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NFL Playoff Picture: Patriots pass Bengals and Broncos for top seed in AFC

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The NFL playoff picture took another dramatic shift this Sunday thanks to losses by the Bengals and Broncos and a big road win by the Patriots.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

As Week 14 ends, a dramatic shakeup atop the AFC once again has the New England Patriots back at the top spot.

Both the Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals lost on Sunday, giving way to the Patriots owning the top spot in the AFC with an 11-2 record while both the Bengals and Broncos now spot a 10-3 record. New England was able to go on the road and beat a pretty good Texans team in Houston. That's given the Pats control of their own destiny in terms of playoff seeding. If they win out now, they'll have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

As for the Bengals, not only did their chances of winning the top seed take a massive blow from their loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but may have lost their quarterback as well. Andy Dalton went down with a thumb injury that will likely knock him out for at least the rest of the regular season, which will greatly hinder Cincinnati's ability to win one of the AFC's top two seeds and a first-round bye.

Week 16's matchup between the Bengals and Broncos will likely decide who ultimately gets the AFC's No. 2 seed. But, it will now be AJ McCarron who likely needs to lead the Bengals in that game. The good news is the Bengals do hold the current No. 2 seed thanks to a better division and conference record than Denver.

The Broncos lost at home on Sunday to the Oakland Raiders thanks to a terrible performance by Brock Osweiler and the offense. Seeing an average Raiders defense go into Denver and shut them down does give hope to the Bengals that they can win in a similar manner in Week 16. Though, it's unknown if Osweiler or Peyton Manning will be playing for the Broncos in Week 16.

If Cincinnati is unable to win in Denver and ends up in the Wild Card round while winning the AFC North, among the teams they could be hosting are the Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets and Steelers. As of now, the Chiefs and Jets are just ahead of the Steelers for those final two Wild Card spots.

Kansas City also holds a head-to-head tie-breaking win over Pittsburgh if both teams finish with equal records. But, the Steelers would win a tiebreaker with the Jets. At this point, the Bengals would much rather see the Jets or Chiefs come to town and battle in what would likely be a defensive struggle rather than see the Steelers return to Cincinnati again.

Here are the latest AFC playoff standings via ESPN:

W

L

PCT

DIV

CONF

SOS

SOV

REASON

1 Patriots

11

2

.846

4-0

8-1

.485

.461

AFC East Champ

2 Bengals

10

3

.769

4-1

8-2

.467

.415

AFC North Champ
Wins tie break over Denver based on best win percentage in conference games.

3 Broncos

10

3

.769

3-2

6-3

.479

.469

AFC West Champ

Colts

6

7

.462

3-1

4-5

.544

.462

AFC South Champ
Wins tie break over Houston based on head-to-head win percentage.

5 Chiefs

8

5

.615

4-1

7-2

.521

.442

Wins tie break over NY Jets and Pittsburgh based on best win percentage in conference games.

6 Jets

8

5

.615

2-2

6-4

.440

.376

Wins tie break over Pittsburgh based on best win percentage in conference games.

7 Steelers

8

5

.615

2-2

5-4

.527

.462

--

8 Raiders

6

7

.462

2-2

6-4

.497

.397

Wins tie break over Buffalo and Houston based on best win percentage in conference games.

Bills

6

7

.462

3-2

6-5

.536

.434

Wins tie break over Houston based on head-to-head win percentage.

10 Texans

6

7

.462

2-1

4-5

.548

.474

--

11 Dolphins

5

7

.417

0-5

3-6

.468

.385

--

12 Jaguars

5

8

.385

2-3

5-6

.476

.375

--

13 Ravens

4

9

.308

2-2

3-6

.482

.365

--

14 Chargers

3

10

.231

0-4

2-7

.521

.308

Wins tie break over Cleveland and Tennessee based on best win percentage in conference games.

15 Browns

3

10

.231

1-4

2-8

.509

.282

Wins tie break over Tennessee based on head-to-head win percentage.

16 Titans

3

10

.231

1-3

1-8

.476

.410

--