There are currently five teams in the AFC with a winning percentage of 60% or better: (7-2) Patriots, (7-2) Chiefs, (7-2) Raiders, (7-3) Broncos, and (6-3) Texans. The AFC North is currently floundering with the (5-4) Ravens in first place and likely to fall to 5-5 next week against the Cowboys.
Every Patriots fan realizes the importance of homefield advantage and how it can be the difference between a trip to the Super Bowl or to the golf course at the end of the year. So which of these top teams has the easiest path over the rest of the year?
(6-3) Texans (remaining schedule: 0.454)
@(7-2) Raiders, (4-6) Chargers, @(4-5) Packers, @(4-5) Colts, (2-7) Jaguars, (3-5-1) Bengals, @(5-5) Titans
The Texans have a -27 point differential, which is incredible for a team so far above .500. The Texans have lost to good-to-great teams like the Patriots, Vikings, and Broncos, while they’ve also beaten average-to-good teams like the Chiefs, Lions, Titans, and Colts.
Houston has a pretty difficult slate of opposing quarterbacks with QB Derek Carr, QB Philip Rivers, QB Aaron Rodgers, QB Andrew Luck, QB Andy Dalton, and QB Marcus Mariota (and, uh, QB Blake Bortles) on the other sideline.
None of these teams have great defenses (although the Raiders are trending in the right direction), which means Houston’s anemic offense has a chance to do just barely enough to make the playoffs.
(7-3) Broncos (remaining schedule: 0.636)
(7-2) Chiefs, @(2-7) Jaguars, @(5-5) Titans, (7-2) Patriots, @(7-2) Chiefs, (7-2) Raiders
It doesn’t get any harder than the Broncos closing schedule. They play the best teams in the AFC, along with a surprisingly good Titans team that would love the opportunity to run the ball down the throat of the Broncos defense.
Denver’s offense has struggled and there’s a pretty good chance they lose at least three of their final six games.
(7-2) Raiders (remaining schedule: 0.547)
(6-3) Texans, (3-6) Panthers, (4-5) Bills, @(7-2) Chiefs, @(4-6) Chargers, (4-5) Colts, @(7-2) Broncos
Oakland has a pretty tough schedule and while they should be favorites in almost every game it wouldn’t necessarily be a total upset if they lost any of these games, either.
With three road games against division rivals and a home game against the Colts in the final four weeks, Oakland can either rise to the top of the AFC or sink to the bottom of the division in a hurry.
(7-2) Chiefs (remaining schedule: 0.606)
(4-5) Buccaneers, @(7-2) Broncos, @(6-4) Falcons, (7-2) Raiders, (5-5) Titans, (7-2) Broncos, @(4-6) Chargers
I still think the Broncos have a more difficult final schedule, but that Broncos-to-Broncos stretch from week 12 to 16 is absolutely brutal.
It’s pretty apparent that the AFC West is going to cannibalize itself over the final weeks of the season. The Chiefs play the Broncos twice and the Raiders once, while the Raiders also have one game against the Broncos.
(7-2) Patriots (remaining schedule: 0.431)
@(1-8) 49ers, @(3-7) Jets, (4-5) Rams, (5-4) Ravens, @(7-2) Broncos, (3-7) Jets, @(5-4) Dolphins
The Patriots have the easiest remaining schedule of these five teams and it’s not really close. The final four games should be the most challenging stretch because the Ravens and Broncos always play the Patriots well, as do the Dolphins in Miami.
New England holds the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Texans, so as long as the Patriots remain two games ahead of Houston they should earn a bye week.
As for the teams in the AFC West, it would be wildly impressive if any of them managed to escape with just one loss against those schedules, nevermind managed to win out. The Patriots shouldn’t rest comfortably, but there is probably going to be some wiggle room in the coming weeks.
The Patriots are currently the #1 seed in the AFC and have the easiest path to the playoffs.