The AFC playoff picture is still uncertain. Five AFC teams have already clinched their spots in the postseason, but the final wild-card spot remains up for grabs.
While the Patriots, Broncos and Bengals duke it out for the two first-round byes next weekend, four teams will be playing for their playoff lives. The Ravens, Dolphins, Chargers and Steelers are still clinging to postseason hopes, but all of them will need some help in Week 17 in order to clinch a spot.
Unlike most years, where at least one team is in total control of their own destiny, none of the four teams can simply win and get in entering the final week of the season. The Ravens and Dolphins have the easiest paths, with a win taking care of at least half the battle for them, meanwhile the Chargers and Steelers would need a number of pieces to fall into place to even have a chance.
With so many scenarios still in play, let’s take a stab at this complicated playoff race and break down all the playoff possibilities for the Ravens, Dolphins, Chargers and Steelers this week.
1. The Ravens win in Cincinnati and the Dolphins lose to the Jets
2. The Ravens win and the Chargers lose to the Chiefs
3. Baltimore would also win a two-team tiebreaker with either the Dolphins or Chargers because of head-to-head wins against both. However a three-team tiebreaker between Baltimore, Miami and San Diego would put the Dolphins in the playoffs, because they would have the best conference record.
1. The Dolphins win in New York and the Ravens lose to the Bengals
2. The Dolphins win and the Chargers beat the Chiefs
3. Miami also holds the three-team tiebreaker, so, if the Dolphins, Chargers and Ravens all win, they would get the final playoff spot based on conference record (Dolphins: 8-4, Ravens: 7-5, Chargers: 6-6).
San Diego Chargers
1. The Chargers beat the Chiefs and both the Ravens and Dolphins lose
1. The Steelers beat the Browns and the Ravens, Dolphins and Chargers all lose
The Steelers would get the No. 6 seed in case of a five-way tie at 8-8 in the AFC between the Dolphins, Ravens, Chargers, Jets and Steelers. The tiebreaker rules require division tiebreakers to be settled before all else, which would have the Jets (4-2 in the AFC East) knock out the Dolphins (3-3 in the AFC East) and the Steelers (4-2 in the AFC North) eliminate the Ravens (3-3 in the AFC North). The Steelers would then also trump both the Jets and Chargers in a three-team tiebreaker based on conference record (Steelers: 6-6, Chargers: 5-7, Jets: 5-7).