As we enter Week 13 of the 2018 NFL season, the playoff picture has gotten ever so clearer in the American Football Conference. The AFC is a quarterback heavy conference and it is no surprise that the best teams in the conference have obvious leaders under center. Today we take a look at the current playoff picture and try to predict the future.
AFC Division Leaders (Seeds)
West: Kansas City Chiefs (1)
The Chiefs bring a terrifying offense into the playoffs led by Patrick Mahomes. Head coach Andy Reid returns to the playoffs for the 14th time. An embarrassing second-half collapse in the 2017 playoffs against the Titans remains fresh in the minds of everyone. The offense will need to continue their high-scoring ways in the postseason as the Chiefs defense is near the bottom of every statistical category. If the Chiefs can turn the game into a track meet, the defense may be able to take advantage of an opportunistic pass rush. Kansas City is the most explosive team in the AFC.
East: New England Patriots (2)
The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. New England wins the AFC East and are a contender for the Super Bowl. Both statements are facts of life since Bill Belicheck took over the Patriots and made Tom Brady the starting quarterback. New England has battled countless injuries to playmakers on the offense but continues to be effective. Defensively the Patriots avoid surrendering big plays. Brady and Belicheck are looking for their fifth championship together and redemption after losing to the Eagles last February. Never sleep on the Patriots in the postseason.
South: Houston Texans (3)
After an emphatic victory against the Titans, the Houston Texans are in the pole position in the AFC South. The Texans are led by quarterback Deshaun Watson and a stingy defense. JJ Watt and the Houston defense keep games close and allow Watson and the offense to use a balanced attack to pull away late in games. The Texans are built for the postseason with a solid run game led by Lamar Miller and a defense which is playing fast and loose.
North: Pittsburgh Steelers (4)
The Steelers are perennial Super Bowl contenders in the era of Mike Tomlin. Some how the team has navigated through a season with the Le’Veon Bell saga and avoided enough injuries to make another run. The defense is talented and has a good mix of veteran and young players. Offensively, John Conner has carried the load in the run game and has allowed Pittsburgh to carve up opposing defenses. Big Ben and Antonio Brown continue to be a quick strike combo with JuJu Smith-Schuster providing the perfect complement with his big play ability. The Steelers have a habit of playing down to their competition but have the pedigree to make a deep run.
The Chargers play home games in name only. Since leaving San Diego, Hollywood’s other team has struggled to find a crowd advantage at home. Luckily the Chargers find themselves on the road for the playoffs. The Chargers have a talented defense, and at times, an explosive offense. Veteran quarterback Philip Rivers continues to throw the ball all over the field to a talented group of receivers. The run game has taken a slight hit with the loss of Melvin Gordon for the season, but the offense continues to be dangerous.
John Harbaugh’s team is a bit of an enigma. The defense has played well for most of the season but has struggled against weaker competition. Baltimore’s biggest issue is what to do at quarterback. The Ravens have relied on rookie Lamar Jackson as veteran Joe Flacco recuperated from injury. Baltimore’s ground game has picked up as a result, but who will the team turn to in the high pressure stakes of the playoffs?
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Playoff Match-ups as of end of Week 12
Wild Card Round
LAC @ Pitt – LAC advances
Balt @ Hou – Hou advances
KC – Bye
NE – Bye
LAC @ KC – LAC advances
Hou @ NE – NE advances
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LAC @ NE – NE advances
The Patriots continue to be the gold standard in the conference. New England entered the season with the hope of making their third consecutive Super Bowl. The Chiefs hold the top seed and home field advantage, but have shown a propensity to lose when it matters most. Mahomes and the offense have been on a different level this year but can Andy Reid make the calls when things get tight? In the end it’s the surprise Chargers taking on the Patriots. Rivers and the Los Angeles offense is talented, but missing Melvin Gordon proves to be a step too far for the Chargers. Who needs to watch the rest of the season? Crown the Patriots and get a start on the offseason.