NFL playoff picture (cont.)
1. New York Jets (7-2)
2. Baltimore (6-3)
3. Indianapolis (6-3)
4. Oakland (5-4)
5. New England (7-2)
6. Pittsburgh (6-3)
Out of the money: Four teams are clumped at 5-4 and still fighting to be in position to get a playoff chair when the music stops: Kansas City, Miami, Tennessee and Jacksonville. Worth noting is that in terms of head-to-head play, the Titans beat the Jaguars, and the Dolphins beat the Titans. Compared to the 2009 AFC playoff field, just two new teams would qualify: Oakland and Pittsburgh.
Tiebreakers: There's nothing too messy about the AFC tiebreaker situation so far. But that won't hold as further head-to-head matchups ensue. The important tiebreakers to keep track of in the AFC at the moment are:
-- The Jets beat the Patriots head-to-head in Week 2, and that gives them the edge for the AFC East.
-- The Ravens nipped the Steelers in Week 4 in Pittsburgh, and that makes Baltimore the AFC North leader so far.
-- The 6-3 Ravens get the No. 2 seed over the 6-3 Colts because of a superior conference record (6-2 for Baltimore, 4-2 for Indy).
-- Oakland (5-4) is in first place in the AFC West because the Raiders beat Kansas City (5-4) head-to-head in overtime in Week 9.
Key upcoming games: The AFC is where it's at in the coming seven weeks. With 10 of the conference's 16 teams boasting winning records, and still-dangerous 4-5 San Diego and Houston within range in their divisions, the AFC playoff picture is going to be a scrambled mess on a weekly basis. Which is exactly the way we like it.
-- AFC East: With the Jets and Patriots being two of the NFL's three 7-2 teams, it's not a stretch to bill New York at New England in Week 13 as the league's game of the year. But there's plenty more showdowns to come involving this division, including this week's Colts at Patriots annual grudge match, Miami at the Jets in Week 14, the Jets at Pittsburgh in Week 15, or Miami at New England in Week 17.
-- AFC North: What a blast Week 13 should be. Before we get Jets-Patriots on Monday night, we get Steelers at Ravens on Sunday night. If Baltimore can win at home and sweep Pittsburgh, that likely will be the game that decides the AFC North champion. But games like Jets at Steelers in Week 15, Ravens at Browns in Week 16, and Steelers at Browns in Week 17 should make for compelling theater as well.
-- AFC South: In terms of who wins the division that Indianapolis has dominated since the 2002 realignment, the two games that figure to mean the most will be Colts at Titans in Week 14, and Titans at Colts in Week 17. But if the Jaguars keep hanging around, they'll be going for a sweep of the Colts in Indy in Week 15. And playoff implications will also be in play this week when the Colts face the Patriots, and next week, when the resurgent Chargers visit the Colts (who they own).
-- AFC West: Wouldn't it be fun if the Oakland at Kansas City game in Week 17 was for all the marbles? The two former AFL rivals have already played one overtime thriller this season. Do I hear two? But the Raiders (Week 13) and Chiefs (Week 14) still have to play at San Diego, and if the Chargers keep winning, maybe their game at Denver in Week 17 will have more meaning than even the Oakland at Kansas City showdown.
Team most likely to fade: Pittsburgh -- The injuries incurred by both Steelers lines suddenly look like they could be fatal weaknesses. Pittsburgh couldn't run the ball or protect Ben Roethlisberger against New England, and if Hines Ward misses any significant time with his concussion, the passing game will suffer too. With the Raiders, Ravens, Jets and Browns still to play, the Steelers' margin for error is fairly slight.
Team most likely to surge: San Diego -- Isn't it written into the NFL's bylaws the Chargers have to go streaking through late November and December? For all its missteps and special teams breakdowns, San Diego is just a game out of first in the AFC West with seven to play, and four of them are division games. San Diego also still has four home games remaining, where it's 3-1 this season.
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