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NFL Playoffs Picture: Critical AFC games heading down the stretch

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We look at the games that will go a long way in determining who makes it to the NFL playoffs.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

The 2014 NFL season is now 11 weeks old, and the playoff picture is starting to come more into focus. Though there's still plenty left to be determined in terms of who makes it to the postseason, we can now narrow the list of teams who still have a realistic shot at playing in January.

In the AFC, there's about 12 teams with a chance to eventually win a playoff spot, and because none of the teams at the top have been able to separate themselves, there's still plenty of meaningful games left to be played.

Because the Broncos lost a bad game at St. Louis in Week 11, they've opened the door for teams like the Bengals, Colts or whoever wins those divisions to sneak up and steal one of the two first-round byes. Speaking of Cincinnati, they're now back atop the AFC North after the Browns lost at home to Houston, who has now put themselves back in the playoff picture.

With that said, here's a look at the upcoming AFC matchups that will have significant playoff implications.

Week 12

Cincinnati at Houston

The 6-3-1 Bengals are back atop the AFC North thanks to the 5-5 Texans beating the Browns in Week 11. This also put Houston within striking distance for one of the two Wild Card spots. The Texans need to beat the Bengals this week to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, while Cincy needs to win to stay atop their division with more difficult games left on their schedule.

Miami at Denver

The 7-3 Broncos are coming off a debilitating loss to the lowly Rams in Week 11, and they have to keep winning now just to keep pace with the 7-3 Chiefs atop the AFC West. The 6-4 Dolphins come to town with possession of the final Wild Card spot in the AFC. There's also the potential scenario that Kansas City wins the West, leaving the Broncos fighting for one of the final two Wild Card spots with teams like Miami, which means a head-to-head win here is also important for both of these teams.

Week 13

Cleveland at Buffalo

The 6-4 Browns are still very much in the race for either the AFC North or a Wild Card spot, but the 5-5 Bills must win this game to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

San Diego at Baltimore

With both teams currently sitting at 6-4, the Chargers and Ravens are still in the hunt for their respective divisions, but in the event both teams are fighting for one of the final Wild Card spots, the winner of this game could serve as a tiebreaker if both team are tied at season's end.

Denver at Kansas City

With both teams sitting at 7-3, this game could ultimately determine who wins the AFC West. Denver took the first matchup in Week 2, but only escaped with a 7-point win at home. The Chiefs have won seven of eight to put themselves firmly in the playoff picture, while Denver has lost two of three and lost their grip on the division.

Week 14

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati

The Bengals beat the Steelers for a spot in the playoffs in 2012, then won the division in 2013 while Pittsburgh sat at home for the postseason again. This is their chance to right those wrongs and get back to the playoffs, while the Bengals look to get back for a fourth straight season.

Baltimore at Miami

The 2013 Dolphins were haunted by a frustrating October loss at home to Baltimore that cost them a spot in the playoffs (both teams finished 8-8 and missed playoff by one game). Whoever loses this battle pretty much will take a potentially-fatal blow to their postseason hopes.

New England at San Diego

Two teams looking to win their divisions face off, but the 6-4 Chargers are more in the hunt for a Wild Card spot, while the Patriots are in contention for the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC.

Indianapolis at Cleveland

The Colts should win the AFC South, but they'll remain in the hunt for a first-round bye if they can win this game, while the Browns look to keep their postseason hopes alive, either as a division winner, or as a Wild Card team.

Week 15

Cincinnati at Cleveland

This could be a de facto AFC North championship. The Browns won the first matchup, so if they hold serve at home, it's hard to see Cincy winning the division.

Denver at San Diego

The Broncos look to stay atop the AFC West, while the Chargers look to stay in the hunt for it while also keeping their Wild Card hopes alive.

Houston at Indianapolis

The Texans have an outside shot at winning the AFC South, but they'd have to upset the Colts in Indy for any chance of that happening.

Week 16

Baltimore at Houston

Two teams that missed the playoffs last year fight to keep their postseason hopes alive.

Kansas City at Pittsburgh

The Chiefs are firmly in the playoff picture right now, and the Steelers are also in good shape, while trailing by just a game for the AFC North lead.

Denver at Cincinnati

This could determine who wins one of the two first-round byes, and the loser could slip out of the lead in their division with several teams nipping at their heels.

Week 17

Cleveland at Baltimore and Cincinnati at Pittsburgh

Both games could decide the winner of the AFC North, just as both could decide who wins a Wild Card spot.

San Diego at Kansas City

The playoff-hopeful Chargers face a Chiefs teams that probably has a playoff spot locked up at this point, which is exactly the same scenario these teams faced in last year.

Buffalo at New England

The Bills played at New England last year out of the playoffs, while the Pats had to win to clinch a first-round bye. That could be the same scenario this time, but this time, the Bills are better positioned to be in the playoff picture.