Miami (9-5) tied Oakland (also 9-5) for the best record in the AFC but would have the edge in terms of the No. 1 seed based on head-to-head competition. Homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, however, is virtually negligible nowadays.
The playoff picture in the rest of the conference cleared up only a tiny bit but no team has definitively clinched a berth. Without employing a formula that would rival Einstein's Theory of Relativity, here's how the races shape up and how it pertains to Oakland:
Denver's 34-21 win over Kansas City coupled with Oakland's loss, however, made the division race a bit tighter. The Raiders, however, close the season at home against Denver (8-6) and Kansas City (7-7), which means they do not need to rely on scoreboard watching. San Diego appears to be in a freefall having lost five of their last seven games and finishes the season at Kansas City and home against Seattle.
AFC EAST: Miami is in the driver's seat for now with New England playing at Tennessee playing in a Monday night battle between two 8-5 clubs. Miami, which is 2-4 on the road, visits Minnesota (4-10) and New England to finish the season. New England also hosts the New York Jets. Buffalo and the Jets, meanwhile, are both 7-7 teams that must win their last two games and hope for help.
How it pertains to Oakland: The Raiders hold the tiebreaker over every AFC East team except Miami based on beating Buffalo, the Jets and New England.
AFC SOUTH: This race is much easier to figure out since it involves only two teams. Tennessee trails Indianapolis (9-5) by one-half game. The Titans, however, have the tiebreaker edge for the division title based on sweeping the season series over Indianapolis. The Colts finish with home games against the New York Giants (8-6) and AFC South foe Jacksonville (6-8). Tennessee concludes its season with road games at Jacksonville and Houston (4-10).
How it pertains to Oakland: The Raiders hold the tiebreaker over Tennessee based on beating the Titans. Oakland did not play the Colts but currently has a better conference record.
AFC NORTH: This race is not mathematically decided but realistically it's pretty cut-and-dried. Pittsburgh (8-5-1) now has a seemingly comfortable 1 ½ game lead over Cleveland (7-7) and Baltimore (7-7). The Steelers defeated Carolina 30-14 while Cleveland fell to Indianapolis 28-23 while Baltimore was a 23-19 winner over Houston. Pittsburgh, which finishes the season with a road game at Tampa Bay (11-3) and a home game against Baltimore, would have to lose its remaining games while either Baltimore or Cleveland would need to win their remaining games. Baltimore's final two games are home against Cleveland and at Pittsburgh while Cleveland also visits Atlanta (8-5-1).
How it pertains to Oakland: Pittsburgh's tie makes tiebreakers irrelevant even though Oakland beat Pittsburgh head-to-head. The Raiders defeated Pittsburgh in Week 2.
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org