AFC Playoff Picture: Breaking Down Week 17

This year, week 17 has 13 games that have playoff seeding implications.  On top of that, there are four teams in the AFC fighting for one last wild card spot.  That leads to some pretty confusing playoff scenarios.  None of the four teams play each other in week 17 and in another twist, none of the teams control their own destiny.  I’m going to break down not only what needs to happen for teams to get certain seeds, but just how likely it is.

Denver Broncos (12-3) @ Oakland Raiders (4-11)

What’s at stake: Broncos can clinch home field advantage but already have a first round bye locked up.  Oakland has nothing to play for.

What needs to happen:

 Broncos will clinch home field with a win but they can still get the #1 seed even if they lose and the Patriots lose as well (see their matchup below).

Pryor will return in week 17

Pryor will return in week 17

Outlook: 

When these two teams met in week 3, the Broncos came away with a 37-21 victory.  The Raiders are currently on a five game losing streak but all of these come with quarterback Matt McGloin at the helm.  In week 17 the Raiders will go back to Terrelle Pryor who has not played since November 10.  Neither QB has been very good but McGloin has posted better passing numbers.  The Raiders have a pretty good running game but their passing attack and pass defense (something that may be important against the Broncos) are bottom 10 in the league.

On the other side the of the ball, the Broncos come in with the consensus MVP Peyton Manning fresh off his record setting week.  The bad news for the Broncos comes on defense with Von Miller out for the rest of the year.  Although this could be a big blow for the playoffs, the Broncos played the first six weeks of the season with Miller and went 6-0.

Prediction: 

Broncos Win. The Broncos may not be unbeatable but the Raiders are basically a minor league football team.  Von Miller or not, Broncos will roll over the Raiders.

Buffalo Bills (6-9) @ New England Patriots (11-4)

What’s at stake: The Patriots can finish anywhere from the #1 seed to the #4 seed based on how the games turn out which means home field advantage and a first round bye are at stake.  The Bills are obviously not playing for anything.

What needs to happen: 

#1 seed (home field advantage): Win AND Broncos lose

#2 seed (first-round bye): Win AND Broncos win; OR Lose AND Bengals lose AND Colts lose

#3 seed: Lose AND either Colts or Bengals win but not both

#4 seed: Lose AND Colts win AND Bengals win

Outlook: 

The Patriots have not seemed as dominant as usual but still manage to have a shot at the #1 seed and once again locked up the AFC East.  Brady is having a bad year by his standards with only 24 TDs and 10 INTs with a QB rating under 90.  The Achilles Heel for the Patriots is really their rush defense which ranks 29 in the NFL.

The Bills enter with the 2nd best rushing attack in the NFL, surprisingly led by Fred Jackson instead of CJ Spiller.  Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel  has had some up and downs, including a big injury.  When the Bills hosted the Patriots week 1, they only lost by 2.

Prediction:

Patriots win.  The Bills usually bring it against the Patriots and I do expect this to be close.  The Bills tough rushing game will give the New England defense some problems and Brady may have some struggles against a top 10 pass defense.  However, this is a different Patriots team than the Bills saw week 1, with Brady much more on the same page with his receivers.  The thing that really made me pick the Patriot here: all four of their losses have something in common – they were on the road.  Patriots go out with a win to finish a perfect 8-0 at home.

Baltimore Ravens (8-7) @ Cincinnati Bengals (10-5)

What’s at stake: 

The Ravens have the most at stake in this game since they don’t have anything locked up.  They are one of four teams battling for the last remaining playoff spot and even though they are the only team that can grab the spot while losing, the game is as close to a must win as you can get.

The Bengals have the AFC North locked up so they are looking at the difference between the #2 seed and a first round bye and the #3 or #4.

What needs to happen:

The Ravens clinch the last spot:  win AND Chargers lose OR Dolphins lose; OR lose AND Chargers lose AND Dolphins lose AND Steelers lose

For the Bengals:

#2 seed (first-round bye): win AND Patriots lose

#3 seed: Win AND Patriots win; OR lose AND Colts lose

#4 seed: Lose AND Colts win

Will AJ Green keep up his monster season in week 17?

Will AJ Green keep up his monster season in week 17?

Outlook:

AJ Green has had a monster season, currently totaling 94 receptions, 1,365 yards and 10 TDs.  This has helped Andy Dalton put up very respectable numbers.  Rookie Gio Bernard has been a great addition to the team, totaling over 1,100 total yards and 8 TDs.  However, none of this compares to the Bengals defense which is ranked 5th in yards allowed and 6th in point allowed.  When the Bengals met the Ravens in week 10, they lost by a field goal in overtime.

The Ravens started out 4-6 and it looked like they were pretty much out of the playoffs until they managed to win 4 straight.  They’re coming off a blowout loss to the Patriots and will need to really bounce back on the road to make the playoffs.  Ray Rice has had an incredibly disappointing season, averaging 3.1 YPC and Joe Flacco has far from lived up to the enormous contract he got in the offseason.

Prediction:

Bengals Win.  Like the Patriots, the Bengals are a perfect 7-0 at home this season.  The Ravens are 2-5  on the road.  What’s also damning for the Ravens is their overtime win against the Bengals was their only victory against a team currently in the playoffs.  I don’t believe in the Ravens and I don’t think they get it done when it counts.

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-11) @ Indianapolis Colts (10-5)

What’s at stake: The Colts can get a first round bye and the #2 seed or #3 and #4 are options.  The Jaguars have nothing to play for.

What needs to happen:

#2 seed: win AND Patriots lose AND Bengals lose

#3 seed: win AND Patriots lose AND Bengals win; OR win AND Patriots win AND Bengals lose

#4 seed: Lose OR win AND Patriots win AND Bengals win

Luck leads the playoff bound Colts into a hunt for a first round bye

Luck leads the playoff bound Colts into a hunt for a first round bye

Outlook:

There isn’t much to say about the Jaguars other than they are very bad.  They have no offensive weapons and their defense is basically incapable of stopping anyone.  Maurice Jones-Drew seems to finally be having a bad year.

The Colts suffered a huge blow when Reggie Wayne went down for the year. Andrew Luck has managed to keep the Colts alive in games with some help from TY Hilton.  However, if the Colts want to stick around long, their defense is going to need to step it up.  Week 4 the Colts won 37-3 in Jacksonville.

Prediction:

Colts win.  The Colts are playing for something, they’re at home, the Jaguars are awful.  Should be an easy game.

New York Jets (7-8) @ Miami Dolphins (8-7)

What’s at stake: The Dolphins are the second of the four teams battling for the last wild card spot.  They need to win to have a shot.  The Jets are playing for nothing except the role of spoiler.

What needs to happen:

Dolphins get the #6 seed with: Win AND Ravens loss OR Chargers win

Outlook:

The Jets did a lot better than expected this season including wins over the Patriots and Saints but they are far from a good football team.  Rookie quarterback Geno Smith has thrown almost twice as many interceptions as TDs and plays especially poorly on the road.  The Jets have been great at stopping the run but have struggled against the pass.

The Dolphins are a team that have won some big games (beating IND, NE, CIN, SD) but don’t seem to excel at any aspect of football. Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas have combined for a bottom 5 run game  and Ryan Tannehill has been good but not great.  When the two teams played week 13, the Dolphins dominated the game to the tune of 23-3 in New York.

Prediction:

Dolphins win. The Jets and Dolphins always seem to find a way to split games so my instinct is to go with the Dolphins.  However, the Jets have been so bad on the road (1-6) that it’s tough to imagine them heading into Miami to play the role of spoiler.

Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) @ San Diego Chargers (8-7)

What’s at stake: The Chiefs have already locked up the #5 seed so win or lose makes no difference to them.  The Chargers are the third team looking to grab the #6 seed but need a lot of help to do so.

What needs to happen:

Chiefs make it with: win AND Ravens loss AND Dolphins loss

Outlook:

Rivers is having the best season of his career but he'll need some luck to make it to the playoffs

Rivers is having the best season of his career but he’ll need some luck to make it to the playoffs

The Chiefs have the most talented running back in the AFC in Jamaal Charles and new QB Alex Smith has worked well with Andy Reid to build a very passable offense.  When it comes down to it, the Chiefs will live and die by their defense.  During the first 9 games, when the Chiefs started 9-0, they allowed only 11.6 PPG.  However, over the next 6 games, when they went 2-4, they allowed 27.8 PPG.

The Chargers will finish at least .500 thanks to a huge comeback year by Phillip Rivers.  Rivers has a QB rating of 105.5 which would tie the best he’s ever had in a season.  Ryan Mathews quietly had a nice season for himself with over 1,100 yards.  The Chargers defense has been their real weakness, especially against the pass.  The Chargers did get a big win against the Chiefs week 12 in the process of winning 4 of their last 5 games.

Prediction:

Chargers win.  The Chiefs are a very good team but the past six weeks have been rough for them.  Their once stellar defense has looked very beatable.  The best offense the Chiefs played in their first 9 games came out of the NFC East but once they played teams like the Broncos, Chargers, and Colts, they showed their weakness.  If this game was in Kansas City or the Chiefs actually had something to play for, maybe they win.  Since the Chargers will be the team putting it all out there, I believe in them to get the job done.

Cleveland Browns (4-11) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8)

What’s at stake: The Steelers are the last team shooting for the #6 seed and they will need the most help to get it.  The Browns are playing for nothing.

What needs to happen: 

Steelers make it with: win AND Ravens lose AND Dolphins lose AND Chargers lose

Outlook:

The Steelers started 0-4 and were being framed as one of the worst teams in the NFL.  Le’Veon Bell came back and helped improve the run game, and the Steelers went 7-4 over the next 11 games.  The defense has been far from what Steeler fans are used to but their physical style has helped get some wins.

The Browns are a team with no real identity.  They have played musical chairs at both the quarterback and running back positions and have relied on their very good defense to keep them in ball games.  Josh Gordon is a legitimate superstar who will likely draw tough coverage all day especially is Jordan Cameron is out, which he looks to be.  When they played the Steelers week 12, the Steelers won 27-11.

Prediction:

Steelers win.  The Steelers secondary should be able to keep Gordon in check and their defense is more than equipped to stop the Browns running game.  Ben may struggle to find some open receivers but the Steelers will win in what will likely be an ugly defensive game.

Playoffs

Based on my predictions the AFC playoffs would look like this:

#1 Broncos (bye)

#2 Patriots (bye)

#3 Bengals vs. #6 Dolphins

#4 Colts vs. #5 Chiefs

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