Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 12/26/11
The AFC race has been pretty wild this season. Buffalo started hot with a 5-2 record, San Diego stormed back into contention in December, and quarterback Tim Tebow lead Denver to a six game winning streak. Of those teams only Denver remains in playoff contention. The AFC East and South have already been locked up by New England and Houston, with New England also securing a first round bye. Baltimore and Pittsburgh have clinched spots, but remain tied for the division lead. Along with the AFC North, there is still a race in the wild, wild, west. Either Denver or Oakland will make their first playoff appearance in over five years (nine years for Oakland). Lastly, one wild card spot is left. Cincinnati, New York, Tennessee and Oakland all have a shot at seizing that coveted sixth seed.

Here's what the playoff picture will likely look like after seeing 16 weeks of football.


No. 1 Seed -- New England Patriots (12-3):

The only 12 win team in the AFC so far this season and will likely avenge its Buffalo loss from earlier in the season to make it 13. Since losing back-to-back games against Pittsburgh and the New York Giants, the Patriots have won seven in a row. They have struggled at times, however, including against Miami (5-10) at home last week. If they lose this week at home versus Buffalo, whoever wins the AFC North, either Baltimore or Pittsburgh, will pass New England for the number one seed with a win. But more than likely, New England will win and again be the AFC's number one seed.


No. 2 Seed -- Baltimore Ravens/Pittsburgh Steelers (11-4):

All season, my predictions have said Baltimore will win the AFC North, but with one week left and the Ravens and Steelers still tied, it's tempting to go with the week 17 match ups. Both teams play their last regular season game in Ohio. Pittsburgh goes to Cleveland to play the Browns, who ended up giving Baltimore some trouble last week. Even if quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn't play, the Steelers shouldn't have a problem beating the Browns. Baltimore travels to the jungle to take on the 9-6 Cincinnati Bengals. The Ravens already beat the Bengals this season, but at home and only by 7 points. Batimore has struggled on the road this season, and a win for the Bengals guarantees them the sixth seed. Despite my Baltimore predictions all season, the Steelers are the safe pick to win the AFC North and the two seed. But it wouldn't be a surprise if Baltimore wins and locks up the division.


No. 3 Seed -- Houston Texans (10-5):

Good thing they wrapped up their division early. Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates has struggled the last two games as Houston has lost to Carolina and Indianapolis. The losses knocked the Texans out of contention for a bye. Look for Houston to lose again this week since they have nothing to gain or lose being locked into the three seed, and Tennessee needs a win to stay alive. Furthermore, it depends on who gets that sixth seed, but it wouldn't surprise if the Texans make an early exit in the playoffs.


No. 4 Seed -- Denver Broncos/Oakland Raiders (8-7):

It's possible that the NFL gets another 8-8 division winner this year since these teams play the other two teams within the division. Denver plays Kansas City in Mile High while Oakland takes on San Diego by the bay. Even though both teams are home, both teams could easily lose. Kansas City actually has a better road record than home record this year, and former Bronco quarterback Kyle Orton is now starting for Kansas City. He will want revenge against his old team and what would be better than knocking them out of the playoffs? Oakland has to be careful because San Diego has been playing so well over the last few weeks. The Chargers came back to earth last week, however, when Detroit destroyed them. In what could be Norv Turner's last game as head coach, the Chargers will probably roll over like they always do. That means Oakland wins the division unless Denver can stop their former quarterback. Denver cannot be a wild card while Oakland can make the playoffs either winning the division or getting the sixth seed.


No. 5 Seed -- Pittsburgh Steelers/Baltimore Ravens (11-4):

Baltimore owns the tiebreaker because of a season sweep of Pittsburgh, so Pittsburgh can only move up with a win and a Baltimore loss. That could very well happen though with Baltimore on the road in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in Cleveland.


No. 6 Seed -- Cincinnati Bengals (9-6):

Cincinnati can win the sixth seed outright with a win on Sunday. They do play a very tough Baltimore Raven team, but the Bengals played very tough against the Ravens week 11 and lost by a touchdown. Baltimore is a bad road team, and Cincinnati will be extra pumped up from the emotion of the home crowd. This one could go either way, but my prediction is Cincinnati wins. The Bengals can still make the playoffs if they lose, but they would  need three other teams to lose. Obviously, the best way to clinch the playoffs is to win.

Here's where it gets tricky. On the outside looking in:


New York Jets (8-7):

They lost the control of their own destiny in the loss against rival New York Giants on Christmas Eve. The week before, Philadelphia took it to the New York Jets. Now, they must beat the Dolphins in Miami and have the Bengals lose to even have a chance, but they also need Tennessee and Oakland to lose.


Tennessee Titans (8-7):

The loss to winless Indianapolis really hurt the Titans playoff chances. They are in the same situation as the Jets; the Titans must win to stay alive and hope the Bengals fall to force a tiebreaker. The Titans play in Houston, but the Texans are slipping and have nothing to play for this week. In addition to Cincinnati losing, they either need Denver, Oakland, or New York to lose in order for the Titans to capture the sixth seed.


If Baltimore beats Cincinnati and every other team who's supposed to win does win, then Denver, Oakland, Cincinnati, New York and Tennessee will all be 9-7. In that case Denver wins the AFC West, and the other four teams enter tiebreakers for the last wild card spot. Oakland wins the four team tiebreaker, but if New York loses, and it's only a three team tiebreaker, Tennessee goes to the playoffs. If Denver loses, they are eliminated with an Oakland win, and Tennessee gets the sixth seed with Oakland winning the division.

Cincinnati can avoid all of that though with a win against rival Baltimore. This could be only the second time three teams from one division make the playoffs in the AFC since the NFL switched to the four division format.

It's going to be a wild, wild weekend.
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