Since we last left our AFC bracket in January, very little has changed at the top. The real intrigue is at the bottom, where young teams are hungry to prove themselves in the postseason.
Sunday marks a pivotal point in the playoff race, as the Steelers and Patriots battle in an AFC Championship rematch with the winner surging ahead to home-field advantage. New England has the historical edge, but the Steelers catch them on a short week after a rare divisional loss. The Patriots really aren’t in the business of losing back-to-back games, so it’ll be interesting to see if they can keep pace with the Steelers’ red-hot offense.
While the top two seeds battle it out over home-field advantage, the Jaguars and Chiefs will likely be the other division winners. The Chiefs have shaken off a midseason slump for back-to-back wins, while the Jaguars have been playing historically good defense en route to a surprise postseason return.
For the remaining Wild Card spots, it looks to be four teams fighting for two positions. The team on the bubble is the Raiders, who could very well have their season ended with a home loss to the Cowboys this week. The Raiders have been a massive disappointment this season, but have two wins in their last three thanks to opposing QBs Paxton Lynch and Geno Smith.
The Chargers, who are on yet another roller coaster ride of a season, had their win streak ended in spectacular fashion Saturday night in Kansas City. The wheels may have fallen off against their division rival, but the Chargers remain the most likely team to go from the front lawn to the living room in the next few weeks.
If the playoffs began today, the most interesting matchup of Wild Card weekend could be the sneaky-good Titans against the inconsistent Chiefs. Playing at Arrowhead is a massive advantage for KC, but the Titans’ physical play style can adapt to any location. If Tennessee can score early and play defense, it could be an early exit for a team that looked like an early AFC favorite.
For a full list of NFL tiebreaking procedures, click here.
Here’s how the early playoff standings after the early games:
The Division Leaders:
1. Pittsburgh Steelers — 11-2
2. New England Patriots — 10-2
3. Jacksonville Jaguars — 9-4
4. Kansas City Chiefs — 7-6
The Wild Card Contenders:
5. Tennessee Titans — 8-5
6. Buffalo Bills — 7-6
7. Baltimore Ravens — 7-6
8. LA Chargers — 7-7
Potential Wild Card Matchups:
Titans at Chiefs
Bills at Jaguars