With the Oakland Raiders 27-20 victory over the Houston Texans, the New England Patriots slipped from the 1st seed to the 2nd and control of the conference was conceded to the Raiders.
Both the Patriots and the Raiders have identical 8-2 and 6-1 overall and conference records, meaning that the “common games” tiebreaker decides which team holds the edge. The Broncos, Bills, Texans, and Ravens will be the common games over the full length of the season.
The Raiders have a 3-0 record against these opponents, with games against the Bills and Broncos left on the schedule. The Patriots are 2-1, with back-to-back games against the Ravens and Broncos in weeks 14 and 15. If both teams win out for the rest of the year, the Raiders will receive homefield advantage.
Of course the Raiders have a very difficult path over the rest of the season, with games against the 4-6 Panthers and Chargers, the 5-5 Bills and Colts, and the 7-3 Broncos and Chiefs. The Patriots play the 3-7 Jets twice, the 4-6 Rams, the 5-5 Ravens, the 6-4 Dolphins, and the 7-3 Broncos. If the Raiders finish the season without another loss, they’ll have earned homefield advantage.
1. (8-2) Raiders: The Oakland defense has stepped up in recent weeks, averaging 20 points allowed over the past four games, a full touchdown better than the 27.2 points allowed over the first six games. The offense has consistently produced nearly 30 points per game this year. This is a great Oakland team.
2. (8-2) Patriots: The winner of the AFC West and the Patriots are almost locked into these first round byes. The Texans have only managed to beat the Chiefs, meaning they’ll lose the head-to-head tiebreaker against most of the competition. The Raiders and Patriots have three game leads over the Texans with six games left in the season. The race for the bye week is pretty much over.
3. (6-4) Texans: Houston is clearly in the second tier of AFC teams, but they’re not a bad team by any account. QB Brock Osweiler hasn’t been great, but they’ve beaten the Chiefs, Colts, and Lions- all teams in the playoff hunt. The Texans could absolutely make it through wild card weekend.
4. (5-5) Ravens: The Ravens are sneaky dangerous, too, despite not having a good win on the schedule. They’ve lost to every good team they’ve faced (they defeated the pre-coaching change Bills in week 1 and the clearly-hurt-and-returned-to-early Ben Roethlisberger-led Steelers in week 9). Until this past week’s 27-17 loss to the Cowboys, every single Ravens game had been a one-score difference. Whatever team faces the Ravens can’t afford to let them hang around.
5. (7-3) Chiefs: Kansas City’s closing schedule is even more difficult than the Raiders, with a game against the 6-4 Falcons, two games against the 7-3 Broncos, and one against the 8-2 Raiders, in addition to games against the 5-6 Titans and 4-6 Chargers. The Chiefs might be a complete squad, but they’re going to have a difficult time keeping pace in the AFC, especially with losses to the Texans and Steelers- the two favorites to win their respective divisions.
6. (7-3) Broncos: The final six weeks in the AFC West should be a treat with extremely important divisional games in prime time. It’s clear that the Raiders, Chiefs, and Broncos are the best non-Patriots teams in the conference. Denver is less dynamic on offense than they were in 2015, though, and that is a huge hurdle to overcome.
In the hunt: (6-4) Dolphins, (5-5) Steelers, (5-5) Colts, (5-5) Bills, (5-6) Titans