NFL Week 18 AFC Playoff Picture: What to Watch For This Weekend
We’re down to the final weekend of the NFL regular season, and the playoff watch is down to just a select few unresolved spots. But what remains to be determined includes two Wild Card Round berths, the champion of the AFC East, and the top overall seed, with its reward of a first-round bye.
There are still 10 teams mathematically alive for either the top seed, a division title, or a Wild Card berth heading into Week 18. And because the final weekend is entirely made up of divisional contests, all eight AFC games will have a direct impact on playoff clinch and seeding scenarios in the conference.
Here’s a breakdown of which games impact which scenarios in Week 18:
The Chiefs can still claim the AFC top seed, but they must beat Denver first
The first game of Week 18 finds the Kansas City Chiefs facing the Broncos in Denver in the first game of a Saturday doubleheader. For the Chiefs, who started slowly, then rallied to claim the best record in the AFC before stumbling late to fall into a tie with the Tennessee Titans at 11-5, it is a final chance to wrest back the top seed and first-round bye in the AFC Playoffs. A win over Denver and a Titans loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday would give the Chiefs home field throughout the AFC Playoffs for the third year in a row.
A loss to the Broncos would give the Titans the next best chance to secure the top seed by beating the lowly Texans. Even with a Chiefs win on Saturday, the Titans would be the No. 1 seed with its own win on Sunday by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker over Kansas City.
The real intrigue would come if both the Titans and Chiefs lose. In that scenario, either the Cincinnati Bengals or the New England Patriots would claim the top seed. The Bengals would clinch with a victory over the Cleveland Browns and a Buffalo Bills win over the New York Jets, or a win against Cleveland, a Jets win over Buffalo and a Miami Dolphins win over the Patriots.
New England would claim the top seed with a win over Miami, losses by Kansas City and Tennessee, and a loss or tie by Buffalo.
Assuming the Colts take care of business, Chargers-Raiders becomes a playoff game
The only remaining open divisional title, the AFC East, comes down to simple math: A Bills victory over the Jets or a Patriots loss against the Dolphins, or a tie by both, and the Bills repeat as AFC East champions. A Patriots win and a Bills loss or tie, or a Patriots tie and a Bills loss and New England recaptures the division title that has seemed its birthright for the past two decades.
The real drama in the AFC comes in the Wild Card race, with two spots open and the Indianapolis Colts needing just a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars to clinch a spot. In that scenario, Sunday night’s game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders becomes a one-game playoff, with the winner advancing.
The scenario that has fans and media buzzing involves an Indianapolis loss. If Jacksonville somehow pulls the upset, both the Chargers and Raiders could claim the final two Wild Card spots by playing to a tie, also freezing out the winner of the Baltimore-Pittsburgh game. Both teams have indicated there will be no collusion to manufacture a tie, but a close game late conjures some interesting decisions for both coaches.
The Steelers and Ravens are still alive if the Colts lose, but Baltimore needs a lot of help
The aforementioned game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens becomes one of interest should the Colts lose and there is no tie in the Chargers-Raiders game. The Steelers, seemingly left for dead a few short weeks ago, would claim the No. 7 seed by virtue of a win over Baltimore and a Colts loss. The Ravens could get in with a victory over the Steelers and a Colts loss, but they would also need Chargers loss and a Dolphins loss or tie.