2021 NFL Playoff Picture: Ranking AFC teams vying for wild card spots as Chargers blow huge opportunity


The AFC playoff image has been crazy throughout the season. The conference finally has a team that clinched a playoff berth after 16 weeks, as the Kansas City Chiefs won the AFC West with Sunday’s victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Kansas City are the only team in the conference to have a sealed playoff spot with two weeks left in the regular season.

There are still 12 teams vying for the remaining six spots in the AFC playoffs and nine teams still vying for the remaining three wild card spots. The AFC got so unpredictable that the Houston Texans beat the Los Angeles Chargers, creating even more chaos in the wild card playoff race.

With two weeks to go, let’s take a revised look at which teams have the best chances of sealing one of the conference’s three wild card spots.

Current leaders of the AFC division

Here are your four seeds as the playoff picture looks right now:

  1. Chefs (11-4) *
  2. Titans (10-5)
  3. Bengals (9-6)
  4. Invoices (9-6)

Note: * = division unhooked

AFC Wild Card Candidates, Ranked

This is a ranking of the teams competing for a wild card place in the AFC. Only three non-division winning teams make the playoffs, so the top three obviously have the best chance of making the playoffs as we dive into Week 17.

1. Foals (9-6)

Remaining time: against Raiders, at Jaguars

Any team that has nine wins at this point in the season and the Jaguars on their schedule have an excellent chance of reaching the playoffs. The Colts are one of the most prominent teams in football, going 8-2 in their last 10 games since the start 1-4. Indianapolis is a full game on the last wild card spot and has the best conference record of all the teams vying for the wild card. They’re also the No.5 seed with the Jaguars left on their schedule (had to mention it again) – and can have a severe impact on any of the teams trying to reach the Raiders’ playoffs. . Barring a major collapse, the Colts are in it.

Remaining time: against the Jaguars, among the Dolphins

Much like the Colts, the Patriots are in excellent shape to advance to the playoffs thanks to keeping the Jaguars on their schedule. Why is New England inferior to Indianapolis? The Patriots lost to the Colts in Week 15, but can also finish third in the AFC East if the Dolphins win – which is crazy to understand. Ten wins should see New England advance to the playoffs, but the Patriots need to make sure they don’t have a misstep like the Chargers did – especially with their chances of winning the division title, unless the Bills collapse.

Remaining time: at the Steelers, against the Bengals

How does a team work? 500 have the third best chance of wild card contenders to advance to the playoffs? The Browns still have a shot at winning the AFC North if they win, needing a win against the Steelers and a loss for the Bengals to the Chiefs on Sunday to set up a winning division title showdown. Cleveland is still one game away from last place in the AFC playoffs, but being the 12th seed in the conference with a 4-6 conference record isn’t going to help the Browns at this point in the game. Better for the Browns to win on Sunday and bet on the Bengals’ loss to stage a playoff game in Week 18.

Remaining time: at Titans, vs. Patriots

The Dolphins are the No. 7 seed in the AFC and took last place in the conference playoffs after winning their seventh straight game – bouncing off a 1-7 start. Now comes the real test of Week 17 against the Titans, the first .500-plus team the Dolphins have faced since a Week 10 win over the Ravens. If the Dolphins win that one, it sets up a Week 18 showdown with the Patriots for a playoff berth (and Miami seems to have New England number as of late). The Dolphins earned the spot, but can they keep it by extending the winning streak another two weeks?

Remaining time: against Broncos, at Raiders

Los Angeles had a playoff berth within its grasp, needing only to beat Houston to reach the nine-game winning mark. Instead, the Chargers were upset by the Texans and fell to 9th place in the conference. The Chargers can still make the playoffs, but face two tough division rivals in the Broncos and Raiders – both of whom are fighting to stay alive in the AFC playoff race (and the Raiders are one of three other 8-7 teams battling for a place in the playoff finals). The Chargers can still win and get 10 wins, hoping to create a massive tiebreaker if the Dolphins and Patriots each get 10 wins – but all of that could have been avoided simply by beating the Texans.

6. Raiders (8-7)

Remaining time: at Colts, vs Chargers

The Raiders have beaten the Broncos for a fighting chance for a playoff berth, but their remaining schedule is brutal. Vegas must beat a scorching Indianapolis team – on the road – to stay alive in the playoff race. The Raiders then finish with the Chargers, who beat them earlier this year. Beating Denver gave Vegas a shot at stealing a playoff berth, especially with a conference record of 6-4. A win over the Colts and Vegas will result in a tiebreaker against them and Miami, which could be crucial if they equal one of them (or both) for the final playoff spot.

Remaining time: against the Rams, against the Steelers

At this point in the game, the Ravens must win. Bringing back Lamar Jackson in Week 17 will be necessary against the Rams, who are fighting for the NFC West title and the NFC seed – so Los Angeles has something to play for. Their chances at AFC North are nearly extinct with a Division 1-4 record, but the win brought Baltimore to 10 wins with a wildcard shot. The Ravens need the Dolphins or Raiders to lose either of their last two if they win (since both teams beat Baltimore), but their playoff chances aren’t dead yet. Unfortunately, the Ravens have a brutal end to their schedule, but both games are at home.

8. Steelers (7-7-1)

Remaining time: against the Browns, at the Ravens

The Steelers have a shot at winning the AFC North if they win, they must eliminate the Browns in Week 17 before they set up a showdown with Baltimore for a shot at winning the division. Even if the Steelers win their last two games, the Bengals must lose their last two games for the Steelers to win the division. That tie will be at stake if Pittsburgh wins, especially if other teams finish with nine wins this year and are in the playoff position. The Steelers won’t need a tiebreaker with a tie in hand. They might not look like a playoff team, but Pittsburgh is not dead yet.

Remaining time: at Chargers, vs. Chiefs

Losing to the Raiders was essentially the nail in the coffin for the Broncos’ playoff chances. Not only do Denver have to win to have a shot, they have to beat the Chargers and Chiefs to hit that threshold. It’s hard to see Denver reach the playoffs at this point, especially since there are eight other teams ahead of them battling for those three wild card spots. One loss and Denver is over.


Only three teams are officially eliminated from the playoffs until week 16:


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