Coming down the stretch in the National Football League, teams – especially in the AFC – are starting to separate themselves. No division leader in the AFC has less than a two game lead on the second place team, and three of the division leaders have at least a three game lead. That is not to say you can take your eyes off the AFC playoff race however. The Wild Card race has half the conference in the hunt.
Barring an epic collapse, New England, Baltimore, Houston, and Denver are about to run away with the division races. The final two playoff spots have eight teams within two games of each other. Here is a quick breakdown of the teams and their prospects for picking up one of those two Wild Card spots.
Pittsburgh and Indianapolis (6-4)
If the season ended today – I hate that phrase, but I have to use it here – the Steelers and the Colts would be in. They both obviously have the inside track, but have their own issues the final six weeks. The Steelers are still without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and safety Troy Polamalu. They do have a good schedule down the stretch. They have two games remaining against the Browns and have only one game remaining – on the road against the Ravens – against a team over .500. Despite getting blitzed this weekend by the Patriots, the Colts have been playing inspired football all season. However, they have to play Houston – possibly the best team in the conference – twice. They also have to play the Bills and the Titans who are both very much in the playoff hunt.
If the Bengals are going to make a playoff push they need to do it now. They are off to a good start winning their last two, but it is critical for them to keep up their good play. Their next four games have them playing teams under .500, but then they end at Pittsburgh and then at home against Baltimore. Three out of four over the next month and Cincy is in great shape, but a split could result in an early vacation.
New York, Buffalo, Miami, Tennessee and San Diego (4-6)
The AFC East teams will weed each other out as the three play each other at least once over the last six weeks. Miami has the toughest stretch out of the three. They need to play the Patriots twice. Only one of the three will likely be left standing. The Titans have Jacksonville twice down the stretch and can help themselves with a win at home against the Jets and on the road against the Colts, two teams they will be battling to the end. Although four out of their last six games are at home, the Chargers next three games are critical. They play the top three teams in the rugged AFC North. If they drop two or more, head coach Norv Turner might be looking for a new job at the end of the season as they will be all but out of the running. If they can somehow get two wins, the final three games are very winnable.