Week 15 for the American Football Conference was nothing short of epic. It had its fair share of heartbreakers and comebacks, and the results of the games played by AFC teams has left the AFC playoff picture a jumbled mess.
There are two teams in the AFC that have clinched the playoffs: the 14-0 Colts and the 11-3 Chargers. Both teams have clinched their respective divisions, and if the Chargers win one more game or New England loses one more game, Indianapolis and San Diego will be the two teams with a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The three and four seeds are also all but decided, as one more win by the Patriots or loss by Miami would win New England their division for the seventh time in nine years. The Bengals would capture the AFC North title with one more win or one more loss by Baltimore.
But that is where it gets messy.
The wild card spots would be occupied by the Ravens and Broncos, who are both 8-6, if the season ended today. They are the only two eight-win teams in the AFC, and if they win out, they would each be in the playoffs. The Broncos would have all but clinched the postseason already had they avoided a loss to the Raiders with less than a minute left.
However, if they do not both win out, there are some 7-7 teams that would have a chance to make it in: the Steelers, Jaguars, Titans, Texans, Jets, and Dolphins. Six teams, all creeping one game back of the two current wild card leaders, and only two teams of the eight can get in.
There are six games in Week 16 with wild card significance: Baltimore at Pittsburgh, Houston at Miami, Jacksonville at New England, New York Jets at Indianapolis, Denver at Philadelphia, and San Diego at Tennessee.
The Ravens go into Pittsburgh looking to sweep the defending champs a year after losing to them twice in the regular season and in the AFC Championship. They would knock the Steelers out of playoff contention and heavily increase their own playoff chances in the process with a victory.
The Steelers are coming off of a miracle victory against the Green Bay Packers in which Ben Roethlisberger engineered his thirteenth come-from-behind game-winning drive in either the fourth quarter or overtime by throwing a touchdown to Mike Wallace with three seconds remaining.
After a five-game skid made it seem like they were out of the post-season, a win at home against the Ravens would keep their playoff hopes alive, and they would have a record identical to that of the Ravens.
The match-up between the Texans and Dolphins may be the game of the week in Week 16, as it is the only game between two 7-7 teams in the AFC. The loser will be all but eliminated from the post-season, while the winner’s playoff hopes are kept alive.
Houston started the season 5-3, but suffered a four-game losing streak afterward. Two straight wins since then have brought them to .500, and a third straight would keep them breathing. The Texans squeaked by the lowly St. Louis Rams in Week 15, winning by a field goal to get to 7-7.
The Dolphins, on the other hand, have had more ups and downs on their season than a pogo stick. After starting 0-3 and losing 2008 MVP runner-up Chad Pennington, they’re 7-4 since, and are barely alive in the playoff hunt. The Fins were down 24-6 early against the Titans in Week 15, and ended up forcing overtime, but Chad Henne was intercepted on the opening drive of overtime, and a personal foul on Greg Camarillo put Tennessee in position to kick the winning field goal.
Jacksonville heads to Gillette Stadium in Week 16, where the Patriots are unbeaten this season. While the Pats can clinch the AFC East in this game, the Jaguars need the win in order to stay alive.
A win for the Jaguars last Thursday against the Indianapolis Colts would have had them in a much better position, but a last-second victory that we have come to see as routine for Peyton Manning and the Colts thwarted the Jags’ hopes of improving to 8-6.
Jacksonville has lost two games in a row, and if they lose this one they can kiss their playoff chances goodbye. If they win, however, they have a good chance at finishing the season 9-7, as their final game is a date with the Cleveland Browns.
The Jets lost a low scoring game to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 15 in the final few minutes of the game. They now face the only unbeaten team in the NFL, the Indianapolis Colts. Normally, this would be good news for the Jets, as the Colts have clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and would usually rest their starters at this point.
However, they will almost undoubtedly play as if this was any regular season contest, as they are hunting perfection. Rebounding from the loss against the Falcons will not be an easy task, especially against what could be the best team in NFL history, but they will have to do it to avoid playing golf, not football, in January.
The Denver Broncos could have essentially wrapped up a spot in the playoffs by beating their rival Oakland Raiders in Week 15, but lost after leading by 6 in the final minute of the game, becoming the fourth team contending for the playoffs to lose to Oakland.
As previously mentioned, Denver will still clinch the playoffs if they win out, and will play the less-than-amazing Chiefs in Week 17, meaning that a playoff spot is probably theirs if they can defeat the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 16.
The Eagles have clinched a spot in the playoffs, but with a win over Denver and a Dallas loss in Week 16, they would clinch their division. Their Week 17 matchup with the Cowboys would go from potentially deciding the winner of the NFC East to becoming meaningless. To avoid putting a big dent in their playoff chances, the Broncos will have to snap their two-game losing streak against the Eagles, who have not lost since November 15th.
The Tennessee Titans’ season was in jeopardy when they blew a 24-6 lead against the Dolphins, allowing a game they should have had to go into overtime. Fortunately, after the Fins won the coin toss, second-year quarterback Chad Henne threw the game away by getting picked off by Michael Griffin on the third play in overtime, and Rob Bironas kicked the Titans to their seventh win of the season.
Tennessee is now 7-1 since Vince Young took the starting quarterback role after the team fell to 0-6. The only team Young has lost to this year is the Colts. The Titans get the Chargers at home in Week 16, in a game where San Diego can clinch the second seed in the playoffs. The Chargers have won nine games in a row, so a win to keep the season alive won’t be easy for the Titans.
If Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Tennessee, and the Jets all were to win next week, there would be utter chaos in the AFC Wild Card picture; seven teams would be 8-7 going into the final week of the regular season. Regardless of what happens, the AFC playoff picture is a complete and utter mystery, and won’t be solved until the regular season comes to a close.