The AFC playoffs are set. Coming into Week 17, four teams had already qualified for the postseason -- by seeding: the Patriots, Steelers, Jaguars and Chiefs -- and by Sunday evening we have the final two teams: the Titans and Bills.
All Tennessee needed to do was win -- and that's exactly what happened -- while Buffalo needed a lot to go its way to finally return to the postseason.
Ravens start slow, take lead, then do the unthinkable
The Ravens trailed for 51 minutes and then this happened:
Then, with 44 seconds to go, leading by three points and the Bengals facing fourth down, this happened:
It's an incredible comeback by a Bengals' outfit that looked out of sorts for long stretches, including right up until the moment Andy Dalton threw that game-deciding touchdown. Meanwhile, the Ravens are who we thought they were: fantastic special teams, a good defense and one of the worst offenses you'd ever want to see. To put it in perspective, Baltimore's offense consists of two players: running back Alex Collins and kicker Justin Tucker. Joe Flacco continues to struggle with consistency, partly because he has few reliable downfield targets, but also because offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's suspect play-calling, which was on full display on Sunday evening.
Now their season is over -- and for the third straight year, the Ravens and John Harbaugh miss the playoffs. But one man's trash is another man's treasure.
For the first time since 1999, the Bills are going to the playoffs!
The Bills' streak of missing the playoffs was this close to becoming 18 years and counting. Instead, the Ravens imploded in the final seconds against a hobbled Bengals team and Buffalo took care of business on the road in Miami, dispensing with a Dolphins team that never really had a chance.
Think about it: The last time the Bills went to the postseason, Wade Phillips was the coach and Doug Flutie and Rob Johnson were the quarterbacks. Nathan Peterman was five years old. But perhaps its only fitting that Buffalo overcame the longest odds. According to Football Outsiders, the Bills came into Sunday's game with just a 14.8 percent chance of playing January football. (By comparison, the Ravens were at 97.3 percent ... and still missed out.)
Titans redefine winning ugly
The Titans began the day as the No. 6 seed, and questions swirled around whether coach Mike Mularkey would lose his job if Tennessee didn't make the playoffs. All they needed to do was win, and that's exactly what happened against division rival Jacksonville, though it wasn't easy. The game went from comfortable to extremely tense early in the fourth quarter. Tennessee led 15-3 until this happened:
Luckily, the Jaguars' offense is putrid, especially the passing offense, and Blake Bortles didn't have an answer. When it was over, the Titans eked out a 15-10 win and, as the old saying goes, live to fight another day. Specifically, they'll reconvene next week to face the Jaguars in Jacksonville for Round 3 of this AFC South rivalry.
Chargers aren't a playoff team, they just look like one
On Sunday against the Raiders, the Chargers looked every bit like the team some people pegged to win the division before the season. But as often happens, Los Angeles was betrayed by another slow start. This time, they went 0-4 before notching a win and it wasn't until Week 13 that they were at .500. And despite winning three of their next four, the Chargers still needed a ton of help to backdoor their way into the playoffs. Specifically, they needed to beat the Raiders (check) and hope for one of the following:
- Titans loss or tie and a Bills loss or tie
- Titans loss or tie and Ravens win or tie
So while finishing on a high note -- and with a 9-7 record after an 0-4 start -- is something to build on, it's not enough to keep playing into January. Of course, the Chargers came into the day with just a 39.1 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Football Outsiders, so it's not altogether surprising that they came up just short, in part because the Tennessee took care of business in Nashville.
Here are the AFC wild-card matchups
- No. 3 Jacksonville (10-6) hosts No. 6 Buffalo (9-7)
- No. 4 Kansas City (10-6) hosts No. 5 Tennessee (9-7)
In the divisional round, the Steelers (13-3) will host the higher seed while the Patriots (13-3) will host the lower seed.
For now, you can enjoy an encore viewing of the live blog below: