The AFC is best described as top-heavy through 10 weeks of the NFL season. The top 5 teams in the conference have shown to be leaps and bounds above the others. Things get very interesting in the race for the sixth seed, with as many as 5 teams fighting to be the least mediocre. That said, the Tennessee Titans showed us you never know what can happen in the NFL when they thrashed the New England Patriots. With only seven weeks left in the season, let’s look at who is in contention and what lies ahead.
First Seed: Kansas City Chiefs (9-1)
Holy S*#% this team is good. Their only blemish so far was a last-second loss in New England. Other than that this team has rolled through everybody so far. Their offense has been held under 30 points only twice this year. Their defense is giving up over 11 fewer points in their last four games than over their first five. Look for them to stay in first with only two games against teams currently above .500 to close the regular season, starting with a Monday night matchup with the Los Angeles Rams in Mexico City.
Second Seed: Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2-1)
It hurts me to see the Steelers back at the top of the conference. After a 1-2-1 start, Big Ben and the gang have rolled off five straight wins, including a pummeling of a talented Carolina team on Thursday night. James Conner has filled in seamlessly for Le’Veon Bell to pace the fourth-ranked scoring offense and break my heart. I can’t even point to a leaky defense anymore as they haven’t given up more than 21 points during their winning streak. At least the schedule gets harder going forward, with matchups against the Chargers, Patriots, Saints, and Bengals coming up.
Third Seed: New England Patriots (7-3)
What the heck happened? We were all so positive the Patriots were going to catch the Chiefs after beating them in Week 6, but instead, they drop down to the three seed after losing to Tennessee. Don’t linger on this too much though. This team is still the best in the AFC East and will be playing football come January. The only question is if they play during the Wild Card Weekend for the first time since 2009. The road ahead features four divisional games spacing out games against the Vikings and at the Steelers, so at worst this team is 11-5.
Fourth Seed: Houston Texans (6-3)
The Texans took their bye week this week, but look to continue their six-game win streak against the Redskins. The Texans have just been finding new ways to win. It doesn’t matter if the game is a shootout of a defensive battle, the Texans are coming out on top lately. Look for them to keep on rolling because there are no teams above .500 after Washington and Tennessee the next two weeks.
Fifth Seed: Los Angeles Chargers (7-2)
The Chargers are the second best team in the AFC by record but are being overshadowed by their divisional opponent in Kansas City. That is no small feat for a team that is still missing their best player, Joey Bosa. However, their most impressive win was a 1 point squeaker over the Titans. Let’s see how they do against better competition such as the Steelers, Bengals, and Chiefs.
Sixth Seed: Cincinnati Bengals (5-4)
What the heck happened to the Bengals? Cincinnati is currently leading the crapshoot of average AFC teams trying to squeeze into the last wildcard spot, but have been trending in the wrong direction. They opened the season 4-1 and looked like one of the leagues elite teams, but have gone 1-3 since. The defense has not fared well against the better offenses they have been facing lately, giving up 39.5 in their last four games. Meanwhile, AJ Green may not be back until December and by then it may be too late. They have to fight off the Ravens on Sunday and probably beat either the Steelers or Chiefs to stay in control of their destiny.
In The Hunt:
Tennessee Titans (5-4)
A huge win against the Patriots keeps the Titans in the thick of things. As of now, Tennessee loses the tiebreaker against Cincinnati due to worse record between common opponents. However, the Titans are heading in a much better direction. The Titans currently possess the leagues best scoring defense, allowing only 17.6 points per game. That alone is enough to keep them in games. If their offense can keep scoring like they did against New England, they will punch their ticket, but that’s a big if.
Miami Dolphins (5-5)
How did this team beat the Bears? The Dolphins have fully crashed back to Earth after a hot start. Since beating Chicago in week 6, the Dolphins have not scored more than 23 points. Shockingly, the offense has looked lost under Brock Osweiler. Even Danny Amendola seems like a better option at QB at this point. If Tannehill isn’t ready to go soon, the ‘Fins season is over.
Baltimore Ravens (4-5)
Much like the Dolphins, the Ravens are currently facing uncertainty under center. Joe Flacco could be out three weeks with a hip injury, which would thrust rookie Lamar Jackson into action. That honestly might be the best thing for a Ravens offense struggling to keep pace lately. The offensive line should be back to full strength after both starting tackles missed last game, meaning Jackson will have time to let plays develop or make plays with his feet. Jackson will have to show better control, but if we see his playmaking ability we saw at Louisville, the Ravens will could become dangerous again.
Indianapolis Colts (4-5)
Don’t look now but here come the Colts. Marlon Mack has completely revitalized the offense since returning from injury and the Colts have been scoring at will. There are still concerns on the other side of the ball but Andrew Luck has 3 TD passes in 6 straight games. Divisional games are going to be the key for the Colts, with two games against the Titans and one against each the Jaguars and Texans. The Colts might just climb their way into a wildcard if they keep things up
Photo: Kansas City Chiefs