“The only thing that does make sense is that nothing makes sense.” — Korg, Thor: Ragnarok
The New England Patriots have bounced back after starting the regular season with a 2-4 record. Winning three straight heading into Week 10, they are now in a promising position: they are the current seventh playoff seed in the AFC, and the best ranked among five teams with identical 5-4 records.
In fact, a total of nine teams in the conference have won five games at this point in the season — a group that also includes New England’s Week 10 opponent, the Cleveland Browns. Joining them at 5-4 are the Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos. The Los Angeles Chargers, Buffalo Bills, Las Vegas Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers are all 5-3, and currently in possession of seeds Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 in the AFC.
With the majority of the conference within a few games of each other, the race for its playoff seeds shapes up to be an exciting one. With Week 10 having just begun, it currently looks like this:
- Tennessee Titans (7-2)
- Baltimore Ravens (6-2)
- Los Angeles Chargers (5-3)
- Buffalo Bills (5-3)
- Las Vegas Raiders (5-3)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3)
- New England Patriots (5-4)
On the bubble: 8. Kansas City Chiefs (5-4), 9. Cleveland Browns (5-4), 10. Cincinnati Bengals (5-4), 11. Denver Broncos (5-4), 12. Indianapolis Colts (4-5), 13. Miami Dolphins (3-7), 14. New York Jets (2-6), 15. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6), 16. Houston Texans (1-8)
Everything is still possible, whether you’re the top-seeded 7-2 Tennessee Titans or those 5-4 teams currently out of the playoff picture.
Adding to that is the sheer unpredictability of the AFC this season. Seemingly every week has seen at least one major upset shaking up the entire ranking again.
The latest of those came on Thursday night, with the 2-7 Miami Dolphins beating the 6-2 Baltimore Ravens. That is not the only shocking result we have seen in the AFC lately, though.
The then-one-win Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Bills. The New York Jets’ lone victories came against the Titans and Bengals. The Broncos blew out one of the NFC’s top teams, the Dallas Cowboys, just last week. One of the NFC’s weakest teams, the New York Giants, beat the Raiders.
As opposed to years past, when a team like the dynasty-era Patriots would seemingly have its top-two seed locked up before Thanksgiving, there are no dominant clubs in the AFC right now. Sure, the Chiefs have won the conference the last two years, but they too have not distinguished themselves. The same goes for any other team: all of them have some questions or lost some surprising games.
As a result, the entire conference is wide open and shakeups should still be expected. Which teams are the most likely to move around? That is hard to tell, but according to SB Nation’s latest Reacts survey, fans predict that the Chiefs and Raiders might still move in and out of the playoff picture, respectively:
The Patriots, who currently own the final wild card seed are seen the third most likely team to miss out on the postseason when all is said and done. The upcoming game against the Browns will have a major impact on this: a win would boost New England’s playoff odds from currently 52 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight, all the way up close to 70 percent depending on the outcome of the other games.
Bill Belichick’s team, which had a slow start into the season, therefore is very much in a position to control its own playoff fate. The AFC’s complete unpredictability has helped, but so has the Patriots’ development over the last month.
Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation.