2013 NFL Playoff Picture: AFC Strength of Schedule

The AFC playoff picture after Week 12 - Jon Oliver

Even with the Broncos and Chiefs tied for the best record in the AFC, and the Patriots two wins from clinching their division, no team in the AFC is even guaranteed a playoff spot just yet. So how many spots are truly up for grabs in the AFC, and how tough is the road ahead for the contenders?

Five weeks ago, we took a look at the AFC Playoff picture and strengths of schedule (SoS) -- through the first seven weeks, and moving forward -- for the top six teams in the conference.   Now, each team in the NFL has played eleven games; and no bye weeks remain in the regular season. With one team in the NFL (the Atlanta Falcons) having been eliminated from playoff contention, we take another look at the current AFC playoff picture, the adjusted strengths of schedule for the top teams in the conference, and how well each team is projected to perform through the remainder of the regular season.

All season, fans have been hearing about the dominant Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. But just how dominant have these teams truly been? Based on 2012 standings, the Broncos had the easiest schedule coming into the 2013 season, with the Chiefs not far behind. But how difficult have their schedules actually been so far; and how do they compare to the road ahead? For a better understanding of how the strength of schedule is determined, and what it means, check out last month's article. Otherwise, keep reading as we analyze the current AFC playoff picture:

If the postseason began this week, the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots would get a first-round bye, with the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals hosting the wild card Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs.  As projected five weeks ago, the San Diego Chargers have had a difficult time maintaining their hold on a playoff berth.  For now, though, we look at each of the six teams who are in playoff contention as of the beginning of Week 12.

Team

Current Record

Win %

SoS
Thus Far

Remaining
SoS

Projected Record

Broncos
(AFCW)

9-2

0.818 (2)

0.488 (18)

0.455 (22)

13-3

Patriots
(AFCE)

8-3

0.727 (5)

0.512 (11)

0.364 (32)

13-3

Colts
(AFCS)

7-4

0.636 (7)

0.504 (14)

0.455 (22)

11-5

Bengals
(AFCN)

7-4

0.636 (7)

0.475 (22)

0.446 (26)

10-6

Chiefs
(Wildcard)

9-2

0.818 (2)

0.421 (31)

0.509 (11)

12-4

Titans
(Wildcard)

5-6

0.454 (16)

0.529 (7)

0.491 (15)

8-8

The numbers in parenthesis indicate the ranking among all teams in the NFL, with the lower number being stronger than higher numbers. For example: 1st place is stronger than 2nd place, and the 16th highest SoS (win percentage of a given team's opponents) indicates a more difficult Strength of Schedule than the 32nd highest SoS.

While the teams currently contending for the AFC playoffs generally face easier schedules moving forward than they've faced thus far; Kansas City has had the second easiest schedule in the NFL through the first twelve weeks, and faces a more difficult schedule moving forward. Also, while Tennessee holds the No.6 seed as of this article being written, they are in a six-way tie for the second wildcard slot.

Denver Broncos

(Current record: 9-2, Projected record: 13-3)
How impressive is Peyton Manning? Still worthy of the MVP? What about once you take into consideration that the Broncos had one of the two easiest schedules in the league through the first seven weeks? Well, even as their schedule toughened slightly, Denver managed to reclaim the top seed in the AFC from the Chiefs.  And with a relatively easy schedule remaining, they are likely to end the season as the champions of the AFC West, and with either the No.1 or No.2 seed in the conference.

New England Patriots

(Current record: 8-3, Projected record: 13-3)
After facing a moderately difficult schedule through the first twelve weeks, New England looks forward to the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL.  Given the disparity between what they've faced, and what lies ahead, the Patriots could very realistically win their last five games of the season.  Two more wins could lock them in as division champions, though it may be worth their while to finish strong, especially if they still have a chance to gain the top seed in the AFC.  Regardless of their final placement in the playoff bracket, it is likely that the Patriots will be representing the AFC East in the postseason.

Indianapolis Colts

(Current record: 7-4, Projected record: 11-5)
Having faced a fairly average schedule thus far, the Colts will have a somewhat less difficult time holding on to their division lead through their last five games. With the Titans needing to win three more times than the Colts in order to knock Indianapolis off of their perch, Andrew Luck is almost locked in to the postseason.  Whether the Broncos fall from their perch or not, there is a decent chance that Peyton Manning will be facing his former team a second time this year, in the playoffs.

Cincinnati Bengals

(Current record: 7-4, Projected record: 10-6)
The Bengals have the most tenuous hold on a playoff berth of any current division leader.  The Ravens and Steelers are not far behind Cincinnati, whose schedule does not get much easier than it has been thus far.  Although the Bengals had shown great promise as of five weeks ago, losses to the Dolphins and Ravens have shaken their image.  Still, they will have an opportunity to defeat their two challengers for the division title.  And doing so should cement their place in the playoffs, not only mathematically, but in the eyes of everyone else.

Kansas City Chiefs

(Current record: 9-2, Projected record: 12-4)
It's not difficult to understand how the Kansas City Chiefs were undefeated ten weeks into the season, when you realize that they have had the second easiest schedule in the NFL thus far.  Losses to the Broncos and Chargers these last two weeks have dropped the Chiefs from their perch, though they will have a chance to reclaim the top seed in the AFC when they host the Broncos this Sunday.  With a win against the Chargers, or any two wins, Kansas City would be guaranteed a berth in the playoffs.  But if they can defeat Denver on Sunday, they will once again be competing for the top seed in the conference.

Tenessee Titans

(Current record: 5-6, Projected record: 8-8)
Seven teams in the NFL enter Week 12 tied with 5-6 records, and six of them are in the AFC.  Tenessee currently wins the tiebreaker against the other five, but their claim to a playoff berth is tenuous, at best.  Of those six teams -- Titans, Steelers, Ravens, Chargers, Jets, and Dolphins -- the Titans have the best chance of nabbing the No.6 seed, with a projected 8-8 record.  But this final playoff berth will likely be in contention all the way into the final week of the regular season.

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