Colts (6-5) hurt their NFL playoff chances by losing to Houston on Thursday Night Football. With the AFC South title out of reach (for now), the Colts are focusing on securing one of the wild-card spots. They’ll also have to fend off AFC South rival, the Tennessee Titans (6-5), if they want to lock down a postseason berth.
The Colts lost three out of their last four games. They have a chance to take a huge leap forward with a victory over Tennessee this weekend. The Colts’ other remaining games include a trip to Tampa Bay (4-7), at New Orleans (9-2), vs. Carolina (5-6), and at Jacksonville (4-7).
AFC Bubble Teams
Oakland Raiders (6-5)
Indianapolis Colts (6-5)
Tennessee Titans (6-5)
The Titans have a chance to derail the Colts’ march to the playoffs with a big road game win in Indianapolis this Sunday. The Colts are favored by a field goal in that AFC South throwdown. The rest of Tennessee’s tough schedule includes four matchups against potential playoff teams, with games at Oakland, vs. Houston, vs. New Orleans, and at Houston to end the season. The Titans can catch the Texans for the AFC South title, if they can win both games.
The Oakland Raiders (6-5) shot themselves in the foot with a horrible showing against the Jets last Sunday. The Raiders have three more road games, which are all AFC West matchups. They play Patrick Mahomes at Kansas City (Week 13), at LA Chargers (Week 16), and at the Denver Broncos (Week 17). The Raiders have a tough home game against the Tennessee Titans, who are also fighting for a wild-card, and a berth in the 2020 NFL playoffs. Their only easy game remaining will be the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7) in Week 15.
Check out our NFC playoff picture update where the bubble is much more bleak.