Before beating the Cincinnati Bengals in OT last night, the Denver Broncos weren’t even guaranteed a spot in the NFL Playoffs. But after their 20-17 Monday Night Football victory, they’re now the No. 2 seed in the AFC. With just one week left in the regular season, four teams are still fighting for the two spots still up for grabs. The AFC South still hasn’t provided a definite conference champion, while the Broncos, Bengals, and New England Patriots will be competing for home field advantage and first round byes.
Below is a breakdown of all eight AFC Teams still fighting for their spot in the NFL post season, including their current seed and how they could be affected by the results of Week 17.
New England Patriots (12-3) — No. 1 Seed
As it stands now, the New England Patriots are the only AFC team guaranteed a bye in the first round. They currently have the best record in the AFC, and were the first team in the conference to win their division. If the Pats beat or tie the Miami Dolphins (5-10) in Week 17, they’re guaranteed the No. 1 seed. If, as Pats Pulpit pointed out, they lose to the Dolphins and the Broncos defeat the San Diego Chargers (4-11), they’ll slip down to No. 2, possibly losing home field advantage in the AFC Conference Championship. If both the Patriots and the Bengals finish the season at 12-4, the Pats take No. 1 and the Bengals take No. 2.
Denver Broncos (11-4) — No. 2 Seed
The Denver Broncos have been moving up and down the seeding charts over the last couple of weeks. Prior to Week 16, they weren’t even guaranteed a spot in the postseason. Now, they’re currently the No. 2 seed, even though they have yet to clinch the AFC West Division title. As described above, the Broncos could take the No. 1 seed if and only if the Patriots lose to the Dolphins and the Broncos defeat the Chargers. While they are guaranteed at least a Wildcard spot in the playoffs, a win against the Chargers — or a Kansas City Chiefs loss against the Oakland Raiders (7-8) — would give them the division title for the fifth consecutive year, as noted by the Denver Broncos official website. If the Broncos lose and the Bengals win against the Baltimore Ravens (5-10), the Bengals take the No. 2 Seed. If Denver loses and Kansas City wins, the Chiefs take the division title. If the Broncos lose, the Chiefs win, and the Jets defeat the Buffalo Bills (7-8), the Broncos would drop all the way down to the No. 6 seed.
Cincinnati Bengals (11-4) — No. 3 Seed
The Cincinnati Bengals have clinched the highly-competitive AFC North and a playoff berth — but not much else. Even if they defeat the Ravens in Week 17, they can’t get a bye unless the Broncos fail to defeat (lose to or tie) the Chargers. They have no way of catching the No. 1 seed. On the off-chance that the Bengals tie the Ravens, the Broncos would have to lose for Cincinnati to take the No. 2 spot. If the Bengals lose to the Ravens, they can still take the No. 2 spot in the event that Kansas City defeats Oakland and San Diego defeats Denver.
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Houston Texans (8-7) — No. 4 Seed
If the Houston Texans win on Sunday, they’re in. If they lose, things can get complicated. They host the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10) in Week 17, and a win (or even a tie) would give them the AFC South division title, guaranteeing their place in the playoffs. If the Indianapolis Colts fail to defeat the Tennessee Titans (3-12), the Texans get the same guarantee. And even if the Texans lose and the Colts win, it would take seven other games ending just right for the Colts to beat the Texans in the tiebreaker. In all likelihood, the Texans will be the team in the AFC playoffs with the worst record.
Kansas City Chiefs (10-5) — No. 5 Seed
While guaranteed a spot in the postseason, the possible seeding for the Kansas City Chiefs is anywhere from No. 3 to No. 6. If the Chiefs manage to defeat the Raiders and the Broncos lose to the Chargers, the Chiefs take home the AFC West Championship. A tiebreaker against the Bengals — with both teams at 11-4 — would go to Cincy, so No. 3 is the best possible scenario for Kansas City. If Denver wins and/or Kansas City loses on Sunday, the Chiefs will travel to face one of the Division Champions in the first round of the playoffs.
New York Jets (10-5) — No. 6 Seed
If the New York Jets defeat the Buffalo Bills (7-8) in Week 17 (or tie them), they are guaranteed the No. 6 seed. The same is true for the Jets if the Steelers can’t beat the Cleveland Browns (3-12). To put it simply, the Jets will take the No. 6 Seed in the AFC unless they lose to the Bills and the Jets defeat the Browns.
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6) — No. 7 Seed
See above. The Pittsburgh Steelers can sneak into the NFL Playoffs at the No. 6 seed if they defeat the Browns and the Bills defeat the Jets. While the Steelers shouldn’t have a lot of trouble with the Browns, the Bills already defeated the Jets earlier this season in New York.
Indianapolis Colts (7-8) — No. 8 Seed
As noted above, the Indianapolis Colts are an incredible long-shot at this point. On top of needing a win against Tennessee and an upset victory for Jacksonville over Houston, seven more games have to go just right on Sunday for the Colts to get into the playoffs with a record of 8-8. Three of those seven games would have to be upset victories, including the Ravens over the Bengals, the Dolphins over the Patriots, and the Raiders over the Chiefs. It’s not technically impossible, but to remain positive as a Colts fan would require an incredible level of optimism — or pure stupidity.
All six teams have been determined for the NFC side of the playoffs. The Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals have already clinched first round byes. The Washington Redskins will be the No. 4 Seed. The Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings, and Green Bay Packers will fill out the rest of the NFC bracket, pending the results of Week 17.
The NFL Playoffs begin Saturday, January 9.
[Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images]