It has been a long season for the Wild Card contenders in the AFC, as this is one of the weakest group of potential playoff teams in recent memory. The Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins lead the way at 7-6, though the Ravens hold the tiebreaker based on their Week 5 win over the Dolphins. The 6-7 San Diego Chargers and New York Jets are chasing them, with the Chargers currently holding the tiebreaker over the Jets. All four teams are relatively close in talent level, and with such a close race, schedules could be the deciding factor.
The Ravens and Chargers clearly have the most challenging slates ahead of them. The Ravens are at the Detroit Lions, home against the New England Patriots and at the Cincinnati Bengals. There is a very realistic chance they could lose two or three of those games, which would obviously be a disaster for the Ravens. The Ravens are on a three game win streak, but they have to get their offense going, particularly their run game. The Ravens have barely cracked 300 yards of total offense per game in their win streak, and that won’t work against the high powered Lions and Patriots.
The Chargers face a huge challenge within their own division. They play at the Denver Broncos tomorrow, followed by home games against the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs. Frankly, I like the Chargers’ chances to win two out of three better than the Ravens. The Chargers upset the Chiefs in Arrowhead three weeks ago, and the Chiefs probably won’t have anything to play for in Week 17. The Chargers should handle the Raiders with no problem, and they seem fairly likely to end the season at 8-8.
The Jets are the long shot here, as they finally ended their three game losing streak against the Raiders on Sunday. They play at the Carolina Panthers and home against the Cleveland Browns before closing the season in Miami against the Dolphins. The odds of the Jets beating the Panthers are slim, limiting their upside to 8-8. If the Jets go 8-8 they would need a ton of help to get in, because right now they don’t own tiebreakers over anyone.
All of this is why, in my opinion, the Dolphins are the favorite to make the playoffs. The play all divisional games to end the season, starting with a home game against the Patriots, at the Buffalo Bills and finally the Week 17 showdown with the Jets. 9-7 seems like a very real possibility for the Dolphins, which would probably be good enough to get them in. They would own the tiebreakers over the Chargers and Jets, but not the Ravens. The schedules and the tiebreakers shape up well for the Dolphins, who have won three of their last four.
The Wild Card race is going to come down to the final game of the season, and there are many, many scenarios that could play out. Each of these four teams has a legitimate chance to get into the playoffs, but only the Ravens control their own destiny at this point. However, it is unlikely that any of these teams will win out, meaning that tiebreakers could change, as well as who controls their own destiny. It will be a very exciting race, and expect there to be all kinds of twists and turns before one of these four teams clinches a postseason berth.