Ranking of AFC teams competing for a wildcard spot: three AFC West clubs vie for playoff spots

The AFC remains the most unpredictable conference in years, with 12 teams still .500 or better for 12 weeks into the season. The Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Chargers, and Denver Broncos are all tied for the final playoff spot (with the Chargers holding the tiebreaker) — and are in the same division! The Baltimore Ravens are the new frontrunners in the conference, but are only two games left in the playoffs.

The AFC wildcard play-off race looks set to be ready for the final weekend of the regular season. With 13 teams in the mix for seven places, every game in the AFC matters, especially with all three tight division races.

Soon, teams will start knocking each other out in these division battles. Let’s take a revised look at the top contenders for the three wildcard seats in the conference.

Current AFC Division Leaders

The AFC division leads the first 12 weeks. All currently have a play-off spot locked up if they claim the divisional crown.

  1. raven (8-3) North
  2. patriots (8-4) East
  3. Titans (8-4) South
  4. chiefs (7-4) West

AFC wildcard contenders ranked

This is a ranking of the teams vying for a wildcard place in the AFC. Only three teams can make the playoffs, so the top three clearly have the best chance of making it through the first 12 weeks of the year.

Remaining schedule: vs. Patriots, at Buccaneers, vs. Panthers, at Patriots, vs. Falcons vs. jets

The Bills are in control of their own destiny in the AFC East, and will face the Patriots twice in a four-week period that will surely determine the division winner. A sweep of the Patriots and Bills is essentially a division crown slot, but the AFC East appears to have two teams as a slot for the playoffs. Thursday’s win against the Saints was crucial for the Bills to gain momentum for the stretch run. Going 2-1 against the Patriots and Buccaneers will be huge for the fate of Buffalo’s playoff (Buffalo is still just one game out of earning home field in the AFC).

Remaining schedule: vs. Chargers, vs. 49ers, at Broncos, vs. Ravens, vs. Chiefs, at Browns

Huge win for the Bengals, which blew out the Steelers and emerged as the Ravens’ biggest threat in the AFC North. For now, the Bengals are a wild card team, but they have had the appearance of a division champion several times this season. A ruthless schedule awaits Cincinnati, as every team the Bengals play for the rest of the year has a record of .500 or better. The Bengals have a top-10 offense and defense to take on the challenge, but 3-3 in the last six games should be enough to get them into the postseason.

Remaining schedule: at Texans, Bye Week, vs. Patriots, at Cardinals, vs. Raiders, at Jaguars

Falling for the defending Super Bowl champions isn’t ideal, especially since the Colts had a commanding lead in that game at one point. Their hopes of making it to the playoffs are not thwarted (even if their chances for the division title are). The Colts have a hard time with the Patriots and Cardinals, but the 1-1 will be huge for their playoff chances. Indianapolis is 10th in the standings, but only half a game away from finishing last in the playoffs with the Texans and Jaguars on the schedule. The Colts are still in good condition.

4. Chargers (6-5)

Remaining schedule: at Bengals, vs. Giants, vs. Chiefs, at Texans, vs. Broncos, at Raiders

The Chargers may be the number 7 in the AFC, but the loss to the Broncos didn’t help their chances after the season. A win would have put Los Angeles in first place in the AFC West and in excellent shape to reach the playoffs. Instead, they have an upcoming showdown with the Bengals that could eventually determine one of the wildcard spots. Los Angeles still has Justin Herbert as quarterback, a huge advantage in the coming weeks – even with his struggles. It also helps to have the Giants and Texans on the schedule.

Remaining schedule: day week vs. Ravens, vs. Raiders, at Packers, at Steelers, vs. Bengals

A loss to the Ravens hurt the Browns in the AFC North, but Cleveland is still half a game away from the final playoff spot in the conference, despite being 12th in the standings. Their playoff prospects aren’t dire, even with the inconsistency of offense plaguing a resurgent defense. The Browns will have to go 2-1 against the AFC North to stay within striking distance of the postseason. If Cleveland can finish strong and get 10 wins…

6. Robbers (6-5)

Remaining schedule: vs. Washington, at Chiefs, at Browns, vs. Broncos, at Colts, vs. chargers

An upset of the Cowboys on Thanksgiving changed the Raiders’ playoff prospects. Vegas is the number 8 in the conference, losing a direct tiebreak to Los Angeles earlier this year. The Raiders will overcome many setbacks for the rest of the year, but have met the challenge of an interim coach and the Henry Ruggs incident well. Unfortunately for Vegas, the schedule isn’t easy for the rest of the season.

Remaining schedule: at Chiefs, vs. Lions vs. Bengals, at Raiders, at Chargers, vs. Chiefs

Disrupting the Chargers was huge for Denver, which has one of the best defenses in the conference. Despite the inconsistent quarterback play, the Broncos remain a striking distance for a playoff spot thanks to a strong defense and hasty offense. The Broncos have a tough road to the playoffs in a busy conference with better teams. They will be in every game, but the margin of error is slim, especially with two matchups with the Chiefs in their last six games.

Remaining schedule: vs. Giants, Bye Week, vs. Jets, at Saints, at Titans, vs. patriots

The Dolphins still have the longest range shots to make it to the playoffs but have won four in a row and are one of the best teams in the AFC. Their schedule is very favorable with the Giants and Jets coming up followed by a struggling Saints team. Miami could be looking at seven in a row and a record over .500 if they take care of business. Add in Tennessee’s struggles and Miami’s success against New England – the Dolphins have a chance. Miami is still 1.5 games away from the last place in the playoffs. They’re not ready yet.

9. Steelers (5-5-1)

Remaining schedule: vs. Ravens, at Vikings, vs. Titans, at Chiefs, vs. Browns, at Ravens

That tie could be the Steelers’ best friend in Week 18, but this team looks like it’s about to fall apart. It’s hard to count a team coached by Mike Tomlin, but the Steelers have an outdated roster with a quarterback who could spend his senior year with the only pro franchise he’s ever played for. The Steelers have no more games scheduled against a team that is under .500 in their conference. Their chances of going into the postseason in a fraught conference are not good.

Not good enough

None of these teams are good enough to make the playoffs, but technically they aren’t around in a crazy AFC either:

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