While no division is officially in hand and there are plenty of weeks to go in the NFL season, the AFC playoff picture is coming into view a bit earlier than normal.
At this point, there are only six teams in the AFC with a winning record. Six of them. That’s a low figure and it’s why the conference’s playoff picture is coming into view a lot sooner than anyone could have anticipated coming into the season.
After Sunday’s games, a few of the playoff pretenders seem to be fading after inspiring a bit of hope earlier in the season. The Kansas City Chiefs have to be feeling good after the bye knowing they have a two game lead on the rest of the division. The Chargers looked like they were putting on a midseason surge, but their loss in overtime to the surprising Jacksonville Jaguars, who themselves are 6-3 and tied atop the AFC South with the Tennessee Titans.
Speaking of the South, it’s one of the only real divisional races in the AFC right now, along with the AFC East, but even that is starting to fade. The South has two real contenders left with Tennessee and Jacksonville after the Houston Texans suffered another loss on Sunday in a blowout to the L.A. Rams.
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The East was once a very close race between the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills. Unfortunately for everyone else, the Pats continue to look good week after week while others are fading as expected before the season began. The Jets lost a disappointing game to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a must-win for a team who couldn’t afford a loss to a poor non-conference foe. The same can be said for the Bills, although they remain in control of the last wild card spot with a 5-4 record, but they’ve also lost two in a row.
Then on Sunday night, the New England Patriots took care of the Denver Broncos, 41-16. It didn’t help in the fight for supremacy and playoff positioning, but those are battles for the late season. For now, the Chiefs have watched the Broncos take what should be their fatal blow for playoff hopes delivered by Tom Brady. If the Chiefs can beat Oakland in their next meeting and generally take care of those who should be the easiest foes of the season, the Chiefs have the West wrapped up.
While not every game went in Kansas City’s favor (see the Pittsburgh Steelers comeback win over the Indianapolis Colts), the reality is that the AFC is shaking out to be a fairly poor conference overall with definite haves and have-nots. Say what you will about the Chiefs, but they’re looking more and more likely to at least punch another ticket to the postseason.