Week 15 brought another fascinating week in the NFL. We may not have had the same group of headline games that we had in Week 14, but the results made it just as entertaining. The biggest headlines from the AFC came with the Texans defeating the Titans and the Bills confirming their playoff spot with their victory in Pittsburgh. Week 16 will potentially see the final two divisions claimed with the right combination of results, but there are also wildcard and seeding matters up for debate in the Week 16 AFC playoff picture.

Entering the week the following situations are already confirmed:

  • Baltimore Ravens: AFC North
  • Kansas City Chiefs: AFC West
  • New England Patriots: Playoffs
  • Buffalo Bills: Playoffs

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

AFC East

Week 16 AFC playoff picture
Image courtesy of @LeeSharpeNFL

New England Patriots (11-3)

It may not have been pretty but the Patriots got their win in Cincinnati, and virtually locked up the AFC East with it. A win this week over the Bills would clinch the division, but even a loss would leave them with at least a 91% chance of clinching the division as their final game is hosting the 3-11 Miami Dolphins. 

The more interesting situation for the Patriots is the first-round bye. Win this week and they would just need that win against Miami to clinch. Lose and suddenly things look a lot more dicey. The Chiefs would still need to win out, but with the Bears and Chargers remaining on their schedule they have a realistic shot at doing that. The Patriots may not need to beat Buffalo for the division, but no team looks like they need a week off more than this Patriots offense.

It is a minuscule chance, but a Patriots win combined with a Ravens loss would keep the Patriots alive for the #1 seed. They need the Ravens to lose both of their remaining games to the Browns and Steelers. Not impossible in a tough division, but not really likely either.

Buffalo Bills (10-4)

The Bills have nothing to lose this week. They are essentially locked into the #5 seed, but a win in this game would at least keep their hopes of the division, and a home playoff game in the wildcard round alive. The right combination of results could also give them a shot at a bye, but even with a win those odds would still only sit around 5% entering Sunday. However, playing spoiler to the Patriots is going to be fantastic motivation heading into New England, where they have had some success this decade.

AFC North

Image courtesy of @LeeSharpeNFL

Baltimore Ravens (12-2)

This weekend should see the Ravens clinch both a bye and home field advantage. If the Patriots lose Saturday they will have a bye locked up before they take the field. Bizarrely, there is still a path with two losses that this Ravens team could be playing wildcard weekend. However, the fact I decided to use the home field graphic above tells you how I expect this week to go for Baltimore. 

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-6)

Last weeks loss will be painful for the Steelers, but it is not the end of the world. Best case scenario for them is that they win this weekend and the Ravens also clinch everything in the AFC. That way the Steelers may have a chance to face a Ravens team resting their starters in Week 17. Worst-case scenario: the Steelers and Ravens lose and they have to go into Baltimore in Week 17 against a team fighting to clinch a bye and home-field advantage. The Jets will be no pushover this weekend, but the Titans do not have it easy against the Saints either. Whatever happens the race for the #6 seed will be alive heading into Week 17.

Cleveland Browns (6-8)

The Browns need to beat the Ravens this weekend and hope the Titans and Steelers lose. 

Can it happen? Yes.

Will it? Seems unlikely

AFC West

Image courtesy of @LeeSharpeNFL

Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)

The Chiefs just need to keep winning and hope someone does them a favour against the Patriots or Ravens. Interestingly, they will know entering their game on Sunday Night Football whether they have a realistic shot at the bye or not. If the Patriots lose then we may well see a very fired up Chiefs team in Chicago. If not then this game may be a damp squib. 

However, a loss here coupled with the Texans winning out could see them slip to the #4 seed. That would mean a tough matchup against the Bills on the table, which means they need to avoid any let down game in Chicago. Where we may see the Chiefs very flat is a combination of a Patriots win and a Texans loss. That scenario would see the Chiefs needing to lose their last two games to slip into the #4 spot. In that situation we may well have the chance to see an upset in Chicago.

Oakland Raiders (6-8)

Another team mathematically still alive, but they also need to win while the Steelers and Titans both lose. With a game against the Chargers I would argue they have a better shot than the Browns, but not by much. That loss last week really hurt this team and they have a right to feel aggrieved after a refereeing decision was a major cause of the reason they failed to secure the victory.

AFC South

Houston Texans (9-5)

Last weeks victory in Tennessee was huge for the Texans. They now only need to win one of their last two games to secure the division. They should have every chance of doing that with the Buccaneers receiving group struggling with injuries, which should decrease the potency of that offense. If they do fail to win this week then they will have a must-win game next week at home to Tennessee. A loss here would also more than likely end any slim chance they have moving into the #3 seed and avoinding the Bills in Round 1 of the playoffs.

Image courtesy of @LeeSharpeNFL

Tennessee Titans (8-6)

The Titans still hold their fate in their hands to some extent. With the Steelers travelling to Baltimore in Week 17, two wins for the titans should be enough to secure a playoff spot at 10-6. However, they are relying heavily on the Buccaneers this week if they still want a shot at the division. Whatever happens this week, they will still have a chance to make the playoffs with a win in Week 17, but those odds would obviously be much better with a win this week.

AFC clinching scenarios

Week 16 AFC playoff picture
Image courtesy of NFL communications

Ben Rolfe

NFL Analyst