With only six weeks left in the regular season, there is still some uncertainty as to which AFC teams will be contending for a championship come January. Some teams are already virtual locks to win their divisions *cough cough Patriots & Ravens*, while other teams scrap to clinch wild card berths.
1. New England Patriots (9-1)
Next Up: vs. Dallas
After their demoralizing loss to the Ravens in Week 9, the New England Patriots secured a solid win in a Super Bowl LII revenge game against the Philadelphia Eagles. While the Patriots are the favorites to win the AFC, there is some reason for concern with this team.
Tom Brady has failed to throw for over 300 yards in a game since Week 6 against the New York Giants, and he’s thrown just seven touchdowns in his last seven games. For the first time in recent memory, the Patriots’ offense isn’t what’s winning them games. Rather, the Pats’ defense has played exceptionally well this season, holding opponents to a league-best 10.8 points per game (PPG).
The Patriots’ run game has been underwhelming as of late too, with running back Sony Michel averaging a meager 41 yards per game and three yards per carry over in his last four games.
If the offense does not figure it out soon the team could be in trouble come playoff time when the Patriots could face the Ravens’ or Chiefs’ high-powered offenses.
2. Baltimore Ravens (8-2)
Next Up: vs. L.A. Rams
The Baltimore Ravens are on the Patriots’ heels for the first seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs after stomping the Texans 41-7 on Sunday. Averaging over 34 PPG, the Ravens are simply on fire.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson shined (17-24 passing, 222 yds and 4 TDs, 9 carries for 86 yds) and cemented himself as the front-runner in the MVP conversation.
However the most impressive take away for the Ravens moving forward may be the positive signs of progress shown by the defense. After struggling for a stretch in weeks 3-5 (Allowed 32 PPG in those games), the defense has since improved. The Ravens have held all other opponents to 20 or fewer PPG.
Former Heisman-winning running back Mark Ingram has been a force and showed that he can contribute in the passing game by catching two TD’s on Sunday. Deep-threat speedster wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown is always a threat to take the top off the defense and haul in a long TD (Although he is still nursing an ankle injury).
With a solid O-line and breakout tight end in Mark Andrews, the Ravens seemingly have the offensive weapons to go the distance. It’s still to be seen if the Ravens’ defense can sustain its recent success, but if it can, the sky is truly the limit with this team.
The Ravens are virtual locks to win the AFC North and they have their eyes set on a Lombardi Trophy.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (7-4)
Next Up: (Bye Week 12) vs. Oakland
The Kansas City Chiefs squeaked by with a much-needed 24-17 win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday Night Football last week after losing four of their last six games. While the Chiefs’ offense has been stellar (28.4 PPG), their defense has allowed 30+ points in four of their last seven games and is allowing 24 PPG on the season (No. 20 overall).
Patrick Mahomes can only do so much to help the team win. If the Chiefs continue to have to put up over 30 points every week to win, then they will struggle heavily against teams with strong defenses that might be able to slow down Mahomes, while still putting up points.
The leg injury sustained by Tyreek Hill against the Chargers could be an additional question mark for this team moving forward, and any time missed by Hill would be a devastating blow to the offense.
Holding the Chargers to 17 points is a step in the right direction, but there is much work to be done if the Chiefs hope to win against the Ravens’ electric offense or the Patriots’ suffocating defense come playoff time.
Kansas City’s remaining schedule includes three divisional home games and two away games against the Patriots and Chicago Bears. This next game will have huge divisional title implications as the 6-4 Oakland Raiders come to town.
4. Indianapolis Colts (6-4)
Next Up: at Houston
The Indianapolis Colts were thankful to have quarterback Jacoby Brissett back from injury this week against the Jaguars in their 33-13 victory. Brisset threw a touchdown and an interception over just 148 yards, but he did have a rushing score to boot.
The real stars for Indianapolis in this game were their running backs Marlon Mack and Jonathon Williams, who each rushed for over 100 yards in the contest.
The Colts beat the Houston Texans Week 7 (Which is why Indianapolis currently sits atop the AFC South) and the Chiefs in Week 5, meaning that Indianapolis would have the tiebreaker in playoff seedings.
The Colts have been markedly average this season (16th in points for and 15th in points against), but they will have the chance to separate from the pack in a big way with an upcoming divisional matchup at Houston.
Indianapolis should have their primary receiving threat back in action Thursday night as star wide receiver T.Y. Hilton aims to return from a calf injury. A strong run game will be key for Indianapolis’ success going forward. Brissett will look to open up the passing game and fully utilize play-action once defenses start to respect the run and pack the box with defenders.
5. Buffalo Bills (7-3)
Next Up: vs. Denver
You may be thinking what I’m thinking: “How are the Bills 7-3? Are they really that good?” The answer is yes...and no.
While they have won games thanks to their superb defense (Allowing just 17 PPG, third best) and the improved play of second-year QB Josh Allen, the Bills may be better on paper than they are in reality. On Sunday, Josh Allen put up a career-high 117.7 quarterback rating and accounted for four touchdowns en route to a 37-20 victory over the Miami Dolphins.
The showing by Allen is impressive, but still; the win was against the Dolphins… The Bills’ easy schedule has helped bolster their impressive record, with six of their seven wins coming against the lowly New York Jets, Giants, Cincinnati Bengals, Washington and the Dolphins (Their best win came week 5 against the Tennessee Titans).
The real test for the Bills should come weeks 13-16 when they play the Cowboys, Ravens, Steelers and Patriots in consecutive weeks. With Allen slinging the ball as well as he has and with the Bills’ D continuing to smother opponents, the Bills have a chance to prove a lot of doubters wrong in the coming weeks.
Their next matchup is more of the same for the Bills as they take on yet another sub .500 opponent in the 3-7 Broncos.
6. Houston Texans (6-4)
Next Up: vs. Indianapolis
The Texans came into Sunday sitting atop the AFC south, a game up on the Colts. Though after getting blown out 41-7 by the Ravens, the Texans now find themselves looking up at the Colts in the standings (Colts beat the Texans week 7 and hold the tie breaker).
The next two games against the Colts and Patriots will decide a great deal for the Texans’ playoff hopes.
Winning the divisional game against the Colts would put the Texans in control of the AFC South and give them some needed momentum heading into a tough game against the Patriots. Losing the next two games might allow the Colts to run away with the division. The offense, led by QB Deshaun Watson and star WR DeAndre Hopkins, has been the engine for this team’s success. The Texans generate 24.5 PPG (10th best) and Watson’s MVP-caliber play is usually enough to keep the Texans in games. That wasn’t the case this Sunday, but we will see if Watson can bounce back in his next game at home against the Colts.
7. Oakland Raiders (6-4)
8. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5)
9. Tennessee Titans (5-5)
10. Cleveland Browns (4-6)