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AFC Playoff Report: Week 16

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The New England Patriots have clinched homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, courtesy of the Denver Broncos losing to the Cincinnati Bengals. Here's how the AFC's top teams fared in week 16.

Down go the Broncos.
Down go the Broncos.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

#2 Seed: Denver Broncos (11-4, 1st AFC West)

Week 16: loss (28-37 against the Cincinnati Bengals, in Cincinnati – Monday Night Football)

The Broncos needed to win in Cincinnati, in order to keep pace in the race for the conference's number one seed. However, the team delivered an up-and-down performance and lost its week 16 game 28-37. The Broncos played uneven football in all phases of the game. On offense, Denver gained 385 yards, but turned the ball over four times. The team had a solid 75% success rate in the red zone (3/4), but was held scoreless for three quarters. Quarterback Peyton Manning (28/44, 311, 2 TDs, 4 INTs) threw two scoring passes (both to Emmanuel Sanders), but also had four interceptions (one of which was returned for a touchdown). The Broncos could not find their offensive rhythm and had some issues against an opportunistic Bengals defense. It did not help that special teams also had an uneven game. The unit gained 135 yards on six returns (22.5 average), but gave up 206 yards on six returns (34.3 average). Furthermore, kicker Connor Barth missed his only field goal attempt. The defense also played an up-and-down game. Cornerback Aqib Talib scored the game's first points after returning a tipped pass 33 yards to the endzone. On the subsequent play, however, the Broncos gave up an 85-yard rushing touchdown. The unit ended up surrendering 353 yards, but also came up with two turnovers (Talib's pick and a Von Miller forced-fumble-recovery-combination); they stopped the Bengals on nine of 11 3rd downs, but had a hard time stopping the Bengals' running game (207 yds, 5.6 average). The Broncos had their moments on Monday Night Football, but in the end made too many mistakes to win the game.

Game highlights can be watched here.

#3 Seed: Cincinnati Bengals (10-4-1, 1st AFC North)

Week 16: win (37-28 against the Denver Broncos, in Cincinnati – Monday Night Football)

With their 37-28 win over the visiting Broncos, the Cincinnati Bengals clinch a spot in the playoffs. The teams' performance, however, was far from perfect; for stretches it seemed as if the Bengals did anything in their power to lose the contest. Quarterback Andy Dalton's (17/26, 146 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT) second pass of the game was intercepted and returned for a Broncos' score. Things changed on the very next play, when rookie running back Jeremy Hill (22/147 yds, 1 TD) broke free for an 85-yard touchdown run, tying the game. It took until the second quarter for the Bengals to find their offensive rhythm: they outscored the Broncos 13-0 to take a 20-7 halftime lead. While the third quarter was dominated by Denver, aided by a lost Hill fumble inside the Broncos' 10-yard line, Cincinnati pulled away in the final 15 minutes. The defense played a major role in the fourth quarter, intercepting three Broncos' passes; one of which was returned 27 yards for a touchdown by Dre Kirkpatrick, who had two of the defense's four total interceptions (Adam Jones and Reggie Nelson had the other two). The unit played opportunistic throughout the day, giving up 385 yards but also coming up with four turnovers. The offense, which finished with less yards (353), had "only" two turnovers and was up-and-down all day; having issues sustaining drives (2/11 on 3rd down) and scoring in the red zone (1/4). However, the unit also rushed for 207 yards (5.6/attempt). The uneven performance was mirrored by special teams: the unit gave up a 77-yard kickoff return but had an 80-yard return (by Jones) itself. In the end, the Bengals made enough plays to come away with the win.

Game highlights can be watched here.

#4 Seed: Indianapolis Colts (10-5, 1st AFC South)

Week 16: loss (7-42 against the Dallas Cowboys, in Arlington TX)

The Colts traveled to Texas to face the NFC's third seeded team and were completely dominated in all phases. The first two drives of the game were a sign of things to come. Indianapolis started the game on defense and linebacker Jerrell Freeman initially made a 3rd down stop near midfield, only to keep Dallas' drive alive after getting hit with a 15-yard taunting penalty. The Cowboys would score a touchdown six plays later. The Colts' first offensive series would end in a 3-and-out, which was followed by a fake punt. However, Pat McAfee's pass was dropped by Dewey McDonald. The Cowboys would score a touchdown on the next play. The next four drives looked as follows: Colts go 3-and-out, Cowboys score a touchdown, Colts go 3-and-out, Cowboys score a touchdown. The game was essentially over midway through the second quarter. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (15/22, 109, 2 INTs) was benched in favor of Matt Hasselbeck (15/21, 126, 1 TD) after Indianapolis' second possession of the second half (a 3-and-out). The offense could not get anything going throughout the day, gaining only 229 yards – just one (!) of those came on the ground (on 10 attempts). Only three of the Colts' 11 drives did not end in a 3-and-out or a turnover. The defense was not much better, giving up six touchdowns (one rushing, five passing), 25 first downs and 377 net yards.

Game highlights can be watched here.

#5 Seed: Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5, 2nd AFC North)

Week 16: win (20-12 against the Kansas City Chiefs, in Pittsburgh)

After beating the Kansas City Chiefs 20-12 on Sunday, the Steelers became the first team in the AFC North to clinch a spot in the postseason. The game was mostly a defensive affair, with neither offense being able to find its groove. Pittsburgh finished the game with only 282 yards of offense, but was able to keep drives alive (5/10 on 3rd down) and was a solid 2 for 4 in the red zone. Furthermore, the Steelers were able to limit negative plays: the team did not turn the ball over and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (18/25, 220, 1 TD), who threw a a third quarter touchdown-pass to Antonio Brown (7/72 yds, 1 TD), was sacked only once. When it came to pass protection, Pittsburgh's offensive line had a better day than its Kansas City counterpart, as Steelers defense was able to register six sacks. Outside linebacker Jason Worilds had two quarterback take-downs, James Harrison and Cameron Heyward had 1.5 each. Furthermore, linebacker Vince Williams was able to recover a Chiefs' fumble in the third period. The Steelers' defense had a field day, even though it allowed more yards (327) than the offense gained. Dick LeBeau's unit kept the Chiefs out of the end zone and was stout against the run, giving up only 39 yards (2.8/attempt). The Steelers, however, had a hard time running the football themselves, gaining only 68 yards on 26 rushing attempts (2.6/attempt). They did however score on a 1-yard Le'Veon Bell run. With the win, the Steelers are in position to win the AFC North next Monday night when they host the Cincinnati Bengals.

Game highlights can be watched here.

#6 Seed: San Diego Chargers (9-5, 2nd AFC West)

Week 16: win (38-35 in overtime against the San Francisco 49ers, in Santa Clara CA)

As it stands after week 16, the San Diego Chargers are back in the playoffs, due to the team beating the San Francisco 49ers 38-35 in overtime. In order to do so, they had to come back from an 21-point halftime deficit. The game was a tale of two halves, with the first one being dominated by the 49ers. The Chargers, on the other hand looked atrocious early on – on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Philip Rivers (33/54, 356 yds, 4 TDs, 3 INTs) threw two of his three interceptions in the first 30 minutes, one of which was returned for a 49-yard touchdown. Things, however, changed in the second half, as the Chargers scored four of the game's final five touchdowns. Three of those were passes from Rivers; the last one to Malcom Floyd (4/50 yds, 1 TD) to tie the game with 29 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The offense finished the game with 446 yards and four touchdowns; going a perfect 3/3 in the red zone and a solid 8/16 on 3rd down. Not only did the offense step up in the second half, the defense did as well, allowing only one more touchdown (a 90-yard run), and recovering a 49ers' fumble for a score (Corey Liuget). At the end of the day, the defense allowed 447 total net yards. The unit was stout against the pass, giving up only 92 net yards, but struggled against the run: the Chargers allowed San Francisco rush for 355 yards (8.7/attempt). Yet, San Diego played an opportunistic game on defense, coming up with three fumble recoveries (Liuget twice, Sean Lissemore once), the last one coming in overtime to set up Nick Novak 's (1/1) game winning 40-yard field goal.

Game highlights can be watched here.

In the Hunt

#7 seed: Baltimore Ravens (9-6, week 16: 13-25 loss against the Houston Texans)

#8 seed: Houston Texans (8-7, week 16: 25-13 win against the Baltimore Ravens)

#9 seed: Kansas City Chiefs (8-7, week 16: 12-20 loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers)