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Snapshot of AFC playoff picture: Broncos hold narrow edge over Patriots, Colts

11.25.13 at 7:29 am ET

With Thanksgiving looming at the final quarter of the regular season coming up quickly, here’s a look at the rapidly-developing playoff picture and how it all relates to the Patriots.

1. Broncos (9-2). Combined record of remaining opponents: 25-30
The Broncos appear to be in pretty good shape to secure one of the top two seeds in the AFC playoff race, but hit a potential pothole on the race to the No. 1 seed with a 34-31 overtime loss to the Patriots in New England Sunday night. Their toughest test the rest of the way figures to be next week when they travel to meet the Chiefs in Kansas City. Given the weak schedule they have the rest of the way — no teams even at .500 — a win should just about assure them one of the top two spots. A loss (and a New England win over Houston) could push the Patriots into the top spot, and create some uncertainty as it relates to the Chiefs.

2. Patriots (8-3). Combined record of remaining opponents: 20-35
New England took a big leap forward with Sunday’s win over the Broncos, and stand poised to finish strong, as the rest of its schedule is littered with the likes of Cleveland, Buffalo and Houston. The one game that could cause them trouble the rest of the way is in Baltimore — while the defending Super Bowl champs aren’t what they were at the start of the season, they’re still a proud bunch who could cause some trouble down the stretch. A road game in Miami could also be troublesome.

3. Colts (7-4). Combined record of remaining opponents: 25-30
Indy has posted some impressive wins over the course of their first 11 games, but they have an ugly loss to match almost all of those victories. Not sure I’d put the defeat at the hands of the Cards on Sunday in that category, but it certainly didn’t do them any favors, as they lost the inside track on the No. 2 seed with the loss. The Colts have two really tough games left on their schedule, with road dates at the Bengals and Chiefs. (They should also get a chance to fatten up at the expense of the Texans and Jags, two two-win teams left on their slate.) Indy has taken big steps forward over the course of the season, but it has to display more consistency down the stretch and into the postseason if it wants to be taken seriously as a title contender in January.

4. Bengals (7-4). Combined record of remaining opponents: 24-30-1
The wild card in the AFC playoff chase. They have had a dominant defense at times, and have also gotten some excellent play out of their skill position players, but they’ve also gotten uneven play out of their quarterback. Cincy also has games left against the Chargers, Steelers and Ravens, three teams sitting at 5-6 that could end up going either way down the stretch. At this point in the season, this is a team with the most boom-bust potential of the group: The Bengals could still somehow find their way into the No. 1 spot, or they could end up out of the playoff altogether. A team to watch.

5. Chiefs (9-2). Combined record of remaining opponents: 28-26
Life is unfair. Kansas City shot to a 9-0 mark, but has lost its last two games, and has the toughest remaining schedule of any of the teams currently in the postseason picture with games against the Broncos, Colts and the Chargers. (The San Diego game, the regular-season finale, isn’t the slam dunk everyone thought it might be a few weeks ago after the Chargers went into KC Sunday and knocked off the Chiefs.) Injuries to Justin Houston and Tamba Hali on Sunday will be a setback for the defense, and it will be interesting to see how they respond. We’ll know more about their mental toughness after next week’s home game against the Broncos.

6. Titans (5-6). Combine record of remaining opponents: 27-28
Hey, someone has to get that sixth seed. Right now, the Titans would claim that final playoff spot, but they’re one of five teams sitting at 5-6, and considering the rest of the field, we’re not so sure that Tennessee is such a safe bet to be the team that rounds out the playoff picture. The Titans have to fight off the Steelers, Ravens, Chargers, Jets and Dolphins, all of whom are a game below .500 with five weeks left on the schedule. Based on what happened Sunday, you have to consider Baltimore (their opponents currently sit at 28-26-1 on the year) as a legitimate contender for that final spot, while San Diego’s schedule the rest of the way (their opponents have a 33-22 mark, and including the Bengals, Broncos and Chiefs) might be too much for them to handle. Meanwhile, the Jets and Steelers have struggled to achieve consistency throughout the season.

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