Week 15 AFC Playoff Picture

Week 14 had everything you could ask for. There were matchups between the four AFC teams with the best records, and a massive upset which has left one of the divisions wide open. Week 15 has a lot to live up to, and with multiple playoff scenarios one the line it is sure to be another thrilling week in the NFL. As we reach the last few weeks of the season, which teams are virtually assured to make the playoffs, and how are the races shaping up for the wildcards, divisions, first-round byes, and home field advantage? Let’s take a look as we review the Week 15 AFC playoff picture and clinching scenarios.

All of the playoff numbers in this article are courtesy of @LeeSharpeNFL.

AFC East

Week 15 AFC Playoff Picture
Image courtesy of @LeeSharpe

New England Patriots (10-3)

Back to back losses and a first home loss in 21 games. It is is safe to say it has not been a good couple of weeks for the New England Patriots. Fortunately for the Patriots, their easy first-half schedule has meant that despite the issues they are assured a playoff spot. They are not quite certain of a playoff spot, but as it stands they have a >99% chance of making it to the playoffs, and a win this week would clinch that spot.

Where things get interesting is when we start talking about their first-round bye chances. The loss for the Bills on Sunday means that despite their loss, the Patriots still have a 96% chance of winning the East. However, their first-round bye chances dropped to 75% as they are now just one win ahead of the Chiefs, who also have the tie-breaker after their victory Sunday. Their loss Sunday also meant their chances of that all-important home field advantage dropped below 10%. Not a good couple of weeks in New England.

Buffalo Bills (9-4)

This was always going to be a tough week for the Bills against the best team in the AFC right now, the Baltimore Ravens. Unfortunately, the loss has meant the Bills were unable to capitalise on the Patriots loss, and need some major help to win the AFC East. The Bills would need to win out, and hope the Patriots lose in Cincinnati, or at home to the Dolphins in Week 17.

The loss in Baltimore did not really affect their chances of making the playoffs, which remain above 90%. Outside of the game in New England they have a game at home to the Jets on the final week of the season, which they should win. The test comes this week when they head to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers. A win and they clinch a playoff spot, and have a great chance to sew up the #5 seed. A loss this week would hand the Steelers the chance to control the race for the #5 seed. However, even with a loss this week and in New England, the best return the Titans or Texans can have is 10 wins, so it would come down to tie-breakers. Win this week and the Bills are on the verge of being safe, barring a Week 17 meltdown against the Jets.

AFC North

Week 15 AFC Playoff Picture
Image courtesy of @LeeSharpe

Baltimore Ravens (11-2)

The Ravens have not reeled off monumental victories in back-to-back weeks, which when paired with the win against the Patriots and in Seattle, have left them controlling the AFC. They have clinched a playoff spot and can clinch the AFC North with a win Thursday against the New York Jets.

They also have a chance this week to lock up a bye and home field advantage if one or both of the Chiefs and Patriots lose. Unlikely, but surely it is just a matter of time. They sit two games in front of everyone except New England, who they have the tie-breaker over as well. Unless the Ravens somehow manage to lose both those divisional games, and New England wins out, the path to Super Bowl in the AFC should be heading through Baltimore.

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5)

Despite everything that has been thrown at them this season, Pittsburgh is fighting hard. The dominance of the Ravens has meant their only real path to the Super Bowl is as a wild card team. They currently have a 58% chance of making the playoffs, but a win this week would be huge with a game in Baltimore still on the schedule. After everything they have been through this season, to finish 9-7 and miss the playoffs would be a major disappointment.

Cleveland Browns (6-7)

In every element bar the maths the Brows season is over. Run the table and they have a slim chance of making the playoffs (5%). However, they would need help elsewhere, and with Baltimore still to come in Week 17, it may be a road too far in a disappointing season for the Browns. A potential saving grace may come if Baltimore locks up everything in Week 16, then they may have nothing to play for in Week 17 and rest their starters. For now, there is a chance, but it is a slim one.

AFC West

Week 15 AFC Playoff Picture
Image courtesy of @LeeSharpe

Kansas City Chiefs (9-4)

Last week was huge for the Chiefs. They locked up the AFC West and gave themselves a shot at a first-round bye (25%). With the Bills losing the Chiefs now have the third best record in the conference. As it stands they sit one game behind the Patriots and two behind the Ravens, with the tie-breaker over both. Right now anything from the 1st to the 4th seed is on the table, but they need to finish well.

For a first-round bye to be a remote possibility they need to avoid falling into the trap Houston did. Beating New England is huge, but Denver demonstrated last week that you cannot afford to spend too long thinking about past glories when facing them. The added incentive of perfection giving them a chance at a home field advantage should also drive them on this week.

Oakland Raiders (6-7)

Same story here as for the Browns. The Raiders need to run the table, which is possible, and get help from the other teams. After things looked so promising at 6-4, to be virtually out of contention three weeks later is very disappointing.

AFC South

Week 15 AFC Playoff Picture
Image courtesy of @LeeSharpe

Houston Texans (8-5)

Houston’s struggles against the Broncos was both surprising and not surprising at the same time. The Texans are the better team, so it that way it was a shock. However, that Week 14 game was a classic trap game. Beat the defending Super Bowl champions in a dominant fashion, and then stumble against a team out of playoff contention altogether. 

The win against New England would have had the Texans eyeing up a potential first-round bye. Now they can almost forget that (<1% chance), and they need to fast. The Titans are now level with the Texans, and are perhaps the second hottest team in the NFL. With the two teams facing each other twice before the end of the season, they each hold their own fate in their hands. The Texans are rightly still favorites for the AFC South (62%), but a mistake this week would leave them in a must-win situation in Weeks 16 & 17.

Tennessee Titans (8-5)

The Titans still sit behind the Ravens in the “hottest team right now rankings”, but they are coming up fast. A win this week would put the Titans firmly in control of their division and give them a great chance to get to the 10-win. 10 wins may be enough for a wild card spot even if the division slips away in Week 17. These next three weeks are huge for the Titans, who currently have a 60% chance of making the playoffs in some form. However, a loss this week, with a game against the Saints in Week 16, could leave the Titans at risk of the last seven weeks being for nothing.

Indianapolis Colts (6-7)

Same story here as with the Raiders and Browns. The Titans and Texans are assured to be at a minimum of nine wins, so the division is as good as done for the Colts. In terms of the playoffs, they need all kinds of combinations to play out. At 3% they have a slightly better chance than the Raiders (2%), but that is hardly worth getting excited over. A season that had so much promise could be over on Sunday in New Orleans.

AFC clinching scenarios

Week 15 AFC Playoff Picture
Courtesy of nflcommunications.com

Ben Rolfe