A Look at the AFC Playoff Picture Heading Into Week 17
AFC Playoff Picture
The AFC playoff picture is clearer than the NFC playoff picture in that the AFC knows who their six playoff teams will be (for slideshow article on NFC playoff picture CLICK HERE).
The AFC wild-card spots are set in stone as the Indianapolis Colts will be the #5 seed and the Cincinnati Bengals will be the #6 seed. Wild-card teams = road games. The Colts could only host a playoff game if the AFC championship game is Cincy at Indy. There are zero scenarios that would see the Bengals host a playoff game.
The #1 and #2 seeds are coveted spots as they will be off week one of the playoffs so they get to avoid any wild-card weekend upsets. They also get to host their game in week two of the playoffs, plus they will have a shot at hosting the AFC championship game.
Currently the Houston Texans (12-3) are the #1 seed, but they can be passed by the current #2 seed Denver Broncos (12-3).
The past five AFC champs have been either a #1 seed or a #2 seed. The results of week 17 will show us who will be the top seeds in the AFC.
The New England Patriots are the #3 seed as we speak, but they could climb allll the way to #1 (or #2) and they could also dip to #4.
The Baltimore Ravens are the #4 seed and are likely to remain in that slot, but they could get the #3 seed depending on how week 17 shakes out.
In a few weeks we will know who will represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVII, but the seeding will be decided once week 17 is in the books.
Houston Texans (12-3)
The Texans are trying to fend off the charging Broncos for the #1 seed in the AFC. They also need a victory to ensure that the Patriots do not catch them.
For a team that was the top seed all season they sure do have a ton of pressure in week 17 as they can finish anywhere from the #1 seed to the #3 seed. No matter what the AFC South champs are going to host their first playoff game, but they have their sights set on more than that.
A Texans win vs the Colts ensures them the top seed. If they lose and the Broncos lose they will still remain ahead of Denver, but in that scenario a Patriots win would mean that New England would pass the Texans.
Confused? I hear you. Worst case scenario for the Texans is they lose their road game and the Broncos and Patriots both win their home games. That would mean the Texans play week one of the playoffs as they would host the Bengals.
The Texans are a top-5 team for generating quarterback sacks. They have 24 sacks at Reliant Stadium.
On offense Matt Schaub is significantly better at home than on the road. He has 13 touchdowns and just four interceptions in Houston. Andre Johnson and his production doubles at home compared to on the road.
Head coach Gary Kubiak surely has his team understanding the difference between #1 or #2 seeds vs anything lower. A top-2 seed gets to avoid any upset scares in the wild-card playoff round.
Denver Broncos (12-3)
A Broncos home win over the Kansas City Chiefs this week would ensure them of getting a top-2 seed. If a Broncos win can be coupled with a Texans loss then the Broncos vault to the #1 seed in the AFC.
The 2-3 Broncos have reeled off an impressive 10 straight wins. If they get their 11th straight in this game then they will be the #2 seed at worst. An upset loss to the Chiefs (early game) would give the Patriots a chance to catch the Broncos for the #2 seed by winning at home vs the Miami Dolphins (late game).
The Broncos have scored in the 30's in six of their seven home games (wow). At 6-2 they are hardily stiffs on the road, but they are great at home.
Their 10 game winning streak has them in a top-2 position. This defense is a top 7 unit vs the run and vs the pass so they are great and likely do not require a week off, but imagine the benefit for 36 year old Peyton Manning to be able to get a week off (plus an extra week to prepare for their playoff opponents).
The Broncos running game gets 4.2 yards per carry at home compared to just 3.4 on the road. At Mile High the Broncos are getting 126 rushing yards per game, but they are at just 97 on the road.
Regardless of the week 17 KC at Denver result we know the Broncos will host at least one playoff game so their home fans will see their team again this season, but there is too much at stake if they lose this game so I think coach John Fox will have his team ready to roll this week.
New England Patriots
New England Patriots (11-4)
The Patriots host the Dolphins in a late game in week 17. By the time they kick-off they will know the results of the Texans at Colts game. If the Texans lose then the Pats can move into a top-2 seed with a victory.
The Ravens also play an early game in week 17 and if they win at Cincinnati then that would mean the Pats have to win to be the #3 at worst. The #3 seed will host the Bengals in the wild-card round, while the #4 would host Andrew Luck and the Colts.
The Patriots beat the Texans and they also beat the Broncos this season so if they can win and either (or both) of them lose then the Pats will have a wild-card round bye.
Pats best case scenario is they win and the Broncos and Texans lose (New England earns the #1 seed in that case). Their worst case scenrio is they lose and the Ravens win which would drop the Patriots to the #4 seed which would all but guarentee they will host just one playoff game.
Tom Brady and the Patriots own the Dolphins so they should get a win in week 17, and then they will see where they finish in the conference.
The Patriots four losses this season have been by 2,1,1, and 7 points so we know they are extremely competitive. I like their chances of representing the AFC in Super Bowl XLVII, but if they can get into the top-2 with a win in week 17 and some luck then I absolutely love their chances to go to the Super Bowl.
Baltimore Ravens (10-5)
The Ravens are the #4 seed, and they are likely to remain in that slot. If they win at Cincinnati this week and the Patriots lose at home then the Ravens would be bumped up to the #3 seed.
Regardless of any week 17 results we know that the Ravens will host a wild-card weekend game as either the #3 or the #4 seed.
An interesting scenario is they win and the Pats lose. That would mean the Ravens are #3 and would host the...Bengals in a week 17 rematch during the wild-card round. It is not often that NFL teams play each other two weeks in a row. It is a long-shot, but it is worth noting this scenario as it is on the table still.
The Ravens will either host the Bengals or the Colts next weekend depending on how week 17 shakes out. The Ravens are significantly better at home than on the road so either Cincy or Indy will be in tough.
Joe Flacco has 15 of his 22 touchdown passes at M&T Bank Stadium. Ray Rice has seven of his nine touchdowns at home.
The Ravens went 6-2 at home and will play either a Colts team that went 4-4 on the road, or a Bengals squad that was an impressive 6-2 on the road.
Week 17 is the third games under new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell so we can expect a team that is motivated to play well and enter the playoffs on a high despite a season that is finishing poorly (even if the Ravens win their week 17 game they will still be limping to the playoffs on a 2-3 run...if they lose that will be a 1-4 free-fall).
Indianapolis Colts (10-5)
The Colts are locked in at the #5 seed. They will travel in the wild-card week to likely play either at Baltimore (current scenario) or at New England. If week 17 is full of upsets then the Colts could play week one at Denver or at Houston.
Regardless of where they play we know their only chance to host a 2012 playoff game is if the AFC championship game is Indy vs Cincy so their week 17 home game vs the Texans is surely their final game in front of their Chuckstrong home crowd.
The 2012 Colts are a remarkable story, but they are sure to be a one-and-done in the playoffs in my opinion. The Colts have been great at home, but pedestrian on the road.
Andrew Luck has 11 touchdowns and a whopping 13 interceptions on the road. Reggie Wayne has a measly one touchdown on the road in 2012.
The Colts are hoping that the Ravens remain in their current #4 seed because the team that will be the #4 if it is not Baltimore would be New England. In week 11 the Colts played at New England and they got smoked. The Pats put up a NFL season high 59 points in a 59-24 beat-down. Luck had three interceptions in that game. Going to Baltimore is hardily an easy game, but the Colts will surely be defeated if they have to travel to New England in the wild-card weekend.
Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)
The Bengals beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 16 which was huge for that organization. They beat a Steelers team that owns them (Pitt had won 20 of the last 26 games vs Cincy) and they qualified for the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1981-1982.
The Bengals are locked in to the #6 seed and they will travel for any playoff game they have. In the wild-card weekend Cincy will travel to take on the #3 seed which will be any of the Texans, Broncos, Patriots, or Ravens.
Currently the Pats are in the #3 slot, but the Texans would drop to #3 if they lose this week vs the Colts plus the Broncos and Patriots win their home games.
If the Broncos get upset at home vs the Kansas City Chiefs and the Patriots win at home vs the Miami Dolphins then the Broncos would drop from their current #2 down to the #3 so they would host Cincy in wild-card weekend.
If the Patriots get upset by the Dolphins and the Ravens beat the Bengals in week 17 then Cincy would have a re-match in wild-card weekend vs the Ravens (this time the game would be in Baltimore).
Andy Dalton and BenJarvus Green-Ellis have been much better at home than on the road, but A.J. Green is awesome (especially on the road) and the Bengals defense has been wonderful on the road. Cincy has a whopping 47 sacks this season, and 29 of those have come on the road. The defense is the main reason why Cincy was a very impressive 6-2 on the road in 2012. The Texans play at Indy in week 17 and if they win they will be 7-1 away from home which would be the only team better on the road than the Bengals.
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