Breaking Down the AFC Playoff Race

The Kansas City Chiefs have now joined the New England Patriots as one of the two teams pacing the AFC Playoff race after the former’s impressive victory against the Oakland Raiders. While the Chiefs now control their own destiny, the question becomes, can this group hold off the Raiders (and the Denver Broncos) for the top spot in the AFC West? From there, could they possibly supplant the Patriots and grab the No. 1 seed in the division? The NFC Playoff race is interesting, but the AFC is a whole different beast.

1. New England Patriots

Tom Brady looks for a target

New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady looks for a target | Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

All due respect to the Chiefs, it’s hard to bet against Tom Brady and company. The loss of Rob Gronkowski may hurt the Patriots in their hunt for a Super Bowl, and they may meet the Chiefs down the road. However, for now, they’ll hold that top spot.

After seeing New England wind up going 3-1 without Brady even in the lineup, betting against them to win out and lock up that top seed is just too much to ask for. The Pats draw the Ravens, Broncos, Jets, and Dolphins, which isn’t an easy run, but we’ve seen Bill Belichick and Brady overcome much tougher.

2. Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (L) and tight end Travis Kelce congratulate each other after winning a game

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (L) and tight end Travis Kelce congratulate each other after winning a game | Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The Titans, Broncos, and Chargers are all that stand between the Chiefs and the No. 2 seed in the AFC. This would set them up beautifully to lock in home-field advantage through the AFC Championship game. The Titans and Broncos will both cause some headaches for the Chiefs, but it’s worth noting that the Raiders also have to face the Broncos and draw a strong offense in the Indianapolis Colts, too.

Expect Kansas City to take advantage of the situation in front of them and rally behind their incredibly talented defense, which just held the Raiders to 244 total yards of offense on Thursday.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

Le'Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates his touchdown with Ben Roethlisberger

Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates his touchdown with Ben Roethlisberger against the Kansas City Chiefs | Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens currently hold down that No. 3 spot, but the Steelers are scary and surging. To top it all off, the Steelers draw the Bills, Bengals, and Browns, all of which are obviously winnable games. In between those two matchups, Pittsburgh will get their real test at home against that same Ravens team, which could be the game that decides the division.

In the end, the edge goes to the Steelers and it wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprising to see them win out and grab the No. 3 spot. If that does happen, they’ll be one team that literally no one wants to face in the postseason.

4. Indianapolis Colts

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck warms up before a game

Andrew Luck cannot be blamed for the Indianapolis Colts’ struggles | Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

We’re not interested in thinking the Houston Texans and Brock Osweiler can get the job done. So, time to default to the Indianapolis Colts. The Titans deserve some real consideration, but their schedule is just a bit tougher than the Colts’ schedule.

Tennessee will be right there on the fringe, but asking the Colts to beat the Texans and Jaguars at home, then possibly find a way to knock off either the Vikings or Raiders on the road isn’t quite as tough. Indianapolis will likely go 2-2, but seeing them go 3-1 and overtake the division is a real possibility if their offense can keep clicking.

5. Oakland Raiders

Derek Carr (R) of the Oakland Raiders and Latavius Murray celebrate after a touchdown

Derek Carr (R) of the Oakland Raiders and Latavius Murray celebrate after a touchdown against the Denver Broncos | Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Raiders lose out on the division here, but obviously, at 10-3, picking against them to even make the playoffs is literally almost not a possiblity. The Raiders will be the most dangerous wild card team in the NFL, and it’s bad news for whichever team they face (Colts) in the first round. Expect Derek Carr and company to be a serious candidate to make a run and challenge either the Patriots or Chiefs for a chance to go to the Super Bowl.

6. Denver Broncos

Aqib Talib of the Denver Broncos warms up before a game

Aqib Talib of the Denver Broncos warms up before a game against the San Diego Chargers | Harry How/Getty Images

The Broncos have an edge up at 8-4 currently. While some teams could definitely knock them out of the No. 6 spot, it’s time to have a little faith in that defense. The run game is needs to have some life injected into it, and Trevor Siemian needs to step up in a big way for them to hold on. However, there’s reason to have confidence in this team. Even with a tough schedule, the Broncos can get to 10 wins and lock up that final playoff spot.

Statistics courtesy of ESPN and Pro-Football-Reference.