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Snapshot of AFC playoff picture: Broncos hold on against Chiefs, maintain lead in race for No. 1 seed

12.01.13 at 11:28 pm ET
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After an exciting weekend of football and the final quarter of the season looming this coming week, here’s a quick snapshot of the AFC playoff chase.

1. Broncos (10-2). Combined record of remaining opponents: 16-32
You’ve got to hand it to the Broncos, who hung in against the Chiefs in Kansas City on Sunday and came away with an impressive 35-28 win. (Although if you’re forced to continue to score at such a high rate, it might not be wholly conducive to a playoff run. But that’s a debate for another day.) Given the weak slate of opponents remaining on the Broncos schedule, it’s hard to see them not going 14-2 at this point, as they have games against the Titans, Chargers, Texans and Raiders, none of whom are at .500. Home against San Diego might be the toughest test for them at this point, but it all goes according to plan, they’ll likely slotted in as the No. 1 seed.

2. Patriots (9-3). Combined record of remaining opponents: 20-28
The Patriots moved a step closer to securing the No. 2 seed with a 34-31 win over the Texans in Houston on Sunday. It wasn’t a classic win, but like the Broncos, they were able to make enough plays when necessary down the stretch and come away with the victory. And like Denver’s remaining schedule, it certainly appears the Patriots have a relatively easy path to 13-3. The only real test for them along the way is the Ravens, who are sniffing around the outer edges of the playoff chase after their Thanksgiving night win over the Steelers.

3. Colts (8-4). Combined record of remaining opponents: 22-26
No one is quite sure what to make of the Colts, who can look incredibly impressive one week and miserable the next — on Sunday, they barely squeaked past Tennessee, 22-14. Over the last five weeks, they’ve pulled a Jets move and alternated wins and losses, and that sort of inconsistency will not serve them well down the stretch. If they can get it together in the next week or two prior to dates at Cincinnati and Kansas City, they might be a force to be reckoned with come January. But that sort of up-and-down play won’t serve them well if they hope to get to the next level, and could even get them dropped down a peg if they do end up dropping one or both of those games.

4. Bengals (8-4). Combined record of remaining opponents: 22-25-1
Still, for all the inconsistency the Colts have displayed, the real wild card when it comes to the postseason could be the Bengals. There have been times — like Sunday — where they have been very impressive, like Sunday when they traveled to San Diego and looked sharp in picking up a 17-10 win over the Chargers. Ultimately, they could be poised for a postseason breakthrough ‘€¦ that is, if you believe in Andy Dalton. It’s still a quarterback-driven league, and there are still some questions as to whether or not Dalton has the pedigree to lift his game to the next level when it comes to playoff time. It’s important to say that the win on Sunday lifted them into a two-game lead over Baltimore in the chase for the AFC North title. The jury is still out as to whether or not that might be the steppingstone to next-level greatness for Dalton and the Bengals.

5. Chiefs (9-3). Combined record of remaining opponents: 20-27
The real hard-luck loser this postseason might be the Chiefs, who have fought the Broncos tooth-and-nail for supremacy in the AFC West, but will likely now finish second, which means they’ll be relegated to the No. 5 spot and top wild card position when it comes to the postseason. Kansas City has a relatively soft schedule the rest of the way (the only team they’ll play over .500 down the stretch is the Colts), and so it still have an outside shot at the top spot in the AFC West — which could also conceivably land them the No. 1 seed if all goes well — but those chances likely went out the window with the Sunday afternoon home loss to the Broncos. Still, considering where they are at this point, this should be remembered as a tremendous season for the Chiefs.

6. Ravens (6-6). Combined record of remaining opponents: 27-20
With three games left against plus-.500 teams (Lions, Patriots and Bengals), Baltimore has the toughest road of any team currently in the playoff picture, so it won’t be easy for them to hang at No. 6. But they still have plenty of the same guys who battled their way through the end of the 2012 season and into that playoff run, and that mental toughness cannot be discounted. At the same time, they have no margin for error — if they slip, there are more than enough teams who could pounce and take that final spot. They hold the tiebreaker on the Dolphins, who are also 6-6, and they’re a half-game up on four teams who are at 5-7 — Titans, Steelers, Chargers and Jets.

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