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AFC Playoff Picture Muddled As Ever

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Heading in to Week 15 the playoff picture in the AFC is really no closer to being figured out as it was in Week 1.  Ok, so that was a bit of an exaggeration, but it is definately confusing.  No worries, though, becuase I am here to help you figure it all out.

First, let's look at what we do know --

  1.  San Diego(11-2, KC, @SEA, ARI) -- San Diego has clinched the AFC West and now sets it's sights on the #1 seed.  The Chargers can clinch a first round BYE with a win and an Indy loss.  Based on their remaining schedule the road to Miami should go through San Diego.
  2.  Indianapolis(10-3, CIN, @HOU, MIA) -- The Can clinch AFC South with a Win and a Jacksonville Loss.  Colts have lost 3 of 4, and are the wrost team in the Super Bowl Era when it comes to stopping the run.  Jacksonville is red hot and coming fast, but the Colts will hold them off.  Monday Night's matchup against the Bengals is going to be fun and Denver fans should watch with great interest to how that game plays out.
  3.  Baltimore(10-3, CLE, @PIT, BUF) -- Can clinch the AFC North with a Win and a Cincinnati Loss.  The Ravens continue to amaze me with how they win games, and sit on the cusp of a BYE if the Colts should trip up at all.  An interesting game at Pittsburgh reamins, and I know the Steelers would like nothing more than to throw a wrench in the Ravens' postseason plans.
  4.  New England(9-4, HOU, @JAC, @TEN) -- Can clinch AFC East with a Win and a NY Jets Loss.  The Pats are really hard to figure out.  They can look great one week, then get shut out by the Dolphins the next.  They'll no doubt win the AFC East but the chances of a BYE have probably gone out the window.  Tricky games against the Jags and Titans remain and 10-6 is not out of the question.
Of the top 4, only the Chargers have actually clinched a playoff spot.  The other three can do so this week with a win and some help.  It's my guess that these four will eventually win their divisions and finish in the order above.  That leaves 5 teams for the remaining two playoff spots, including our Broncos.  Remember, if there is a 3-way tie, head to head matchups go out the window and the tiebreaker is conference record, where the Broncos have a big advantage.

    5.  Cincinnati(8-5(6-3), @IND, @DEN, PIT) -- Talk about a brutal schedule.  The Bengals are 6-3 in the conference, but that could easily become 6-6 by the end of the season.  The Bengals have been up and down all year, and with word of more arrests coming out of the Queen's City you have to think it will have some effect.  The matchup in Denver on Christmas Eve could be a win or go home game.

    6.  Jacksonville(8-5(5-4), @TEN, NE, @KC) -- The Jags may be the hottest team in the league outside of San Diego and their thrashing of the Colts last wee is proof positive.  They also have 3 conference games left, and it will be key for them to win as many as possible.  None of the games will be easy.  Remember, the Jags were swept by the Houston Texans this season.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN --

    7.  Denver(7-6(7-4), @ARI, CIN, SF) -- Denver is actually in a pretty good position, thanks to the best conference record of the remaing teams.  If the Broncos win out, and the Chiefs lose once, the Broncos are in at 10-6 becuase they would hold all tiebreakers with a win over the Bengals in hand. Should they lose one, they would still hold all 3-way tiebreakers with any 9-7 teams.  If Denver wants to be seriously considered a playoff threat, however, they need to win these three games and earn a birth.

    8.  Kansas City(7-6(3-6), @SD, @OAK, JAC) -- That conference record kills the Chiefs in any tie breaker, and their remaining schedule makes a playoff birth a near impossibility.  San Diego is still playing for a #1 seed, and will be looking to atone for their loss to the Chiefs earlier this year.  Even if you assume the Chiefs would win the next two, they would most likely lose a tie-breaker with another 9-7 team.  The Cheifs do hold one trump card.  If the Chiefs and Broncos end up at 9-7, the Chiefs would get in based on a better Division record(4-2 to 3-3), so the Broncos need to hope there are three 9-7 teams.

    9.  NY Jets(7-6(5-5), @MIN, @MIA, OAK) -- The Jets are still alive, but I don't see them winning more than 1 of their remaining 3 games.  As for tie-breaker possibilities, see above.  The best the Jets can do is a 7-5 conference record, and the Broncos, Bengals and Jags can all do better than that.  It's an uphill battle for the Jets to get in but 2006 has to be considered a success for Eric Mangini and Jets fans.

  10.  Pittsburgh(6-7(4-6), @CAR, BAL, @CIN) -- The Steelers are on life support, but I added them becuase they are still breathing, and they play games that could go a long way towards deciding who gets in and who doesn't.  The Steelers need a several things to go exactly right, the first of which is the Steelers have to win their remaining games.  At 9-7, they need the Broncos to lose 2 of 3.  After that, it all depends on who loses to whom.  Much to much to get into, but definately something to keep an eye on.

I will update this again next week when we know more, but it should be a fun Week 15 in the AFC.