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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, February 26, 2024

The Hard Count: AFC playoff picture

The American Football Conference’s playoff race is the most competitive it’s been in years, who will come out on top?

Graphic for Reese Christian’s Column “the hard count”
Graphic by Molly Sullivan

As we enter into week 13 of the NFL regular season, the playoff picture is beginning to sharpen. While there are still plenty of spots up for grabs in the National Football Conference, the cutthroat jumble of teams stuck grappling for a wild card spot in the American Football Conference warrants a more in-depth look. With that in mind, let’s jump into where the 16 teams in the conference stand in the hunt for the playoffs.

Division Leaders

The Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars are essentially locked into the top spot in each of the AFC’s four divisions, guaranteeing them a spot in the playoffs. Though worth a mention, the rest of their seasons should be relatively uneventful.

Not A Chance

The New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, New York Jets, Las Vegas Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals all are on the outside of the playoffs and have no feasible path back. In the case of the Titans, Patriots, and Raiders, poor play all season has culminated in no real chance of a late-season rebound. For the Bengals and Jets, severe injuries at quarterback leave them with no foundation to fight for a spot, even with otherwise talented rosters.

A Slight Chance

The Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Chargers have a very slim margin for error, but a theoretical chance at the postseason. The Chargers would likely have to win their remaining six games to improve to 107 and make a run for a wild-card spot. A relatively weak slate of opponents makes this plausible, but the Chargers simply haven’t played well enough to justify faith in their ability to make that happen.

The Bills are sitting in the inverse scenario. They’ve shot themselves in the foot plenty but have also shown flashes of being a special team. However, at 66 and with a daunting final five games that include matchups against the Chiefs, Cowboys and Dolphins, they’re likely looking at an 89 or 98 final record, not good enough to secure a playoff spot.

In The Mix

The final five teams all fall in this category, the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Colts, Steelers and Browns all broadly suffer from a lack of quarterback play, the Browns and Colts from injury and the Steelers from Kenny Pickett simply being bad. They’re all worse teams than their records show but are currently holding the three wild-card spots, and easy remaining schedules may secure those spots.

On the other hand, the Texans and Broncos are the surging challengers, with Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud putting in a historic rookie campaign and the Broncos on an NFL-best five-game winning streak. Between the two, the Broncos have a slightly easier schedule, but these two teams’ week 13 clash may be what determines which of them can claim a playoff spot from a current playoff team faltering down the stretch.

Ultimately, it will likely be three of these five teams in the playoffs, but a lot can change in the NFL in not much time; any game involving a potential playoff team could mean a lot.