Unlike the NFC, with the exception of the final playoff spot, the AFC playoff picture is pretty much set with only two games remaining in the regular season.
Standings through week 15:
1. Houston Texans (12-2)
2. Denver Broncos (11-3)
3. New England Patriots (10-4)
4. Baltimore Ravens (9-5)
5. Indianapolis Colts (9-5)
6. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)
In the hunt: Pittsburg Steelers (7-7)
The final playoff spot will likely be decided by this week's Steelers – Bengals game in Pittsburg. Pittsburg won the first meeting between the division rivals 24-17 back in week seven, and therefore would hold the tiebreaker if they were to win again. However, since week 10 the Bengals have been on a tear winning five out of six following four straight losses. The defense is playing excellent having given up 20 points only once over the past six games in a 20-19 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. QB Andy Dalton has been played well and A.J. Green is one of the league's best receivers. On the other hand, the Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger back under center and Troy Polamalu at safety but have still lost four of their last five including a bad loss against the Chargers in Big Ben's return. If the Steelers lose they are out of the play off race, however, if they win they are in barring a loss to the Browns in week 17 coupled with a Cincinnati win at home against the Ravens.
Prediction: The Steelers have looked bad since Roethlisberger went down with injury and his return hasn't seemed to help them all that much. The underrated Cincinnati defense will hold the Steelers under 20 points en route to a 24-17 victory.
The Colts have remaining games against the lowly Chiefs and against the Texans in Indianapolis. They clinch a playoff spot with a win, a Pittsburg loss, or two Cincinnati loses. They should beat the Chiefs (2-12) this weekend and clinch a wild card spot one year removed from a two win season.
The Ravens are sliding, losers of three straight, they have clinched a playoff spot but are far from a lock for a home game on Wild Card Weekend. They have remaining games against the Giants (8-6) and the Bengals (8-6). If the Bengals pull out a win against the Steelers and the Ravens lose to the Giants, the Ravens and Bengals will be playing for the AFC North crown in week 17. If the Steelers are able to win two down the stretch and the Ravens lose two, the Steelers would claim the AFC North title.
Considering that the Broncos finish the season playing at home against the Browns and the Chiefs, it's safe to say that Sunday's loss to the 49ers probably knocks the Patriots out of contention for a first round bye and a home divisional round playoff game. They do wrap up the season playing the Jaguars in week 16 before returning home to face the Miami Dolphins, two games they will almost certainly win, but they also need either a surprise Denver loss, or two Houston losses in order to move into one of the two top seeds.
Denver cannot finish worse than third and still has an outside shot to finish first in the AFC. Having lost to Houston earlier this year, they would have to win both of their final games, which should not be hard as they stay at home to face the inferior Browns and Chiefs, and Houston would need to lose twice to Adrian Peterson's Minnesota Vikings and to the Colts. If Denver slips up and loses in one of the last two weeks, the Patriots would likely overtake them for the number two seed.
Houston needs just a single win against either the Minnesota Vikings (8-6), or the Indianapolis Colts (9-5) to clinch the number one seed in the AFC. They will be favored in both games but neither one is a lock seeing as both teams are contenders fighting for a playoff spot.
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