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AFC Playoff Picture Update (Emphasis on AFC North)

With the playoffs approaching and the Browns being eliminated from contention half-way through the season, none of us want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Baltimore Ravens make the postseason. Although the Browns' victory over the Steelers last week put a major dent in the Steelers' playoff hopes, just about everything went right for Pittsburgh this week. Why?

The teams that were ahead of the Steelers heading into Week 15 (in terms of wins) were Jacksonville, Miami, New York, Denver, and Baltimore. While the Ravens blew out the Bears, the other four teams lost. If the playoffs were to start today, this is how things would look:

Current Playoff Picture

  1. Indianapolis Colts - 14-0 record (clinched first-round bye)
  2. San Diego Chargers - 11-3 record (clinched division title)
  3. New England Patriots - 9-5 record
  4. Cincinnati Bengals - 9-5 record
  5. Baltimore Ravens - 8-6 record
  6. Denver Broncos - 8-6 record

Still in Contention

If you're the Ravens or the Broncos, talk about having no margin for error with just two games left. In a tie situation, the Jaguars are still in good shape because not only do they have better division records than the Titans and the Texans, they have a better conference record than all of the other 7-7 teams. There's a good chance that their playoff hopes will come down to their Week 17 contest against the Cleveland Browns. I doubt that NBC would flex us, but you never know.

Any way, let's take a look at how the Steelers and Ravens schedules look the rest of the way.

Next Sunday, Baltimore faces Pittsburgh at 1:00 PM. A Ravens victory would pretty much eliminate the Steelers from contention (but the possibility still exists of them getting in at 8-8). Either way, a victory for either team -- Baltimore or Pittsburgh -- makes it likely that at least one of the two teams will get into the postseason.

If Baltimore wins...they will be 9-6, with a date against the Oakland Raiders in Week 17. The Raiders have been playing well as of late, but with Baltimore's defense getting healthy and several of the 7-7 teams set to "take each other out of it" by facing each other over the next two weeks, a win against Pittsburgh would pretty much mean a postseason berth for the Ravens.

If Pittsburgh wins...they will be 8-7 and tied with the Ravens in the division. But, Pittsburgh would have a worse division record (2-4) than Baltimore (3-3), meaning if the two teams finished the season in a tie, there's no chance that Pittsburgh would make the playoffs while Baltimore wouldn't.

They both get in? The worst-case scenario is that both Pittsburgh and Baltimore make the playoffs. Believe it or not, it could happen, but only if Pittsburgh beats Baltimore and then each of the two teams win their Week 17 contest. I already said that Baltimore faces Oakland in Week 17; well, Pittsburgh faces playoff-contending Miami in Week 17.

Denver already has a tough game next week against the Eagles before facing the Chiefs in Week 17. Let's say Denver goes 1-1 during that stretch to also finish 9-7. The Steelers and Ravens have both defeated the Broncos this year, so that doesn't fare well for Denver.

In my scenario, Miami would be 8-8 due to their loss to the Steelers in Week 17. Houston has Miami and New England remaining on their schedule; that's not too ideal. The Jets face the Colts and the Bengals; fat chance of them winning them both. If the Titans win against San Diego and Seattle, Pittsburgh still owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over them.

How I see it. Baltimore's defense is getting really hot and they have a good chance at making the playoffs even if they lose to Pittsburgh. I think they win their final two games and will be facing the Bengals or the Patriots in the first round of the playoffs. Pittsburgh is in good position in the sense that their final two games are against the contending teams they need to beat, but their defense has simply become...terrible in comparison to what it used to be. Baltimore is IN, and Pittsburgh is OUT.

I did forget to mention that Cincinnati hasn't even clinched the playoffs yet. However, they can lock up a division either by winning one of their next two (Kansas City, NYJ), or if the Ravens lose one of their final two games. The Bengals should dominate the Chiefs next week to secure the division.