Last week the New England Patriots dropped a crucial game to the Miami Dolphins, giving playoff life to another AFC team. Although New England lost, they still hold a one game lead in the AFC East. The loss however, affected other teams. Here's a look, with insider commentary from other team writers.
Top 10 teams in the AFC (As of Dec 12, 2009)
AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals (9-3)
AFC South: Indianapolis Colts (12-0)
AFC East: New England Patriots (7-5)
AFC West: San Diego Chargers (9-3)
Teams in the chase
N.Y. Jets 6-6
Kansas City 3-9
Each division leader could win out to secure the division. The only team with room to stumble and still get in is the Colts at 12-0.
PI's Take: Indianapolis beat the Patriots earlier this season have continued their stellar season. Currently undefeated, Indianapolis has secured a playoff spot. Two wins and they have home field throughout the playoffs. That is bad news for the Jags and the Broncos but could be good news for the Jets and Bills who may see the Colts resting starters.
Schedule: Broncos, @ Jaguars, Jets, @ Bills
CHARGERS (9-3): Michael Lombardo, SD Bolt Report
"The Chargers were obviously happy to see the Patriots fall. Although it's too early in the season for San Diego to start talking about other teams, especially teams outside its division, every New England loss is clearly a win for the Chargers.
San Diego is now two games up on the Patriots with four games to go. Coming into the season, the Chargers expected to fight the Colts and Patriots for the right to get a first-round bye. Now, they're jockeying with the Bengals and Broncos for the No. 2 seed behind the undefeated Colts. It's been that kind of wacky season."
PI:: San Diego has turned the corner with their offense, and then their defense. After losing to Denver in Week 6, they've reeled off consecutive victories to regain control of the West as the Broncos faltered. The remaining schedule gives San Diego the opportunity to push the Bengals down one game, and to affect the Wild Card race with a game at Tennessee
Schedule: @ Cowboys, Bengals, @ Titans, Redskins
PI: Cincinnati is in a fight in the AFC North division. The Steelers are slumping, but the Ravens remain dangerous. Cincinnati's schedule isn't going to give them an easy path to the playoffs. They're fortunate to hold a 3-game lead, but keeping that lead will be key. Three of their next four opponents are either in the playoffs, or are in heated battles for the playoffs. Though a loss to the Vikings wouldn't be unexpected, the Bengals must find away to close out the Chargers, Chiefs or the Jets, winning 2 of those 3 would get Cincy into the playoffs. If the Bengals falls off the pace, it could open the door for New England to get into the hunt for a first round bye, but a loss to the Chargers in Week 15 could upset the seedlings again.
Schedule: @ Vikings, @ Chargers, Chiefs, @ Jets
Patriots (7-5): Jon Scott, Patriots Insider
New England's loss to Miami hurt the psyche of the team. Another loss on the road proves what Critics have been saying to be true -- the Patriots are hardly a championship quality team. The defense has let the team down three times in the second half, giving opponents hope that they too can play a better second half and pull out the win.
New England's path to the playoffs may require them to win out the rest of the season. The schedule may prove challenging as New England has just two home games left. Fortunately, one of those is against a Wild Card hopeful (Jacksonville).
Schedule: Panthers, @ Bills, Jaguars, @ Texans
Wild Card (if season ended Week 13)
PI: The Broncos are one of the more dangerous teams in the playoff race. They've already beaten the Patriots in Denver to take control of the top tiebreaker. If both teams are tied for the wild card, Denver gets in. Their schedule is tough, and they may fall off the pace by a game against Indianapolis or Philadelphia. Denver will have to close out with wins vs the Chiefs and the Raiders to maintain their AFC standing for a Wild Card. A loss to the Colts could put them into tiebreakers with other teams in the hunt like Jacksonville, Baltimore or the Jets and Dolphins.
Schedule: @Colts, Raiders, @Eagles, Chiefs
JAGUARS (7-5): Charlie Bernstein, Jags Insider
"Although the Patriots 22-21 loss to the Miami Dolphins brought New England's record to 7-5, the same as the Jaguars, many fans in Jacksonville wish the New England outcome would've been different. With the Jaguars firmly in the wild-card hunt, the Patriots loss bettered the Miami Dolphins record to 6-6, just one game behind the Jags with a showdown coming next Sunday in Jacksonville. With a tough stretch ahead for Jacksonville, which includes games against the Patriots and Colts, the Jaguars will need all the help if they are going to make their second playoff appearance in three years, and New England didn't provide any help on Sunday."
PI: Jacksonville, could very well enable their opponents or they could take a big step up when they play Miami, Indianapolis and New England. Holding a solid spot in the Wild Card race, teams will be gunning for the Jaguars. A loss to the Dolphins could be doubly hurtful as it would bring into consideration the tiebreakers including head-to-head and conference wins.
Schedule: Dolphins, Colts, @ Patriots, @ Browns
Outside Looking In
Baltimore's loss to the Packer on Monday night deal a near fatal blow to their hopes of winning the AFC North. Though down, Baltimore can still get into the playoffs, by beating the teams they should beat (Chicago, Oakland) and finding a way to win against a desperate Chicago team and a Pittsburgh team on the bring.
Schedule: Lions, Bears, @ Steelers, @ Raiders
PI: Miami saved their season by knocking off the Patriots at home. New England's road woes may be their undoing. With a one game lead in the East, the Patriots have left the door wide open for Miami. But to walk through that door, the Dolphins have to take care of business. Miami holds the key to the Wild Card. Their four remaining games are against teams looking for one of the two wild card places. The AFC South is particularly vulnerable to Miami's schedule with 3 games against those teams.
Schedule: @ Jaguars, @ Titans, Texans, Steelers
JETS (6-6): Dan Leberfeld of Jets Confidential
"This isn't the Patriots year. Brady is still great, but this is a transition season. There are too many weaknesses. Another off-season of free agency and the draft, I think they will be back to their old ways next year. The offensive line is average, and they need a stud OLB. The Seymour trade might have been a good idea as far as the future, but has hurt them this season. I'm sure these issues will be addressed in the off-season, and they will be back to there old ways very soon."
PI: The Jets have an easy game to stay in the hunt, then three of their next four are against playoff teams or teams pursuing the playoffs. The Falcons are desperately trying to stay in the hunt, and the Bengals are working at their playoff seeding. The Colts will likely have determined their spot as No. 1 seed and could start resting starters in by the time they host the Jets.
Schedule: @ Buccaneers, Falcons, @ Colts, Bengals
PI: A Patriots loss gave the Steelers a reprieve form chasing another team in the Wildcard, but their loss on Thursday night against the Browns may have blown out any spark of hope the team had to repeat their quest for a championship. Pittsburgh has two games left against teams in the Wild Card race. Wins in those contests are doubly important, boosting the Steelers record while putting the competition one game back.
Schedule: Packers, Ravens, @ Dolphins
PI: The Titans can get back into the playoff hunt, for a Wild Card, as Indianapolis has already locked up the division. With a bit of luck, and wins over two AFC competitors, The Titans could sneak into the playoffs. Like the teams behind them, they'll need some help in the form of losses by the teams in front of them.
Schedule: Rams, Dolphins, Chargers, @ Seahawks
PI: The Texans are dangerously close to having little to no hope left. Their loss to the Jaguars dealt a sever blow to their playoff chances. If the Texans win out from here, they can gain ground on both Miami and New England in the final two weeks.
Schedule: Seahawks, @ Rams, @ Dolphins, Patriots
PI: Oakland hasn't had realistic playoff hopes in a while. Though they're still mathematically alive, they have a long road to hoe. Oakland could play spoiler, as three of their final four games are against playoff hopefuls, two in the AFC.
Schedule: Redskins, @ Broncos, @ Browns, Ravens.
BILLS (4-7): Tyler Dunn, Buffalo Football Report
"I'm definitely shocked that a team with New England's talent could go winless on the road, while also nearly losing to Buffalo and Baltimore. Yes, the defense is aging and in flux. But Tom Brady is back, healthy and loaded with weapons. The Patriots should have blown Miami out Sunday. While the magic number is only one for the Pats, I think they'll still win the division title and make some noise in the playoffs. Beyond Indianapolis, the AFC is wide open. I'll take Brady in December any year. Even this one."
PI: The Bills are not yet mathematically eliminated, but they'll have to win out to have a prayer. They're also fortunate enough to have some say in their matter, playing the Patriots one more time in December. Again, the season finale may be against an Indianapolis team that is resting their starters.
Schedule: @ Chiefs, Patriots, @ Falcons, Colts