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Breaking down AFC playoff contenders’ remaining schedules

Heading in to Week 17, only one AFC team has clinched a playoff spot.

Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

The AFC playoff picture is a crowded one as we head into Week 17 of the NFL season and the Cincinnati Bengals are right in the thick of it.

A big matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs in Cincinnati can go a long way for the Bengals’ playoff implications. Simply put, if they can defeat Kansas City, they are AFC North Champions and are guaranteed a playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium.

If the Bengals fall to the Chiefs this coming Sunday, the vision isn’t quite as clear, and signs point to a likely Week 18 matchup with the Cleveland Browns for all the marbles.

With such a crowded race, we take a look at the remaining schedules of those teams still in the hunt.

Current seedings

The aforementioned Chiefs are the only AFC team to clinch a playoff berth and an AFC West title. While those are secured, Kansas City will still be playing for the No. 1 seed and first round bye as they take on the Bengals and Denver Broncos to finish the year.

Sitting at the current second seed are the Tennessee Titans. Despite the loss of star running back Derrick Henry, Mike Vrabel and company are still winning games late into December. Tennessee will close the year with matchups against a hot Miami Dolphins team and a Houston Texans team riding high after a beatdown of the Los Angeles Chargers. The Titans may find themselves in more close games to close out the regular season. A misstep in either game could cost them a spot in the playoffs and the AFC South title.

The current three seed is no other than your own Cincinnati Bengals. We are in late December and this team controls their own destiny. The path is fairly simple: Beat the Chiefs to secure the AFC North crown. If they are unable to win a third game in a row for the first time this season, the Week 18 matchup in Cleveland could very well determine whether they make the playoffs at all or not.

The fourth seeded Buffalo Bills are riding high after their Week 16 win against the New England Patriots. With matchups against the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets to finish the regular season, you can expect them to punch their ticket to the postseason.

Sitting at the fifth seed, we have the red-hot Indianapolis Colts. With a seemingly unstoppable rushing attack led by second year running back Jonathan Taylor, this is a team to watch out for. The last two weeks of the regular season will see them host the Las Vegas Raiders and travel to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars. Two games the team should win, and they may find themselves atop the AFC South when it is all said and done.

The current sixth-seeded Patriots will face the Jaguars this coming week in a game that should get them back on track. Their Week 18 divisional clash with the Dolphins could be one with huge playoff implications. If Miami is able to continue the hot streak they’ve been on, it could finally be them playing spoilers to the Patriots.

The current last team in would be the Baltimore Ravens, as they are the current seventh seed. With a banged up Lamar Jackson who hasn’t practiced in two weeks, we may see backup Tyler Huntley playing meaningful snaps (provided he clears the Reserve/COVID list) as the regular season comes to a close. After the beatdown at the hands of the Bengals in Week 16, it doesn’t get any easier for them. The Los Angeles Rams will head to Baltimore, still jostling for playoff position in the NFC. To close the year, Baltimore will face division rival Ben Roethlisberger in, if you believe the rumors, could be the last game of his career. Coach John Harbaugh has kept his team in the hunt through an abysmal injury year and a recent COVID outbreak, but it may be too much to overcome.

Several teams are not in the current seeding, but have very real chances at a playoff spot.

Bubble Teams

  • Los Angeles Chargers: vs. Broncos, @ Raiders
  • Las Vegas Raiders: @ Colts, vs. Chargers
  • Miami Dolphins: @ Titans, vs. Patriots
  • Pittsburgh Steelers: Vs. Browns (Monday Night Football), @ Ravens
  • Cleveland Browns: @ Pittsburgh (MNF), vs. Bengals
  • Denver Broncos: @ Chargers, vs. Chiefs.

All in all, the last two weeks of the regular season are primed with big time matchups with playoff berths on the line.

Here’s to hoping the Bengals can clinch that spot a week early and potentially get key starters a week of rest before their first playoff berth since 2015.