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Resetting AFC playoff picture

12.17.12 at 7:48 am ET
By
i

J.J. Watt salutes the Houston crowd after a tackle in Sunday’s win over the Colts. (AP)

After Sunday’s action, here’s a quick look at where the AFC playoff stands:

1. Houston (12-2): Unless something wacky happens, the Texans wrapped up one of the top two spots with their win over the Colts on Sunday at home. Houston is in control of its’ own destiny — it can clinch a top-two seed with a win next week against visiting Minnesota, and if the Texans follow that up with a win over the Colts in the regular-season finale, they’ll clinch home field. Houston did an excellent job bouncing back after last Monday’s brutal loss to the Patriots, and sent a message to the rest of the AFC that it’ll be a tough out in the postseason.

Remaining schedule: vs. Vikings (8-6), at Colts (9-5).

2. Denver (11-3): The Broncos first quality win of the season came at a great time, as they crushed the reeling Ravens in Baltimore and moved a game ahead of the Patriots and into the No. 2 slot in the AFC chase. It’s next to impossible that Denver loses one of their two remaining games (the Broncos face Kansas City and Cleveland, and have the easiest strength of schedule the rest of the way, playing teams that are a combined 7-21 over the last two weeks), so it’s safe to say they have the No. 2 seed well in hand heading into the last two weeks of the season.

Remaining schedule: vs. Browns (5-9), vs. Chiefs (2-12).

3. Patriots (10-4): As Kevin Garnett once told us, “Anything is possible,” but at this point, it seems highly unlikely that the Patriots are going to get off the No. 3 seed. Even with games against Jacksonville and Miami, New England can’t move up unless the Texans or Broncos stumble, and at this point, that really doesn’t seem like a possibility. If things stay as they are, that would mean the Patriots would host a wild card game that first playoff weekend against the Bengals.

Remaining schedule: at Jaguars (2-12), vs. Dolphins (6-8).

4. Ravens (9-5): Ever since Ray Rice converted on 4th and 29 against the Chargers on Thanksgiving weekend, it’s been all downhill for Baltimore. The Ravens have taken a major step backwards over the last three weeks with three consecutive losses, culminating with a 34-17 home loss to the Broncos. Baltimore is clearly a shell of itself, and given where they are right now, it wouldn’t be out of the question for them to finish with a 9-7 mark, as they have games against the Giants and Bengals to finish out the season. However, the Ravens hold on to the fourth spot, the Colts will travel to Baltimore for a wild-card date with the Ravens.

Remaining schedule: vs. Giants (8-6), at Bengals (8-6).

5. Indy (9-5): The Colts were beaten pretty handily by the Texans on Sunday in Houston, going down by a 29-17 count. While it’s a safe bet that they’ll bounce back this weekend against the woeful Chiefs and hit double-digits in wins, their regular-season finale could be an interesting one against the Texans. Playoff positioning could still be on the line, and it would be interesting to see how Houston plays things if it’s locked into the top spot.

Remaining schedule: at Chiefs (2-12), vs. Texans (12-2).

6. Cincinnati (8-6): With all due respect to Indy, this might be the most surprising team in the mix, at least to this point. The Bengals have won five of their last six, and that hot streak — combined with the recent struggles of the Ravens and Steelers — have combined to put them in very good position entering the final two weeks of the season. If they do end up missing out, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves, as they have a pair of division games to close out their slate, with a contest at Pittsburgh and then home to face Baltimore.

Remaining schedule: at Steelers (7-7), vs. Ravens (9-5).

On the outside looking in: Pittsburgh (7-7), New York Jets (6-7), Miami (6-8).

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