The Bengals’ undefeated season last night came to a screeching halt last night via a loss at home against the Texans. Regardless of how ugly Cincinnati played, they’re still 8-1 with a commanding lead in the division and a comfortable lead for the #2 seed in the AFC. The Texans, meanwhile, are sneakily in the playoff picture; they’re tied with that team from Indianapolis for first in the division (isn’t it funny how two teams without a quarterback are fighting it out?). The game grabbed headlines today for two reasons- first, the obvious one, it’s the Bengals’ first loss. The second being JJ Watt mocking Andy Dalton after the game on national television with a less-than-good chirp.
I figured that it would be a good time to assess the playoff scenario in the AFC, as it is over halfway through the season and we’re about to begin the stretch run. If the playoffs started today, the Patriots are the #1 seed, followed by the Bengals at #2. The #3 seed resides in Denver, while the #4 belongs to the Colts by virtue of a tie breaker. The two wild-card teams are the Steelers (#5) and the Buffalo Bills (#6). The teams closest to a wild card are the Jets, Chiefs and Raiders (yes, the Raiders), while Houston, as I said, trails Indianapolis only by a tie-breaker.
The Patriots and Bengals, unless something goes really, really wrong for one of them, will be the #1 and #2. New England’s biggest worries are its defense and its injuries that have ravaged the offensive line and spilled over into Tom Brady’s receiving core. Everyone knows the story about the Bengals- a team that might do well in the regular season, but come playoff time, they disappear. To me, it’s not a matter of a single player, like Andy Dalton or AJ Green. I think it’s something to do with total team performance, along with coaching. I’m amazed Marvin Lewis has kept his job this long. And I know it’s hard to complain when they only have one loss, but those wins now don’t get you anything come January.
The next two seeds in the AFC could theoretically be less dangerous than either team that grabs the wild card. Denver has a great defense, but as Kansas City showed on Sunday, it isn’t impenetrable. Offensively, the quarterback position is a question mark. Coach Kubiak said that Manning is his guy as long as he’s healthy, but they’re starting Brock Osweiler this Sunday. I said it yesterday, I’ll say it again- if Denver wants to win in the playoffs, they cannot use Peyton Manning. Moving on to the fourth seed, Indianapolis has been bad this year. Many had them on top of the conference at the beginning of the year. But now, with an injured Andrew Luck, no running game whatsoever, and a still-lackluster defense, they look like they’ll be able to squeak in to the playoffs. Their main concern is the Houston Texans, who can’t seem to find a quarterback themselves. It’s possible that a 7-9 record could be enough to win the AFC South.
Finally, the wild card teams. I think Pittsburgh will end up grabbing that #5 seed when it’s all said and done. They’re a complete team who would have a better record had they not suffered so many injuries this year. Every single quarterback they’ve played has left a game due to injury, not to mention the knee injury to star running back Le’Veon Bell. 6th are the Buffalo Bills. I do not know what to make of this team. For a squad with as much defensive talent and Rex Ryan calling the shots, the defense isn’t too scary. They’ve played solid enough offensively this year, but I still think that they’re figuring it all out. It’s about two things. First, Tyrod Taylor- if he continues to play well, the Bills will get into the playoffs. If not, they’ll watch from home yet again. Second, how will this team play down the stretch? Buffalo is not a team that has been in this position too often before, and most of the roster has not been on a stretch run that will be grueling. They took care of business against the Jets, but their journey doesn’t get any easier in Foxborough on Monday night. And I think they lose their spot to someone who’s out of the playoff picture, but in the hunt right now….
….If I was a gambling man, and I was forced to bet on one team that isn’t in the playoffs to make it now, I’d bet on the Oakland Raiders…. Yes, the Oakland Raiders. They have an inspired team, a good young quarterback with solid weapons on either side. Their defense is tenacious. They’re hungry to get back to relevancy and they don’t have any pressure, since they shouldn’t be in this position according to most experts.
I don’t think the Jets have any easy games left, outside of their matchup against Tennessee in a few weeks. I don’t think the Chiefs are as good as the Raiders. And I think the mediocrity-at-best of Brian Hoyer and/or TJ Yates will be too much for Houston to overcome.
To recap, this is my projected playoff seeding:
Agree? Disagree? Comment below what you think.