The AFC continues to be one of the craziest conferences the NFL has ever seen. The conference has 13 teams that are .500 or better with three weeks remaining in the season -- and 12 of them are separated by two games in the playoff race.
The AFC wild card race is even more unpredictable with nine teams separated by one game from fifth to 13th in the standings, making the margin of error slim for every team going forward. No team is gaining separation in this conference, especially since the AFC doesn't have a single postseason qualifier heading into Christmas.
The division races are unpredictable and the wild card race is even crazier. As Week 16 kicked off Thursday night with the Titans' 20-17 victory over the 49ers, it's time to break down all the contenders for the three wild card spots -- and which three non-division leaders have the best shot at reaching the postseason.
Current AFC division leaders
The AFC division leaders as Week 15 had two thrillers. 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 non-division winning teams make the playoffs, so the top three obviously have the best chance to make the postseason as we dive into Week 16.
1. Chargers (8-6)
Remaining schedule: at Texans, vs. Broncos, at Raiders
Even with Thursday's tough loss to the Chiefs, the Chargers are still in great shape to make the playoffs. With a 5-4 conference record and the Texans upcoming -- the Chargers need to split with the Broncos or Raiders to get to 10 wins. There's an excellent change Los Angeles gets to 11-6 and has this playoff spot locked up. The Chargers' division title hopes may be dashed, but they should land a wild card spot -- barring a major collapse. Los Angeles has a better chance of being the No. 5 seed than missing the playoffs.
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2. Bills (8-6)
Remaining schedule: at Patriots, vs. Falcons, vs. Jets
The Bills will likely be playing for the AFC East crown this week by facing the Patriots in a rematch. A win will give Buffalo the division lead with two games to play (Buffalo will have the better division record), and the Bills will have essentially one of the playoff spots in their grasp -- should they take care of business against the two under .500 teams remaining on their schedule. Buffalo is the No. 7 seed in the conference standings, yet have a favorable schedule (and the talent) in order to get to 10 wins. The Bills are 7-1 against teams .500 or better this year.
3. Colts (8-6)
Remaining schedule: at Cardinals, vs. Raiders, at Jaguars
The Colts' huge win over the Patriots on Saturday night has them currently sitting in a wild card spot ahead of the Chargers, Bills, and Ravens. Indianapolis' chances of winning the AFC South aren't even dead yet thanks to the Titans' loss in Week 15, but the Colts will need some help being down one game with three to play (and were swept by Tennessee, so Indianapolis will need to jump ahead of the Titans with a better record). The best way for the Colts to make the playoffs is via the wild card, which they are in strong shape to accomplish with two .500 or worse teams left on the schedule. If Indianapolis beats Arizona Saturday, the Colts should be able to grab one of the three wild card spots.
4. Ravens (8-6)
Remaining schedule: at Bengals, vs. Rams, vs. Steelers
Losing three in a row has dropped the Ravens from the AFC North lead to out of the playoffs, losing the conference record tiebreaker to all four 8-6 teams and the common record tiebreaker to the Bills. The Ravens still have an excellent shot to make the playoffs thanks to being tied for first in the AFC North with the Bengals -- the team Baltimore squares off against in Week 16. Even though all the remaining opponents Baltimore faces are .500 or better, beating Cincinnati gives the Ravens the AFC North lead (again). It also helps that the Ravens' final two games are at home and they are expected to get Lamar Jackson back this week.
5. Steelers (7-6-1)
Remaining schedule: at Chiefs, vs. Browns, at Ravens
What a win over the Titans to keep the Steelers' playoff hopes alive. Pittsburgh is just a half game behind Cincinnati and Baltimore for the AFC North lead -- with a showdown against the Ravens in Week 18 (and the Steelers beat Baltimore earlier in the year). The schedule is still brutal for the Steelers with a showdown against the surging Chiefs incoming, so Pittsburgh needs this win to keep pace with the 8-6 teams. That tie is going to be Pittsburgh's best friend at the end of the year -- or its worst enemy.
6. Dolphins (7-7)
Remaining schedule: at Saints, at Titans, vs. Patriots
How about those Dolphins? Miami is only the 11th seed in the conference, yet has rallied from a 1-7 start to one game out of the playoffs. No more bad teams on the schedule from here on out, so the Dolphins will find out if they are playoff contenders or not this week. Miami can't afford a loss at this stage of the game, so a win over New Orleans is crucial. If the Dolphins beat the Saints, they're right in the mix for a playoff spot with the opportunity to potentially knock out the Patriots in the final week of the year (assuming the Bills beat the Patriots in Week 16 to take over the division lead),
7. Raiders (7-7)
Remaining schedule: vs. Broncos, at Colts, vs. Chargers
A thrilling win over the Browns keeps the Raiders' playoff hopes alive with a showdown against the Broncos looming that will essentially eliminate one team from the postseason race. The Raiders have the tougher schedule going forward and are inconsistent week to week, but they also own the tiebreaker over all the 7-7 teams since they beat the Browns, Dolphins, and Broncos. A win over Denver and Vegas emerges as a serious dark horse to take one of the wild card spots in the AFC, with the opportunity to surpass the Colts and Chargers.
8. Browns (7-7)
It was a devastating loss by the Browns -- who were ravaged by COVID-19 -- to the Raiders. Cleveland would have been leading the AFC North with a win, but fell to last place with a loss. Monday's loss also put Cleveland behind the Raiders in the AFC standings; not good for the Browns' wild card hopes (they still are just a game out). Cleveland still has a shot at the division title, which is its best bet at making the postseason -- and it still closes with the Steelers and Bengals. The path to the playoffs is clear for the Browns -- win out. That's easier said than done with the Packers incoming on Christmas.
9. Broncos (7-7)
Remaining schedule: at Raiders, at Chargers, vs. Chiefs
A tough loss to the Bengals drops the Broncos from serious playoff contender to a probable afterthought. Denver is still just one game out, but needs to win out -- against its division -- to get into the playoffs. With a 3-6 conference record and the starting quarterback out, it's hard to envision the Broncos as a playoff team. Denver has to beat Vegas this week in order to keep its playoff hopes alive.
Only three teams are officially eliminated from the postseason through Week 14: