The AFC playoff picture is starting to tighten up, and here is an outlook of the teams currently ahead of the Oakland Raiders heading into Week 8.
There are so many positives about the Oakland Raiders win on Thursday — offense getting back on track, Bowman leading the defense, the team fighting to the end to beat Kansas City and save the season, and simply staying alive.
All good things.
The AFC is shaping up to a be a battle for playoff positions. The Raiders kept themselves in the realm of possibility with their win against the Chiefs, but are still behind the eight-ball with some other teams ahead of them and some tie-breaking situations not in their favor at this moment.
Let’s a take a look at the AFC playoff picture after Week 7, and the Raiders’ place in that picture.
AFC Playoff Picture, as of Monday, October 23
Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) Leader, AFC North
The Steelers are likely to maintain their lead in the North. They are 3-0 in the division right now and have a head-to-head victory over KC in their pocket come seeding time. They are playing some of the best football in the NFL right now and their young defense is rounding into form.
Kansas City Chiefs (5-2) Leader, AFC West
The Chiefs are stumbling a bit right now, losing two in a row after starting 5-0. However, the Broncos have also lost two in a row, meaning the Chiefs still hold a two-game lead in the AFC West. The Chargers and Raiders are in the hunt but are two games back at the moment.
New England Patriots (5-2) Leader, AFC East
The Jets could possibly be leading this division were it not for every single call ever in dispute somehow going the Patriots way. Aside from that, their defense has played much better the past two weeks and their offense is still stellar. As Brady and Belichick figure out how to integrate their newer weapons like Brandin Cooks and Mike Gillileslee this offense gets better each week.
Expect the Patriots to win this division again — though one or possibly two wild-card teams may come out as it’s very competitive at the moment.
Tennessee Titans (4-3) Leader, AFC South
Someone in the AFC South has to lead, so the Titans get the nod by virtue of a head-to-head win over Jacksonville, who is also 4-3 and actually has a better conference record.
When Marcus Mariota is healthy, Tennessee is a much better team. Of course, struggling to an anemic 12-9 win in overtime (mustering 12 points WITH an extra frame? Bleh) over the winless Browns isn’t convincing anyone.
Houston and Jacksonville both look like better teams than Tennessee, but Houston lost ground on their bye week. At the end expect Jacksonville and Houston to be battling for the divisional title, with the loser of that battle in good shape for a wild-card spot, while the Titans will have faded by then.
Buffalo Bills (4-2) 2nd Place, AFC East
As I said, the AFC East is very competitive at the moment. The Bills are ½ game back of the Patriots and haven’t played them yet. The Bills boast the top scoring defense in the NFL and rookie CB Tre’Davious White is a flat-out baller. With Shady McCoy running well, Tyrod Taylor playing efficient QB and the defense smothering teams, the Bill are in good position to fight for the divisional title or a wild-card. They host the Raiders this weekend in a key AFC matchup.
Miami Dolphins (4-2) 3rd Place, AFC East
There’s that AFC East again. Might IT be the best division in football, not the West? On paper that claim is legitimate as even the last-place jets are 3-4.
The Dolphins are one ugly 4-2 team. They can’t score, and now Jay Cutler is hurt. Wait — maybe that’s actually a problem and a solution all in one. Anyhow, Jay Ajayi hasn’t been able to get on track and their offense is pretty ugly.
Again, it’s defense. Every team in this division with the exception of the Patriots get it done on D. The Dolphins have actually allowed 20 more points than they’ve scored (112 allowed, 92 scored). So their 4-2 record is pretty remarkable. And kind of a mirage. It also means they were blown out once and don’t have the capacity to blow anyone out — or even win by more than a touchdown.
So they’re 4-2. Might they fade? They might. But for now, the Dolphins are in the AFC Playoffs if the season ends today.
Although they kept themselves alive, the Raiders, at 3-4 and with some unfortunate intra-conference losses, are sitting at 13th place in the AFC right now. Of course, they are only 1 ½ games out of the wild card position at the moment, and with games against New England, Buffalo, Miami, Dallas, Philadelphia, NYG, and one each against divisional opponents they have a real chance to make up solid ground against teams ahead of them in the race.
This conference is looking like 10-6 will be the minimum to garner a wild-card. That means the Raiders would need to go 7-2 the rest of the way. They need help from their AFC East competitors as well.
The AFC North, South, and East all have multiple intra-divisional games remaining. The Raiders must hope that the teams ahead of them cannibalize each other and clear divisional leaders emerge. And win every game they can, particularly against AFC rivals.
The most likely candidates for the wild card as it looks right now considering current record, overall talent, and remaining schedule, is the Bills and the Texans/Jaguars. The Raiders need to beat all three of these teams to keep their AFC playoff hopes alive, and it all starts this weekend in Buffalo.