If you enjoyed Sunday night’s 34-31 overtime triumph by the New England Patriots over the Denver Broncos, then circle your calendars for January 19, 2014, because that is when the two best teams in the AFC will be meeting again. The 14th showdown between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning showed us that the Patriots have a bit of an edge on the Broncos, but the rest of the Week 12 slate in the AFC revealed they cannot keep up with these two squads. Go down the list of the AFC’s playoff contenders outside of New England and Denver and it reveals a who’s-who of unstable squads.
A week ago, the Kansas City Chiefs were the only undefeated team left in the NFL but now are holders of a two-game losing skid. And it is not getting any easier. In Sunday’s 41-38 loss to the San Diego Chargers, Kansas City’s vaunted defense lost over half of it’s sack productivity (20 of 37 Kansas City sack) when outside linebackers Tambi Hali (ankle) and Justin Houston (elbow) went down in the second quarter. After those injuries, Philip Rivers had a day with the Chiefs defense, passing for 392 yards and three touchdowns in a classic back-and-forth of a game. Looking at Rivers’ stats makes you wonder what Manning can do against a feeble Chiefs defense. Heading into the biggest game of Week 13, Denver already are 3.5 favorites and in turn Kansas City is on the fast-track to the AFC’s No. 5 seed.
Whomever Kansas City travels to in the first round of the playoffs is between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Indianapolis Colts. Cincinnati had their way with the Patriots earlier in the season but when was the last time Marvin Lewis has won a big game? Lewis miraculously does enough every year to keep his job but is 0-3 when it becomes win-or-go-home season. Also, the Bengals have been plagued by inconsistency at quarterback by Andy Dalton, the third-year player who in his last three games has five touchdowns and eight interceptions for a 1-2 record.
In the AFC South, the Colts could probably finish at .500 and still win their division. However, they looked absolutely putrid at Arizona on Sunday, losing 40-11 to the Arizona Cardinals. Andrew Luck has led Indianapolis to some pretty impressive wins in 2013 (Denver, San Francisco 49ers), but the team is still a year or two away from a deep postseason run, presumably when Brady and Manning lose their moxie.
As for the sixth and final seed in the AFC playoffs, it is shaping up to be another version of the 7-9 2010 Seattle Seahawks. All you need to know about whichever team gets to 8-8 to earn that bid is that the winner of yesterday’s game quarterbacked by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matt McGloin got themselves into the driver’s seat for the final spot.
Therefore, when it comes down to it, only two teams will stand. The rest of the AFC is so erratic that Peyton Manning will be able to shake off his postseason blues and at least win one game to get to the AFC title game. In turn, the Patriots will be at least the second seed in the AFC and only need to win one home game to make their third straight conference championship game, setting up another potential classic between Brady and Manning.
Denver is in line to host and should have tight end Julius Thomas and head coach John Fox back whereas New England will have the same personnel barring more injuries to an already depleted defense or injuries to an offense that finally has perfect attendance. Imagine the hype for last night’s showdown; now ratchet that up to the highest stakes possible, the two best the NFL has to offer playing for the right to go the Meadowlands and Super Bowl XLVIII. The rematch is only eight short weeks away.