Week 13 AFC Playoff Picture

The bye weeks have come and gone, leaving every team having played 11 games up to this point. With five games left in the NFL season let’s take a look at the AFC playoff picture as we enter Week 13. Which teams are virtually assured to make the playoffs, and how will this week affect the races for the wildcards, divisions, first-round byes, and home field advantage. 

All current playoff chance numbers are courtesy of fivethirtyeight.com, with all future numbers courtesy of @LeeSharpeNFL.

AFC East

Week 13 NFC playoff picture, Week 13 AFC playoff picture
Image courtesy of @LeeSharpeNFL

New England Patriots (10-1)

It may not be pretty but right now the Patriots remain in the lead in the AFC. Their offense has totalled just 30 points the last two weeks, but when your defense allows just 19 does it really matter? If the NFL had a style points element in the same way CFB seems to at times, then the Patriots might be in trouble. For now they are two games up in the division, and three games ahead of any of the other challengers for the first-round bye.

The Patriots have a >99% chance of making the playoffs right now, and they are the only AFC team with a clinching scenario. If the Patriots win and either Pittsburgh or Oakland loses then New England will be assured of a playoff spot. Interestingly, Lee Sharpe also has them as high as 83% likely to secure home field advantage with a win over Houston in Week 13. However, given that Baltimore has the tie breaker over them, that would require the Ravens losing to the 49ers this week.

Buffalo Bills (8-3)

Say what you want about the Bills, but 8-3 is not to be sniffed at. They keep doing what is asked of them and beating bad teams. They have only been blown out once, when the Eagles came to town, with their other two losses coming by a total of nine points. Things could be so much better as well. They had chances to win both the games against the Patriots and Browns. Just imagine the chaos in the AFC if they had!

Nothing is going to come easy for the Bills down the stretch, starting with Thanksgiving in Dallas. However, a win this week would give the Bills close to a 95% chance of making the playoffs, while a loss would still leave them hovering around the 80% mark. A Buffalo win and a New England loss suddenly makes this division, and a first-round bye look interesting as well.

AFC North

Week 13 NFC playoff picture, Week 13 AFC playoff picture
Image courtesy of @LeeSharpeNFL

Baltimore Ravens

No team in the NFL looks better right now than the Baltimore Ravens. They have been destroying teams the past few weeks, and have a real shot at being the number one seed. They already have a >99% chance of making the playoffs, but do not have any clinching scenarios just yet.

A win this week would see them have a close to 95% chance sealing that first-round bye, and it would also keep them effectively half a game back for the number one seed. That win over New England a few weeks back could be absolutely huge come the end of the season.

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)

Who knows where the Steelers would be this season if it was not for their defense? Things have gotten so bad in Pittsburgh that they just benched Mason Rudolph for Devlin “Duck” Hodges, who will likely start the revenge game against the Browns this week. Minkah Fitzpatrick has been the MVP of this team, despite not starting the season with them, although I am sure he will be the first to admit it is a team effort from that defensive unit.

The Steelers playoff chances currently sit around 27%, with a win this week having the chance to boost that closer to 40%. With the Ravens running away with the division, the Steelers can forget anything more than a wildcard spot.

Cleveland Browns (5-6)

Write the Browns off at your peril. Despite everything this team is one game back on the second wildcard spot. They can probably only afford one more mistake down the stretch. This offense finally seems to be clicking and the defense is a solid, talented unit. With all the talent on that team, no one in the AFC wants to see them in the playoffs.

The Browns need to go 4-1 really to have a shot, but interestingly, at 29%, they supposedly have a better chance than the Steelers to go to the playoffs. A win this week would be massive, taking their playoff chances up close to that 40% mark.

AFC West

Week 13 NFC Playoff Picture, Week 13 AFC playoff picture
Image courtesy of @LeeSharpeNFL

Kansas City Chiefs (7-4)

The Chiefs caught a huge break with the Raiders laying an egg this week. Losing four in seven has left them scrambling. Their offense is fine, scoring less than 20 points just one this season. The problem is their defense cannot stop teams consistently, allowing over 20 points seven times this year.

Next week at home to Oakland can virtually seal the division (>99% chance), as they would have beaten them twice. However, they have to be perfect, and get a lot of help, down the stretch if they want a shot at a first-round bye (potentially a 14% chance with a win this week).

Oakland Raiders (6-5)

Just when you think the Raiders are there they get it all wrong. Being humiliated by the Jets is a serious issue, and one that they did not need before heading to Kansas City next week. This team has been doing it with a bit of everything offensively and defensively. However, no real stand out elements will make them a team no one really fears down the stretch and into the playoffs.

This week is massive. Win and they are all-square with the Chiefs for the division. Lose and the division is as good as done. Win and they have nearly a 60% chance of making the playoffs if things fall their way. That is a huge swing, and a tough one to face against a team as good as the Chiefs.

AFC South

Image courtesy of @LeeSharpeNFL

Houston Texans (7-4)

When they needed it the most the Texans pulled it out. Lose to the Colts last week and they faced the potential of being two games behind them if they lose to the Patriots this week. That would be essentially three game with the Colts also holding the tie-breaker on head-to-head with them. In terms of the team, this side is really all about the offense. If they do not score 25-ish points I struggle to see them beating the “big three” in the AFC.

A win this week would be huge. They would have close to an 80% chance of making the playoffs, and be in the drivers seat for the division. A loss is not the end of the world, but it makes their divisional games down the stretch with the Titans must-win type games.

Indianapolis Colts (6-5)

Last week highlighted the Colts issues. They cannot make big plays, and they just do not scare teams. You see the Colts line up and you expect runs and short passes. They need T.Y. Hilton firing or they are at risk of flaming out. If teams can just sit on the short routes they are going to find it extremely hard to close games out down the stretch.

A loss this week might well put a knife in their chances of the division, especially if the Texans were to win. However, losing to the Titans would be devastating, especially as both the Steelers and Raiders have tie-breakers over them. A loss this week could see them with as little as a 10% chance of making the playoffs.

Tennessee Titans (6-5)

The Titans essentially hold their destiny in their own hands. Win their final three division games and they will have the tie-break on Houston and be one game ahead of the Colts. This team has been somewhat confusing. To look at them you would not think they are a threat, but no one is going to want to play them. A tough run game, reinforced with a hot quarterback and a defense that fights for everything makes them a force to be reckoned with.

A win this week keeps all their doors open. They would still likely need to beat the Texans twice to be really sure of the division, but they would have a close to 50% chance of making it as a wildcard team. Given the way Ryan Tannehill is playing right now, nothing it out of reach.

Ben Rolfe

NFL Analyst