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NFL playoff picture: AFC coming down to the Patriots, Steelers, and...Jaguars?!

The Chiefs are fading. The Patriots are two weeks away from clinching the division.

New England Patriots v Oakland Raiders Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

AFC Seeds

  1. (8-2) Pittsburgh Steelers
  2. (8-2) New England Patriots
  3. (7-3) Jacksonville Jaguars
  4. (6-4) Kansas City Chiefs
  5. (6-4) Tennessee Titans
  6. (5-5) Baltimore Ravens

In the hunt: (5-5) Buffalo Bills, 6 teams at 4-6

New England is still a couple weeks away from clinching a playoff berth, although everything we laid out for a week 13 clinch is still in play. If the: a) Patriots win in week 12 against the Dolphins and week 13 against the Bills; and b) the Bills lose in week 12 against the Chiefs, then the Patriots win the AFC East. The analytics website FiveThirtyEight gives this scenario a 53.4% chance of taking place.

Any scenarios for clinching seeding atop the conference is still too far away to even consider.

The three top teams in the AFC took care of business in week 11 because none of them are the Kansas City Chiefs, who fell asleep against the New York Giants and are looking like they don’t want to play in 2017 anymore.

The New England Patriots easily handled the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City, winning 33-8. The Pittsburgh Steelers easily handled the Tennessee Titans on Thursday Night Football, winning 40-17. These two teams are the class of the AFC.

Then there’s the Jacksonville Jaguars, the surprise third-best team in the AFC, that barely took care of business against the winless Cleveland Browns, nursing a 10-7 lead late in the fourth quarter before forcing three straight turnovers to boost the score to 19-7. At least the Jaguars left with a win.

The Chiefs were in New Jersey to face the one-win Giants and couldn’t win. The Giants won 12-9 in overtime because Alex Smith realized that he was Alex Smith, the Chiefs rushing offense is no longer playing at superhuman levels, and how can they lose to the Giants and expect teams to take them seriously?!

Kansas City was coming off their bye week and that’s the best they could come up with? The Chiefs are losers of four of their past five games, but all is not lost. They get to face the three non-Patriots teams in the AFC East, along with three games against their division rivals to close out the season. There’s no reason they shouldn’t rack up 5 more wins- and if they come up short, well, they deserve to be one-and-done over wild card weekend.

The Jaguars present an interesting competition for the Patriots because of their otherworldly defense and the Patriots would love to host them for a playoff game in New England. Jacksonville’s been an up-and-down team this year, capable of beating any team on a given week- and losing, too.

Jacksonville plays the Cardinals, Colts, Seahawks, Texans, 49ers, and Titans to finish out the season and I don’t have a good read on their odds of success. They could go 6-0 to finish 13-3. Or they could lose to three of them (Cardinals, Seahawks, Titans, would be my guess) and end the year 10-6. Who knows?

But it’s the Steelers that present the biggest challenge to the Patriots atop the AFC as they are also 8-2 and have one of the best defenses in the league (2nd in points allowed) paired with one of the most potent offenses. Sure, the Patriots always seem to take care of business against Pittsburgh, but I’d rather the playoff game be at Gillette than at Heinz.

Pittsburgh plays the hapless Packers, Bengals, Ravens, Patriots, Texans, and Browns, so New England can’t expect any favors for the rest of the year. The Patriots have to beat the Steelers and that gives New England a one-game loss buffer because they would hold the tiebreaker with the Steelers.

There would be a fun three-way tiebreaker if the Patriots, Steelers, and Jaguars all finish with matching records (like 13-3). If the Patriots beat the Steelers and hold that tiebreaker, then Pittsburgh would be the 3rd seed because they also lost to the Jaguars earlier this year, leaving the tiebreaker to the Patriots and Jaguars.

Both teams would have matching conference records, moving the tiebreaker to “common games” of Texans, Chargers, and Jets. Jacksonville lost to the Jets, so the Patriots have this tiebreaker and also have a strong lead in strength of victory and schedule if it comes to it.

And if you’re curious about a 4-way tie with the division leaders, that edge would go to the Chiefs because the only way that can happen would be if the Steelers or Patriots drop two more games, which would give Kansas City the conference record advantage; Most combinations of tiebreakers in the 4-way end up with the Patriots as the 4 seed.

NFC Seeds

  1. (9-1) Philadelphia Eagles
  2. (8-2) Minnesota Vikings
  3. (8-2) New Orleans Saints
  4. (7-3) Los Angeles Rams
  5. (7-3) Carolina Panthers
  6. (6-3) Seattle Seahawks - play on Monday Night

In the hunt: (6-4) Detroit Lions, (5-4) Atlanta Falcons [play on Monday Night], (5-5) Green Bay Packers, (5-5) Dallas Cowboys