Connect with us

Why the AFC playoffs are the most exciting it has ever been, and why the wild card teams could cause problems for the the top seeds…

By Phillip Murray
Every season since 2001 in the NFL there is an abundance of uncertainty, but there is one thing that is certain. The New England Patriots or Peyton Manning(Colts now Broncos) are always sure to not only make the playoffs but to be a Superbowl contender. Out of the last 16 years the Patriots and Peyton Manning’s team (Colts/Broncos) have won the AFC and have gone on to win the Superbowl 5times. While the past decade and a has been filled with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning’s dominance in the AFC, this season however while on paper looks like another trend of history,it is quite different. While the Peyton Manning’s Broncos and Tom Brady’s Patriots hold the 1st and 2nd seed in the AFC respectfully, not all odd makers are locking either of them as a DEFINITE AFC champion. Many are questioning should both teams be worried?


The dominance of the Patriots was in full effect up until last week when they fell in OT to the Jets, and then to the…wait for it, the Dolphins! Before week 16 the Pats were looking like they were well on their to another Superbowl appearance. Tom Brady was playing at a MVP caliber level and looking shoulders above the rest for the MVP race theres one thing you can never beat in this league and thats avoid injuries. The Patriots in terms of a team are all but healthy. RB Lagarrette is out for the season with a hip injury, Brady’s go to receiver Julian Edelman is recovering from a broken foot, and there are over half a dozen more impact players who are either not fully recovered or are coming injuries including Gronkowski(knee). The injuries are definitely the source of the Patriots problems that teams could capitalize on in the post season. Their defense over the past 2 weeks is giving up big plays both on the ground(10 running plays for 10 or more yards) and in the air( 11 completions for 20 or more yards). Also the Pats are having extremely difficulty moving the chains, converting 3rd downs( 5-24) at appalling 21%. Just to add insult to injury the New England Offensive line has not been protecting Brady causing him to be under pressure more than hes had his entire career. Even with the extra week off it is still safe to say that these New England Patriots will not be the same dominant team we’ve seen past seasons putting them in an extremely vulnerable position this post season.

The Broncos were a preseason favorite to run the table in the AFC. Denver is boasting the number one ranked defense and hasn’t wavered since week 1. The surprise obstacle that could cost the Broncos a victorious run in the playoffs is their hall of fame quarterback Peyton Manning. Yes Peyton Manning. Manning since week 4 has started to show signs of age and deterioration by lack of arm strength and durability. Manning lost the starting job due to injury to 4 year Vet Brock Osweiler. While Osweiler did do a serviceable job holding the reigns for the sheriff, the Broncos have been very inconsistent in terms of offense. Just last week there was a huge possibility had the Broncos lost to the Bengals, they could have been knocked out of playoff contention. While Defense has never been a question, the Broncos struggled to score a TD 5 consecutive drives before turning to Peyton Manning to come off the bench to relieve the backup Osweiler. Getting first place couldnt have come at a better time for Denver to rest up, get healthy, and to figure out the Quarterback situation. One positive stat to hold on to is that the last time the Broncos were the 1st seed, they went to the Superbowl in 2013.


The Bengals are probably in the worst position going into the playoffs by dropping down to the 3 seed. Andy Dalton is still injured and questionable for the post season, which puts inexperienced A.J Mccarron in the most pressure he’s been in. In Addition to the Lack of experience, Mccarron hasn’t been productive passing the ball. Mccarron has the lowest passing accuracy in the NFL. While Mccarron has kept the Bengals afloat the last 3 weeks, hes been good but just good enough. In this league good enough isn’t going to cut it especially going up against a 2x Superbowl champion in Ben Roethlisberger and a fire up Steelers team who beat you at home just a month ago. For Cincinnati to survive during the playoffs they are going to have to heavily rely on their efficient running game with Bernard and Hill, and their top 10 defense. Also exposing Pittsburgh detrimental secondary. It helps Mccarron to have a healthy WR core led by A.J Green and a stout defense. But history has shown that even with all the weapons, the Bengals could be eliminated in the Wild Card round and hand Marvin Lewis in his 13th year as head coach without a playoff win.

Kansas City has been the hottest team in the league going back to mid October. The chiefs have won 10 straight games despite suffering injuries to impact players on both sides of the ball. Where the Chiefs have been most effective is their turnover differential. Kansas City has a +14 turnover differential which is the highest in the NFL. The Chiefs are showing that they have the ability to cause teams to make a lot of mistakes while making very little themselves under the leadership of Andy Reid. Where the Chiefs fall short is their offense. Since Jamaal Charles went down with a knee injury in week 5, Kansas City has had to mostly rely on the passing ability of Alex Smith. Smith isn’t just a game a manager he is THE ultimate game manager. Averaging just 6 yards per pass and just one touchdown over 20 yards passing, plus rushing for 500 yards, Smith is showing that it is better to play it safe than be sorry. The only concern is that can the Chiefs play to too safe?. While it is a fact that defense wins championships, you still have to be able to put a substantial amount of points to win. Lucky for the Chiefs they are facing a weak Texans team with a FA quarterback in Brandon Weeden could build some momentum that would propel them in the playoffs to divisional round and could cause problems for a battered New England team. With the Chief’s turnover differential and the Patriots possibly having to throw the ball a lot more with the absence of a running game, on top of a nicked up Wide receiving core Kansas would have a legit shot at the upset. It would be a post season rematch between Andy Reid and Bill Belichick that haven’t seen each other since spygate.


Not a lot of people… let me rephrase that, no one is talking about the Texans having a shot to atleast win one playoff game. Going up against The Kansas City Chiefs, a team who already beat them at home, still are considered the underdog. While the Texans have a good front 7 with J.J Watt and Brian Cushing, a top tier elite WR in Deandre Hopkins and a experienced head coach who has been apart of a winning franchise, the match up still doesn’t bode well for the Texans. The Chiefs can counter the Texans’ front 7 with their stout Offensive line and could cause costly turnovers for now starting quarterback Brian Hoyer. There is momentum in Houston clinching their AFC south division title off a blowout win, but it was against the Jaguars…For Houston to have shot at giving Bill O’brien his first playoff win as a head coach, this wildcard game will be a battle of making as little mistakes as possible and also causing Kansas City to make more than normal. Also with a lackluster running game Deandre Hopkins will have to show why he is an elite WR and must have a very productive game against a tough K.C secondary.


Last are the Steelers. Pittsburgh hasn’t been the hottest but few could argue that they haven’t been the most entertaining team in the AFC this season. The Steelers are playing at a level to where many would call them legit contenders not in the AFC but for the Superbowl. If there was ever a time to click it would be now and the Steelers have been clicking. Coming off a shocking loss that looked like it ended their playoffs hopes to the Ravens, Pittsburgh with a win and some help from Buffalo snuck into the playoffs never the less. Ben Roethlisberger was sensational with 349 passing yards and 3 Tds, along with Antonio Brown who had 13 catches for 187 yards and a TD. What was a conference worst nightmare is now reality. If there was ever team you didn’t want to get into the playoffs its Pittsburgh. Top it all off Deangelo Williams looks like reincarnated running back racking up 907 yards and 11 TDS, taking over the reigns for injured RB Levion Bell. If Williams is healthy for next week’s match up against the Bengals, and Big Ben continues to spread the ball around especially to the best WR in the playoffs Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh will be a problem for Cincinnati. Its a not a guarantee going on the road but they will be certainly favored to win the match up against the Bengals.
What has always been a sure thing in terms of the AFC playoffs is now a matter of what ifs, possibility, and a little luck in the case of some teams. These next 3 weeks will indeed be very exciting to see which team is able to survive and advance in order to make it to Superbowl 50. Will it be the preseason favorites? Or could a wild card team emerge and go on a sensational post season historic run? The only thing anyone can do is sit back and watch all the madness that is sure to ensue.

More in NFL