Just two weeks remain in the regular season and the playoff picture in the AFC is beginning to really take shape. We already have three clubs that have clinched a playoff berth and two of them (Kansas City and Buffalo) have already clinched their divisions. For the Bills, Week 15 was a special moment in the franchise's history as it was the first time since 1995 (!) that they were able to win the AFC East. Not only are they division winners for the first time this century, but are currently situated as the No. 2 seed in the conference and look primed for a deep playoff run.
On the flip side of this playoff snapshot, a couple of teams were officially eliminated from postseason contention in Week 15, including the New England Patriots. This is the first time since 2008 that Bill Belichick's club has missed the playoffs and, at 6-8 coming into Week 16, they are set to finish at or below .500 for the first time since 2000. Unfamiliar times in Foxborough, indeed.
Of course, those are just small pieces to the larger playoff picture that is still morphing into what it'll ultimately become after Week 17. While some divisions are determined, the wild card spots are still up for grabs, which sets up an exciting final two weeks in the conference. As things stand currently, the Browns, Colts, and Dolphins are slotted inside the postseason with the Ravens and Raiders being the only two teams still "in the hunt" on the outside looking in. That said, a lot of things can change with this picture, which we'll detail now in our final standings prediction below.
- Browns (10-4) -- Prediction: No. 5 seed
As crazy as this may have sounded just a few weeks ago, there's still a very real chance that the Browns win the AFC North. If Cleveland is able to beat the Jets in Week 16 and the Steelers fall to the Colts, that sets up a Week 17 matchup between these two clubs that would give the Browns the ability to clinch the division with a win. Given the way Pittsburgh has been playing as of late, this turn of events seems extremely possible. In any event, the Browns can clinch a playoff berth in a number of ways this weekend. If they win and the Ravens and/or Dolphins lose or tie in their matchups, they'll have punched their ticket. They'd also get in with a win and Colts loss. With all of these avenues in front of them, it's no hard to see why Cleveland is situated as the top wild-card club.
Conference record: 6-4
Strength of victory: .375
Final three: at Jets, vs. Steelers
2. Colts (10-4) -- Prediction: No. 6 seed
Indy also has a path to a division crown as they are currently even with the Titans at 10-4 on the season. Tennessee has the advantage thanks to a better winning percentage within the division and if they are able to beat the Packers on Sunday Night Football while the Colts fall to the Steelers, they'd lock in the AFC South. However, if the Titans lose one of their final two games and the Colts win out, they'd secure the division. The Colts can clinch a playoff berth multiple ways in Week 16, but all include either beating or tying the Steelers. If they win and the Ravens and/or Dolphins lose or tie their games, they'd get in.
Conference record: 6-4
Strength of victory: .418
Final three: at Steelers, vs. Jaguars
3. Ravens (9-5) -- Prediction No. 7 seed
This is where things get interesting. As we go into Week 16, the Ravens are on the outside looking in of the playoffs. However, they on the heels of the Dolphins for the No. 7 seed and have an extremely easy road to finish out the year. Meanwhile, the Dolphins will finish out the year on the road against Las Vegas and Buffalo. If they just drop one of these games -- which I'm projecting they do -- Baltimore will leapfrog over Brian Flores' club and find their way into the playoffs. They just can't have a hiccup.
4. Dolphins (9-5) -- Prediction: Out
Miami controls its own destiny as it relates to their playoff hopes. If they win out, they're in thanks to a better conference record over the Ravens. If they lose one of their final two games, that opens the door for Baltimore to jump ahead. While the Dolphins have been impressive all season, they do have a difficult road in front of them. Even if the Raiders are forced to start Marcus Mariota the former No. 2 overall pick looked strong coming in under duress for the injured Derek Carr last week, which hardly makes this game a gimme. If they get through Week 16 with a win, however, their saving grace could be playing a Bills team with zero motivation to win. If Buffalo's playoff slot is set, they may elect to rest their starters which makes things much easier for Miami.
Conference record: 6-4
Strength of victory: .313
Final three: at Raiders, at Bills
5. Raiders (7-6) - Prediction: Out
While Las Vegas is still mathematically in the playoff hunt, logic says otherwise. If they win out the rest of the way and certain things fall into place, the door is open for the Raiders to get in. However, a more likely scenario is that they'll be watching this postseason with the rest of us.
Conference record: 5-5
Strength of victory: .490
Final three: vs. Dolphins at Broncos