With just three weeks remaining in the 2018 NFL season, the race for the postseason is getting hotter by the minute. In both the AFC and NFC, one team has separated itself as a near lock to nail down the first wild-card spot. This means both conferences also have a logjam of teams in the mix for their respective second wild-cards, the final tickets into the playoffs. Here is a look at how the AFC wild-card contenders stack up based on recent developments, remaining schedules, and more.
*Percentage playoff chances according to The Action Network’s Bet Labs Simulator*
2018 AFC Wild Card Predictions Going Into Week 15
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5-1)
Chance to make Playoffs: 59%
Remaining Games: vs. Patriots, at Saints, vs. Bengals
Just three weeks ago, the Steelers were sitting pretty atop the AFC North. Unfortunately, this year’s version of the Steel Curtain has been no match for the AFC West. Last week’s loss to the Oakland Raiders followed losses to the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers and concluded a 0-4 effort against the division when you add in a September loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Four of the Steelers’ five losses have come against the AFC West.
Even after the recent losing skid, Pittsburgh remains a half game up in the AFC North. Throw in the opportunity for the second wild-card and the Steelers have two legitimate ways to get back to the postseason. The health of Ben Roethlisberger after he was banged up in Sunday’s game will be paramount going forward. Pittsburgh’s schedule suggests they will need to put up points with games against the playoff-bound New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints. If the Steelers can pull out one of those two, they should be in a good position heading into week 17’s home game against the reeling Cincinnati Bengals.
Prediction: 8-7-1; MISS Playoffs
Baltimore Ravens (7-6)
Chance to Make Playoffs: 52%
Remaining Games: vs. Buccaneers, at Chargers, vs. Browns
Quite the opposite of the rival Steelers, the Ravens were staring at an uphill climb four weeks ago with a 4-5 record. Then Lamar Jackson was called upon to make his first NFL start after Joe Flacco suffered a hip injury. Baltimore rattled off three wins and nearly a fourth this past weekend against the Kansas City Chiefs, the cream of the crop in the AFC. Boasting the second-best defence in the NFL according to Football Outsiders’ adjusted DVOA statistics, the Ravens have proven they are a tough matchup for any team.
Like Pittsburgh, the Ravens can get into the postseason by means of winning the AFC North or the second Wild Card spot. Unless they have a tie of their own, they can’t finish with the same record as the Steelers, meaning Pittsburgh’s week 1 tie against the Browns could loom large. The Ravens will play those same Browns at home in w4eek 17. That game will be preceded by this week’s home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a tough road contest against the all-but-officially-playoff-bound Los Angeles Chargers. Winning two out of three would put serious pressure on the Steelers. It is also worth noting that Baltimore currently owns the tiebreakers over the other 7-6 teams in the hunt for the last wild-card spot.
Prediction: 9-7; WIN AFC North
Indianapolis Colts (7-6)
Chance to Make Playoffs: 45.3%
Remaining Games: vs. Cowboys, vs. Giants, at Titans
The Colts have quietly been one of the hottest teams in the NFL over the last month and a half. After an October 14th loss to the New York Jets dropped their record to 1-5, Indianapolis has won 6 of their last 7 and found themselves in the thick of the wild-card race. The Andrew Luck–T.Y. Hilton connection has been going off with regularity of late. Sunday’s win on the road against the AFC South-leading Houston Texans proved the Colts cannot be taken lightly.
Despite beating Houston, the Texans remain a whole two games clear of the Colts with three to play, making a division title an all but impossible task for Indianapolis. With both Pittsburgh and Baltimore positioned ahead of them, the Colts must win two of their remaining three games to have a realistic shot at the wild-card. There are no locks left on the schedule, however. Getting the red-hot Dallas Cowboys and improving New York Giants at home helps. Week 17’s road game against the fellow-contender Tennessee Titans will be huge.
Prediction: 9-7; MAKE Playoffs as Wild Card
Miami Dolphins (7-6)
Chance to Make Playoffs: 15.3%
Remaining Games: at Vikings, vs. Jaguars, at Bills
The incredible Miami Miracle play that allowed the Dolphins to beat the New England Patriots this past week was not only a game-winner but a season-saver. Instead of having to play catch-up in the standings over the season’s final three weeks, the Dolphins sit tied for the second wild-card despite being considered the worst 7-6 team by most. Unfortunately, Ryan Tannehill is banged up badly in more places than one. He will need to avoid being a living game of Operation for Miami to succeed down the stretch.
The Dolphins’ week 15 showdown against the Minnesota Vikings has significant implications for both the AFC and NFC Wild Card races. This would have been considered an easy Vikings win earlier in the year, but with the Vikings offence struggling, Miami can’t be counted out. The final two games against the Jaguars and Bills will be battles but are very much winnable. After Sunday’s miracle, who knows? Maybe the Dolphins are a team of destiny.
Prediction: 8-8; MISS Playoffs
Tennessee Titans: 7-6
Chance to Make Playoffs: 27.2%
Remaining Games: at Giants, vs. Redskins, vs. Colts
The Titans are that one team who isn’t great at anything, yet still finds a way to win. Football Outsiders ranks Tennessee 17th in team defence, 23rd in team offence and 16th in special teams. Does that sound like a playoff contender to you? Yet there they are, in the 7-6 heat and all but in control of their fate down the stretch. Mike Vrabel has his team playing hard every week. While I wouldn’t expect another 200-yard, 4-score game from Derrick Henry, maybe that was just the game he needed to shake off the season-long struggles he has been having and become a key asset down the stretch.
Tennessee sandwiches a near-guaranteed win against the Washington Redskins between games against the New York Giants and Colts over the final three weeks. If they can take out the Giants on the road this week, the Titans should be in a great position heading into the week 17 clash with Indianapolis.
Prediction: 8-8; MISS Playoffs
Denver Broncos: 6-7
Chance to Make Playoffs: 2.4%
Remaining Games: vs. Browns, at Raiders, vs. Chargers
The Broncos were widely counted out after a loss to the Houston Texans on the first Sunday of November dropped their record to 3-6. Then they went out and beat a pair of AFC contenders in the Los Angeles Chargers and Steelers as well as the Cincinnati Bengals to climb back to .500. Just when it looked like Vance Joseph’s crew was turning their season around, the team lost top wideout Emmanuel Sanders to an ACL tear and fell to the lowly San Francisco 49ers this past week.
The loss to the Niners puts the Broncos behind the eightball in the wild-card race. They essentially must win out to overtake the pack of teams sitting ahead of them. A look at the schedule shows it is not inconceivable. Denver should be able to handle the Cleveland Browns at home and the Oakland Raiders despite both of those teams playing better football lately. If the Chargers are already locked into their playoff spot come week 17, they might rest a handful of key players. Don’t trust the Broncos, but don’t count them out just yet either.
Prediction: 8-8; MISS Playoffs
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