- Denver Broncos (9-1) – We’ve heard all about their offense, but it’s so well deserved, like the Sunday Night Football broadcast pointed out last night, “Everything they do on offense is record-breaking.” For a crazy stat: Broncos offense has scored 398 points this season (Next closest? 275 – Indianapolis Colts). Whoever wins the AFC West (whether Kansas City or Denver) will be the top overall seed, but whoever comes in second will fall all the way to fifth-seed because of the playoff format. Denver will finish first because they have a softer schedule against bad defenses, with the exceptions of when they play in Arrowhead against the Chiefs and at Foxboro for their matchup against the New England Patriots.
- New England (7-3) – The controversial loss at Carolina will ignite New England and they will not play a defense as good as that for the rest of the year. And after next Sunday night where they host the Broncos, the Patriots do not play a team with a winning record and the one team that is .500 (Miami) is a mess. Other signs point up are the fact that their offense is finally complete with Receiver Danny Amendola, Tight End Rob Gronkowski, and Running Back Shane Vereen see the field together at the same time. Also, their brutally-injured secondary will heal as Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard progress as the Patriots seem to have the same problem , so the Patriots have certainly the easiest road to get to the second-seed and first-round bye for the playoffs.
- Cincinnati Bengals (7-4) – The losses of Geno Atkins, one of the best pass rushers in the game, and Safety Leon Hall dampers the dominating defense Cincy boasted, but it finally appears Andy Dalton has figured out what’s going on. AJ Green continues to post solid numbers and the brute power/finesse combo of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Gio Bernard out the backfield has given the Bengals a change-of-pace offense. Their schedule is not overwhelming as they have to go to San Diego and play host to the Colts, but they go to Pittsburgh, stay home for Minnesota and host the Ravens – whom they narrowly were defeated by last time out.
- Indianapolis Colts (7-3) – The Colts continue to mystify as they seem to have played themselves out of the consideration for “top team” in the AFC. The 38-8 blowout loss to St. Louis sabotaged the hype and their struggles at Wide Receiver have exposed and accentuated the absence of Reggie Wayne. Their schedule sees them go to three of the NFL’s toughest pass defenses in their last six games. At the Cardinals, Bengals, and Chiefs gives reason to pause, but their other matchups – at home against Tennessee, Houston, and Jacksonville – all but guarantee at least a 10-win season.
- Kansas City Chiefs (9-1) – Their defense allowed a meager 27 points to the best offense in football – they averaged 44 points at home coming in. Their tougher latter half of the schedule makes up for their Pillsbury Doughboy-soft first half. Four of last six come against tough teams like the Broncos and Colts; however they both come at home. To play their divisional rival, the San Diego Chargers, twice (one each at home and on the road) down the stretch presents what may be a trap game for Kansas City. Phillip Rivers has reverted to a version of himself c. 2009. The Chargers offense, fourth best (per game) in passing yards, QBR, and pass completions, could be an offense similar to Denver’s. That, in conjunction with the decent San Diego defense, could be a wrong recipe for Kansas City.
- New York Jets (5-5) – After failing to break the trend of win-loss-win-loss play by getting dominated on both sides of the ball last week against Buffalo, the New York Jets team will try to maintain their one-game lead for the final spot in the AFC playoff bracket. The play of Rookie Geno Smith will continue to improve as Chris Ivory shoulders the role of feature back extremely well. But their offense isn’t what will get them there, it’s the superb defense led by Cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Dee Milliner.
- In the playoff picture:
- There are six teams sitting at 4-6 currently (Oakland, Tennessee, Baltimore, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, San Diego) and all of them face decently difficult schedules with just six games to play. Baltimore would seem to have the advantage because of their experience and potency on offense, but they play three division leaders and two possible Wild Card teams (PIT and NYJ). Pittsburgh is in a similar situation and they also have to deal with a Week 16 Green Bay Packers, who will have Aaron Rodgers back by that point. The Oakland Raiders will take on a slew of competitors including the Cowboys, Jets, Chiefs, Chargers, and Broncos – so that doesn’t look good for a team starting someone by the name of Matt McGloin (who?). The teams with the best chance to disrupt the playoff picture listed above would be Cleveland and San Diego, who have difficult schedules but also could be poised to make a large statement.