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AFC Playoff Report: Week 17

While the New England Patriots (12-4) have already locked up the number one seed in the AFC last week, the rest of the conference had something to play for in week 17.

The Bengals could not stop the Steelers from winning the AFC North.
The Bengals could not stop the Steelers from winning the AFC North.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

#2 Seed: Denver Broncos (12-4, 1st AFC West)

Week 17: win (47-14 against the Oakland Raiders, in Denver)

In order to secure a first round playoff bye, the Denver Broncos had to win their week 17 match-up against division rival Oakland. They did so in convincing fashion, winning 47-14. It was a dominant and disciplined (Denver was flagged just once) performance in all three phases of the game. On offense, the Broncos gained 451 total net yards, while displaying a balanced run-pass-ratio (34:40). The running game, led by C.J. Anderson (13/87 yds, 3 Tds), had a productive game, gaining 142 yards (4.2/att) while helping the Broncos hold the ball for 33 minutes. Quarterback Peyton Manning (21/37, 273 yds) and the passing game also had a solid, albeit unspectacular outing. Before being relieved by Brock Osweiler (2/2, 39 yds, 1 TD), Manning hit seven different receivers – his favorite target being Demaryius Thomas (8/115 yds) – but also turned the ball over after an incomplete backwards pass intended for Emmanuel Sanders (6/73 yds) was ruled a fumble (which was recovered by the Raiders and subsequently returned for a touchdown). Denver still finished the game with a +1 turnover margin, thanks to a Josh Bush interception and a Tony Carter fumble recovery; the latter of which was returned 20 yards for a fourth quarter score. The Broncos' defense was stout in all areas: besides registering two takeaways and three sacks, the unit limited the Raiders to just 199 yards of offense and held them to a 33% success rate on 3rd-down (5/15). Oakland finished the game with only 10 first downs. Special teams also had a good game against the Raiders. Kicker Connor Barth made all four of his field goal attempts, while kick-returner Omar Bolden ran his lone attempt  back 76 yards. With the win, the Broncos secure the #2 seed in the AFC and finish their season 6-0 against the AFC West.

Game highlights can be watched here.

#3 Seed: Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5, 1st AFC North)

Week 17: win (27-17 against the Cincinnati Bengals, in Pittsburgh)

The Pittsburgh Steelers have won the AFC North after beating division rival Cincinnati 27-17 on Sunday Night Football. The game started well for the home team; wide receiver Antonio Brown (7/128 yds, 2 TDs) returned a first quarter punt 71 yards for Pittsburgh's go-ahead touchdown. Brown not only played an important role on special teams, he also was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's (24/38, 317 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT) favorite target, catching a 63-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to give his team a 10-point lead. The Steelers had a productive day passing the football, gaining 317 of their 346 total net yards through the air, but had issues elsewhere on offense: the team rushed for only 29 yards on 18 carries (1.6/att), did only convert 3 of 11 (27%) 3rd down attempts and went 0-for-2 in the red zone. Furthermore, Pittsburgh turned the ball over thrice. Roethlisberger threw an interception and lost a fumble after a low snap (one of two fumbles he had on the day), while punter Brad Wing threw a pick while attempting a fake punt in the fourth quarter. The Steelers had problems on offense, but were solid on defense, allowing 337 yards while registering three sacks and three takeaways. Cornerback Brice McCain intercepted two passes, while fellow cornerback Antwon Blake forced and subsequently recovered a Bengals' fumble in the final period. With the win, the Steelers improve to 11-5 and will now host a playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens. However, the Steelers will probably have to do so without star running back Le'Veon Bell, who injured his right knee on Sunday.

Game highlights can be watched here.

#4 Seed: Indianapolis Colts (11-5, 1st AFC South)

Week 17: win (27-10 against the Tennessee Titans, in Nashville)

With the number four seed already clinched and no chance to improve their position in the AFC playoff race, the Indianapolis Colts did not have to win in Nashville. They still took care of business, winning 27-10 and sweeping the AFC South for the second year in a row. The Colts won convincingly against their now 2-14 opponent, but were far from perfect. The offense, led by Andrew Luck (10/16, 160 yds, 2 TDs) in the first and Matt Hasselbeck (13/19, 155 yds, 1 TD) in the second half, amassed 378 yards while scoring on 3 of 5 red zone trips. The unit however, had a hard time sustaining drives, converting only 5 of 16 3rd downs (31%), and running the ball; it gained only 64 yards on 30 attempts (2.1/att). Despite those issues, the Colts were still able to hold the ball for more than 33 minutes. Furthermore, the offense played an almost mistake-free game: it did not turn the ball over and gave up only one sack. Indianapolis' defense, on the other hand, was able to register one takeaway (a Vontae Davis fumble recovery) and four sacks (2.0 by linebacker Jonathan Newsome), while giving up only one touchdown. The unit, which surrendered just 192 yards, was stout against the pass – allowing only 50 yards and 13 of 31 passes to be completed (41.9%) – but had problems stopping the run: the Titans were able to gain 142 yards (5.9/att) on the ground. Still, the Colts were able to hold their opponent to just nine first downs and a 25% 3rd down conversion rate (4/16). Special teams units did not have a mistake-free game: while kick returner Josh Cribbs averaged 43 yards per return, kicker Adam Vinatieri (2/3) missed his first field goal of the year. The former Patriot will look to bounce back when the Colts host the Cincinnati Bengals in the wild card playoff round.

Game highlights can be watched here.

#5 Seed: Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1, 2nd AFC North)

Week 17: loss (17-27 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, in Pittsburgh)

With the AFC North on the line, the Cincinnati Bengals delivered an up-and-down performance in all three phases of the game. In the end, the "down" outweighed the "up" and thus the Bengals enter the playoffs as the number five seed in the conference. Quarterback Andy Dalton (27/38, 244 yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) mirrored the team's outing: he was solid at times and found running back Giovani Bernard (7/56 yds, TD) and tight end Jermaine Gresham (3/20 yds, TD) for the Bengals' lone touchdowns of the contest. The fourth year passer, however, also threw two interceptions (both in the first half) – wide receiver A.J. Green (8/82 yds) was the target on both picks. Green was also involved in the third Bengals' turnover, when he fumbled the ball in the fourth quarter (a play on which he sustained a concussion). The lost fumble came at a point in the game, when Cincinnati, down by three, had some momentum after special teamer Dane Sanzenbacher intercepted a 4th-down pass thrown by Pittsburgh's punter. The play was one of the few positives on special teams, as the unit had some miscues during the game. Kicker Mike Nugent missed a 50-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter and the punt coverage unit gave up a 71-yard touchdown. Cincinnati's offense (which amassed 337 yards) and special teams units were not the only inconsistent parts of the team. The defense had two takeaways (a Reggie Nelson interception and a Wallace Gilberry fumble recovery), did not allow a red zone touchdown and stopped Pittsburgh on 8 of 11 3rd downs, but also surrendered 346 yards and three touchdowns (one of which a 63-yard pass in the fourth quarter). Add it all up, and the Cincinnati's inconsistency is the main reason for the loss. Therefore, the Bengals have to travel to Indianapolis to face the number four seeded Colts on wild card weekend.

Game highlights can be watched here.

#6 Seed: Baltimore Ravens (10-6, 3rd AFC North)

Week 17: win (20-10 against the Cleveland Browns, in Baltimore)

The Baltimore Ravens were able to sneak into the playoffs, thanks to both their 20-10 win over the visiting Browns as well as the San Diego Chargers' 9-17 loss at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs. Baltimore played an efficient game on both offense and defense, outgaining Cleveland 419 to 259 in total net yards. Quarterback Joe Flacco(22/36, 312 yds, 2 TDs) led the Ravens' passing game, in which nine different receivers were involved, while running back Justin Forsett (17/119 yds) served as the workhorse on the ground. The relatively balanced run-pass ratio (28:37) was a key for the Ravens' offensive success. Another one was the fact that Baltimore's offense did not turn the ball over, while its defense registered two takeaways (one interception by Lardarius Webb, one fumble recovery by Terrell Suggs). The unit was also stout in other areas: it came up with four sacks (led by linebacker Pernell McPhee's 2.0 sacks) and held the Browns to only a 23% success rate on 3rd down (3/13). The Ravens also struggled to sustain drives, going 4 of 13 on 3rd down (30%), but were able to make the plays when it counted: down 10-3 entering the fourth quarter, Baltimore was able to score on all three of its offensive drives – one field goal by Justin Tucker (2/2) and one touchdown reception apiece by Torrey Smith (4/83 yds, 1 TD) and Kamar Aiken (2/13 yds, 1 TD) – before icing the game. In the meantime, the defense was able to hold the Browns scoreless through the final period. The Ravens have to be able to play complementary football if they plan on winning next week's wild card game in Pittsburgh.

Game highlights can be watched here.