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Previewing potential AFC playoff opponents

With all six AFC playoff teams determined, which opponents would be the toughest match-ups?

With the Kansas City Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins clinching playoff spots last night, the AFC now has their six teams playing for the Lamar Hunt trophy. The Patriots are the heavy favorites to win the AFC, although it won’t be an easy task to get through. The Patriots are still playing for Home Field Advantage next week against a playoff opponent in the Miami Dolphins. Here’s a look at potential match-ups from most difficult to least:

  1. Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs are more dangerous than any other AFC contender, but given it’s mathematically impossible for them to play the Patriots other than in Gillette Stadium, the concern is only 4 out of 10. The Chiefs have the talent on both sides of the ball to give the Patriots a hard time, but I don’t think they can win in Gillette Stadium without some kind of assistance from the Patriots. The Chiefs are the most likely team to face the Patriots in the playoffs for the divisional round if they are a Wild Card team.
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers: Roethlisberger is having a mediocre season so far, but he is the only Super Bowl winning QB other than Tom Brady in the AFC standing. RB Le’Veon Bell has been carrying the Steelers for the last three weeks and Antonio Brown is still arguably the best WR in the NFL. Despite Roethlisberger’s attempts to give away the game, the Steelers were able to hang tough against a tough Ravens squad. The Steelers defense is still as exploitable as it was in the Patriots 27-16 win against them in Week 7. I’m predicting a Patriots vs. Steelers AFC championship game this year.
  3. Miami Dolphins: Huge drop-off from the Steelers to the Dolphins, and really the only reason the Dolphins are 3rd is because they are in the division and could face the Patriots for a 3rd time. The defense as a unit is not very good and really their MVP is RB Jay Ajayi. The Dolphins have a decent passing game with a solid trio of DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, and Jarvis Landry catching the ball for the Dolphins. If the game were to develop into a shootout, Patriots have the superior defense.
  4. Oakland Raiders: If Derek Carr had his fibula in one piece today, the Raiders would have been #1 on the list. Carr was having a borderline MVP caliber season until the leg injury and would have been the toughest QB match-up in the postseason. Instead, the Patriots would face Matt McGloin. The Raiders defense mostly starts and ends with All World edge rusher Khalil Mack. For the Patriots, stop him and that should allow the Patriots passing game to flourish. With a backup QB in, the odds of a shootout are low.
  5. Houston Texans: The Texans defense is solid, their offense is terrible. The Texans would be the ideal match-up because the Patriots defense should be able to hold the Texans offense down to single digits for the game. While the Patriots won’t have the benefit of figuring out who they will be facing at QB between Tom Savage and Brock Osweiler, they’re not guys that will put fear into any Patriot defensive back.

The most ideal path for the Patriots in order to get into the Super Bowl is for the Steelers and Texans to win on Wild Card weekend and for the Steelers to advance to the championship game in Foxboro. In the playoffs it’s going to come down to QB play, pass defense, and coaching. The Patriots have the edge on 4 of the 5 teams in all 3 (KC has the better pass defense).