It seems like the 2015 NFL season kicked off just a couple of weeks ago. In reality, there are only five weeks left in the regular season. At this point, we have a pretty good idea as to which players are in contention for All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors as well as each of the league’s annual individual awards. What we are all less certain about is which teams will advance to the AFC Playoffs just over a month from now. A lot can happen during the next five weeks, but as we head into Week 13, here are our predictions for what the AFC Playoff bracket will look like when the regular season concludes in early January.
Wild Card: Kansas City Chiefs
Projected Overall Record: 10-6
What we are about to say is absolutely shocking when you consider the fact that the Chiefs lost five consecutive games from Week 2 to Week 6, but with their win over the Buffalo Bills in Week 12, Kansas City officially put themselves in the driver’s seat to land one of the two Wild Card spots in the AFC Playoffs. They currently have a 6-5 overall record (5-2 within the conference), and face a favorable schedule to close out the season. We predict that the Chiefs will go 4-1 in their final five games, giving them the No. 6 seed and a road game during Wild Card weekend.
Wild Card: Pittsburgh Steelers
Projected Overall Record: 11-5
You may think we are crazy for saying this, but we predict that the Steelers will go 5-0 — with wins over the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos — in their final five games of the season. When quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is healthy, the Pittsburgh offense is incredibly hard to slow down. And their defense has grown up a lot since the start of the 2015 season. They will likely be on the road throughout the postseason, but the Steelers are a team that can legitimately contend for an AFC title this upcoming January.
AFC South Champions: Houston Texans
Projected Overall Record: 10-6
Over the last month, the Houston Texans finally developed into the team most people thought they would be heading into the 2015 season. Over that stretch, they went 4-0 while giving up an average of just 8.75 points per game. More importantly, though, the Texans have played themselves back into contention in the AFC South, and in our opinion, should be considered the favorites to walk away with the division crown. If they ultimately win their division, as we expect, the Texans are guaranteed a home game on Wild Card weekend.
AFC North Champions: Cincinnati Bengals
Projected Overall Record: 12-4
As of now, the Cincinnati Bengals are still in contention for the No. 1 seed in the AFC Playoffs, but we just don’t see that as a realistic possibility. We forecast a 3-2 record — with losses to the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers — for Cincinnati in the final five weeks of the season, which will put them out of contention for a first-round postseason bye. However, it will be good enough for them to capture the 2015 AFC North title and a home game on Wild Card weekend.
AFC West Champions: Denver Broncos
Projected Overall Record: 13-3
The Broncos shocked the league by ending the New England Patriots’ perfect season in Week 12 with backup quarterback Brock Osweiler running the show. They still have a chance at the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but would likely need to win each of their final five games of the regular season — while hoping another team can beat the Patriots. In the end, we see Denver going 4-1 over that stretch, losing to the Steelers in Week 15. The loss will essentially knock them out of contention for the top seed in the conference, but if they defeat the Bengals in Week 16 as we expect, the Broncos will more than likely end up with the No. 2 seed in the AFC and a first-round playoff bye.
AFC East Champions: New England Patriots
Projected Overall Record: 14-2
The Patriots may not finish the season with a perfect record, but we predict they will finish with the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC Playoffs. In our eyes, the only remaining team on New England’s schedule that has a realistic chance at knocking off the defending Super Bowl champions is the Houston Texans, who they play in Week 14. We believe that the Texans will indeed beat the Patriots, as New England continues to deal with what seems like countless injuries to key players. All said, we fully expect the road to Super Bowl 50 in the AFC to run through Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
All statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.