For the 17th year in a row, the New England Patriots will end the regular season with at least 10 victories: the team defeated the visiting Dallas Cowboys 13-9 on Sunday — a win that also ensured that the team stays atop the AFC for another week despite the second-seeded Baltimore Ravens, who themselves earned a victory this week, owning the head-to-head tiebreaker after their win versus New England in Week 9.
At this point, the race for the number one seed in the conference and home field advantage throughout the AFC’s portion of the postseason tournament therefore remains a two-team affair, and any mistake made by either one of the clubs could shift the competition in the other’s favor. With that being said, the conference’s playoff picture looks as follows entering Week 13 of the regular season:
1. New England Patriots (10-1)
2. Baltimore Ravens (9-2)
3. Houston Texans (7-4)
4. Kansas City Chiefs (7-4)
5. Buffalo Bills (8-3)
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)
With each team in the playoff picture having played 11 games, the Patriots and Ravens sit firmly ahead of the rest of the pack. The battle for the top seed is not the only intriguing competition, however: the Texans and Chiefs, who met in Week 6 in a game that Houston won, are battling to keep up with the two front-runners and to position themselves ahead of their in-division competition — one that will heat up over the coming weeks.
A look at the upcoming schedules for each of the top six teams shows the challenges that await:
AFC schedule: Week 13—Week 17
|Week 13||at Texans||vs 49ers||vs Patriots||vs Raiders||at Cowboys||vs Browns|
|Week 14||vs Chiefs||at Bills||vs Broncos||at Patriots||vs Ravens||at Cardinals|
|Week 15||at Bengals||vs Jets||at Titans||vs Broncos||at Steelers||vs Bills|
|Week 16||vs Bills||at Browns||at Buccaneers||at Bears||at Patriots||at Jets|
|Week 17||vs Dolphins||vs Steelers||vs Titans||vs Chargers||vs Jets||at Ravens|
The Patriots and Ravens both have sizable challenges ahead of them: while the Ravens will host the 10-1 San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon, New England will travel to Houston to take on the 7-4 Texans in prime time. The Chiefs and Bills, meanwhile, face tough challenges as well: Kansas City will try to essentially win the AFC West by sweeping the Raiders; Buffalo will visit the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving and on a short week.
The battle for playoff positioning remains an exciting one.
The NFC’s playoff picture, meanwhile, looks as follows:
1. San Francisco 49ers (10-1)
2. New Orleans Saints (9-2)
3. Green Bay Packers (8-3)
4. Dallas Cowboys (6-5)
5. Seattle Seahawks (9-2)
6. Minnesota Vikings (8-3)
In the hunt: Los Angeles Rams (6-5)
The NFC remains highly competitive at this point of the season with only the Saints and Cowboys being in somewhat comfortable positions in their respective divisions. The top two seeds and the division titles in the conference’s western and northern divisions, meanwhile, remain up for grabs.