The AFC is just as unpredictable as ever with 12 teams at or over the .500 mark though 11 weeks in the season. This playoff race is so close the No. 7 seed Buffalo Bills are just 1.5 games behind the No. 1 seed Tennessee Titans, showcasing how unpredictable the conference has been as the 2021 season is close to hitting the three-month mark.
With Thanksgiving on the horizon and the AFC playoff race getting crazier than ever, these are the teams that can feast over the last seven weeks. First, let's take a look at the division leaders before breaking down the wild-card contenders.
Current AFC division leaders
The AFC division leaders through the first 11 weeks. All currently have a playoff spot locked up if they claim the division crown.
AFC wild-card contenders ranked
This is a ranking of the teams competing for a wild-card spot in the AFC. Only three teams can make the playoffs, so the top three obviously have the best chance to make the postseason through the first 11 weeks of the year.
1. Chargers (6-4)
The Chargers remained in the thick of the AFC West title race by holding on to beat the Steelers Sunday night. If Justin Herbert is on the field, the Chargers will have a shot to win every game -- in spite of a rush defense that is among the worst in the league. The Chargers give up a lot of points, but they have a formula to win with an elite quarterback and a passing offense that can score at any time. They'll be in this race throughout the stretch run, especially since Los Angeles is learning how to win the close games.
Remaining schedule: at Broncos, at Bengals, vs. Giants, vs. Chiefs, at Texans, vs. Broncos, at Raiders
2. Colts (6-5)
Indianapolis is currently out of the AFC playoffs through 11 weeks, but the Colts have won five of their last six and have the best running back in football in Jonathan Taylor. The Colts rallied from an 0-3 start to finally get over the .500 mark after thumping the Bills on the road, showcasing how dominant they are in the trenches. Carson Wentz isn't turning the ball over, yet is prone to making plays that will make fans scratch their heads. With the way Indianapolis runs the football and controls the clock, it doesn't matter. The red zone offense (53.3% touchdown rate, eighth-worst in NFL) and defense (69.7% touchdown rate, fourth-worst in NFL) remains an issue, but Indianapolis is playing its best football at the right time. The Colts just have to survive facing three division leaders in four games before an easy finish to the year.
3. Bills (6-4)
Even though Buffalo was throttled by Indianapolis at home, the Bills still control their own destiny in the AFC playoff picture. The Bills have two games coming up against the Patriots for the division title and have one of the easier schedules among the AFC playoff contenders. Josh Allen didn't have his best game Sunday, but is still a top-10 quarterback despite a running back situation and an offensive line that remains in flux. The Bills are still a top-five scoring offense and have a defense that has allowed the second-fewest points in the league, yet they are just 6-4. This team should make the playoffs, even though expectations are much higher for this talented group.
4. Bengals (6-4)
The Bengals had a bit of a hiccup midseason, yet this team had their "get right" game against the Raiders on Sunday. Cincinnati is just a game out of the AFC North division lead and currently sit as the top wild card through 11 weeks. The offense is explosive with Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase, and Joe Mixon -- as the trio gives the Bengals an opportunity to win every week. Cincinnati has a top-10 scoring offense and top-10 scoring defense and clearly will play a factor in the division race. This young team hasn't been playoff tested, but they're equipped for the ensuing battle. How the Bengals fare in their final three games will determine their wild card fate.
5. Browns (6-5)
Baker Mayfield isn't the biggest issue in Cleveland, as the Browns' defense -- loaded with talent -- can't stop explosive offenses. Cleveland wins ugly most weeks, leaving the team searching for answers and wondering if an injured Mayfield is the long-term answer for the franchise. This offense gets better once Kareem Hunt returns from injury, taking a major burden off the passing game. Cleveland has the formula to win football games by running the football at will. They have to wear down defenses through four quarters in order to reach the postseason in consecutive years for the first time since 1985 through 1989. Four of their last six games are against the AFC North -- the division is there for the taking.
6. Steelers (5-4-1)
The tie the Steelers put up against the winless Lions could be the difference in making and missing the postseason in a wild AFC. Najee Harris has made this Steelers offense competent, which shouldn't be the case given all the playmakers at the skill positions. Something just feels off with a team that always seems to end up .500 or better every year. The Steelers rebounded from a poor start to the year, but the offense just isn't in sync despite all the playmakers. The defense gives up too many yards on the ground, not good against a division that has teams that pound the ball. Pittsburgh doesn't face a single team with a losing record for the remainder of the year, making the path to reach the postseason even more daunting.
Remaining schedule: at Bengals, vs. Ravens, at Vikings, vs. Titans, at Chiefs, vs. Browns, at Ravens
7. Broncos (5-5)
Hard to count Denver out of the AFC playoff race since the Broncos are only a game back, but Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback just isn't enough to end a five-year playoff drought. The Broncos have one of the top defenses in the league, yet are in the bottom 10 in points scored. That all points to the quarterback, which Denver needs to compete in the AFC will all the talent they have at the skill positions and the offensive line. If the Broncos get healthy on the offensive line, they'll be a tough out.
Remaining schedule: vs. Chargers, at Chiefs, vs. Lions, vs. Bengals, at Raiders, at Chargers, vs. Chiefs
8. Dolphins (4-7)
How are the Dolphins -- a team that started 1-7 -- in the AFC playoff picture? Winning three in a row will help in a wild AFC, including an upset of the Ravens on a short week. Miami has its problems, yet have a very favorable schedule over the next month that can get the Dolphins back in the playoff conversation. The offense and defense are among the worst in football, yet the Dolphins could actually get to 8-7 thanks to the teams on the schedule they have coming up. Miami can't have one blemish over the next month -- or the Dolphins can kiss their playoff hopes goodbye.
9. Raiders (5-5)
Vegas may be one game out of the final playoff spot, but the Raiders are fading fast with a struggling Derek Carr and an interim head coach. The Raiders should be commended for being in the AFC playoff race at this point in the season, but this team hasn't scored 20 points in a game in over a month. The NFL has been unpredictable this year, so don't count Vegas out -- but it will be tough for this team to grab one of the three wild-card spots with all the adversity going on in that organization.
Remaining schedule: at Cowboys, vs. Washington, at Chiefs, at Browns, vs. Broncos, at Colts, vs. Chargers
Not good enough
None of these teams are good enough to make the playoffs, but they are not technically out either in a crazy AFC