Nick already reviewed what’s needed for the Broncos to make the playoffs, but I wanted to look at the upcoming schedules for the AFC teams who have the best chances to make the playoffs.
For this exercise, I made the following assumptions about the AFC.
* Cincinnati, Denver and New England will win their divisions while Kansas City should easily get a wild card berth.
* The AFC South is between Indianapolis and Houston.
* The final wild card spot is between the New York Jets, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Oakland.
* While others are still mathematically in the hunt, too much must fall into place for those teams to make it.
With that mind, let’s look at everybody’s remaining schedules:
Denver: Oakland, at Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, San Diego
If we assume the Broncos take care of business at home, that means they should finish at least 13-3. Of course, we’d like for the Broncos to win out and finish 14-2, giving them the best chance of claiming the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
Cincinnati: Pittsburgh, at San Francisco, at Denver, Baltimore
I can’t see the Bengals losing to the Niners or Ravens. That means Broncos fans should be rooting for Pittsburgh next week. That game will also give Broncos fans the best indicator of what to expect from both teams.
New England: at Houston, Tennessee, at New York Jets, Miami
The Patriots have two road games against teams who are trying to stay in playoff races. Those are the two in which I could see New England taking at least one loss. I seriously doubt the Titans beat the Pats and it’s hard to see Miami doing that if the Pats don’t rest their starters.
Kansas City: San Diego, at Baltimore, Cleveland, Oakland
I don’t see anybody beating the Chiefs the next three weeks, although stranger things have happened. But I’m betting they secure a wild card spot before Week 17. It’s possible they rest their starters against Oakland if they are assured the No. 5 seed at that point. If they could fall to No. 6, though, expect them to play their starters.
Indianapolis: at Jacksonville, Houston, at Miami, Tennessee
Getting Houston at home could be the advantage Indy needs to secure the division. If the Colts win that game, they have the tiebreaker sewn up
Houston: at New England, Indianapolis, at Tennessee, Jacksonville
The Texans need to win the next two or they may not make the playoffs.
New York Jets: Tennessee, at Dallas, New England, at Buffalo
The Jets can put themselves into a good position if they win their next three games, because then there is less pressure to win at Buffalo. I think the next two games are winnable for the Jets, but they need to win the next three to ensure themselves a wild card berth.
Pittsburgh: at Cincinnati, Denver, at Baltimore, at Cleveland
If the Steelers beat the Bengals and the Broncos, they have a very good chance to make the playoffs. Drop one or both, though, and they may not make it.
Buffalo: at Philadelphia, at Washington, Dallas, New York Jets
The Bills get three straight games against the NFC East. They need to sweep them to keep themselves alive in the playoff hunt. Losing one of those three will make it tougher, losing two of the three likely eliminates them.
Oakland: at Denver, Green Bay, San Diego, at Kansas City
The Raiders have the toughest task ahead. I can’t see them beating Denver at home at this point. Perhaps they can knock off the Packers, but then they have to win out for a chance at the playoffs and hope other things fall into place.
My thoughts? Looking at the remaining schedules, and given that I believe Denver, Cincy, NE and KC have their playoff spots in the bag, I think the Colts win the AFC South and the Jets pull off the upset over the Patriots to hold off Pittsburgh for the other wild card spot.