Absolute Chaos in Week 18 for the AFC Playoff Picture
The New England Patriots are the perfect team to start with when trying to explain how dense and chaotic the AFC Playoff picture is. Depending on week 18 results, the Patriots, who have sealed their playoff spot, can finish as high as the one seed or as low as the seventh seed in the AFC.
All eight games featuring AFC teams in week 18 have an impact on the playoff picture, but for things to get chaotic, there would need to be some divisional upsets.
Currently, five AFC teams have booked a ticket to the playoffs with five other teams contending to fill the last two slots.
Let's start with an AFC South battle between the playoff contending Indianapolis Colts and the cellar-dwelling 2-14 Jacksonville Jaguars.
The last time the Colts beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville was when former quarterback Andrew Luck threw for 370 yards and four touchdowns in a 44-17 victory on Sept. 21, 2014.
Yes, the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team with a combined record of 32-80 in the last seven seasons is also undefeated at home against Indianapolis. Their only win in the entire 2020 season was a week one home victory against the Colts. Of course it's a long shot for the 2021 rendition of the Jaguars to continue that stretch against a strong Colts squad, but it's certainly not impossible.
In their first meeting this season, the Jaguars had the ball late in the fourth quarter with a drive into Indianapolis territory for a chance to score a game-winning touchdown. However, starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence was stripped on a sack, and the Colts kneeled out the last 50 seconds to win 23-17. If the Jaguars are able to pull off the week 18 upset, the reverberation in the AFC playoffs would be massive.
First is my personal favorite scenario which will never happen, but it's just incredible that it's possible in the first place. The final game of the 2021 regular season is the Las Vegas Raiders hosting the Los Angeles Chargers at 7:20 p.m. on Sunday Night Football. This is effectively an elimination battle between two 9-7 squads to make the playoffs. However, if the Jaguars beat the Colts, a tie between these two teams on Sunday Night Football would result in the Raiders and Chargers both making the playoffs.
So, hypothetically, each team could just decide to kneel out the entire clock and still have their seasons stay alive into wild card weekend. As I said, this would never happen, and it's already a long shot that the Colts lose to the Jaguars, but it's just a fun scenario in what could be a ridiculous ending to the regular season.
As mentioned earlier, there are five teams looking to seal the last two spots. If Indianapolis wins, they are in as either the five or six seed depending on if New England defeats the Miami Dolphins. After that, the winner of Sunday Night Football clinches the final spot.
However, Indianapolis losing also opens the door for the winner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. Due to tie-breakers, the Ravens would need both the Raiders and Jaguars to win their games to sneak in the seventh spot with a victory. If Pittsburgh wins, they take the seventh spot if Jacksonville wins and the Raiders and Chargers don't tie.
Now, looking at the top of the conference is much more interesting in the AFC than the NFC where Green Bay has already locked up the first round bye. There is a historic amount of teams that can earn the top seed in the AFC this weekend.
The simplest outcome is the 11-5 Tennessee Titans beating the 4-12 Houston Texans. They'd lock up the first round bye and top seed before the afternoon games start on Sunday. However, the Texans upsetting the Titans opens up the one seed for three other teams to potentially take.
The opening game of week 18 is the 11-5 Kansas City Chiefs playing in Denver against the 7-9 Broncos on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. If the Chiefs continue their 12-game winning streak dating back to 2015 against their AFC West rivals, they claim the top seed with a Titans loss.
Next, the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals can earn the first round bye with a win on the road against the 7-9 Cleveland Browns and a loss by both the Chiefs and the Titans.
Finally, just like the NFC, the AFC technically has one division title still up for grabs: the AFC East. The 10-6 Buffalo Bills win the East if they beat the 4-12 New York Jets, but they can't claim the top seed due to tie-breakers. However, if the Bills were to lose to the Jets, the door is open for the New England Patriots to take the East with a win over the Dolphins. But, that's not all. If they win the division, they also take the top seed with losses by the Titans, Chiefs, and Bengals.
If the Colts losing to the Jaguars is a long shot, I don't know what you would call this, but anything is possible in the NFL. Regardless, the AFC has potential to be an absolute mess in the final week of the 2021 regular season.
If you want to make your picks and see how your playoff picture turns out, check out ESPN's Playoff Machine.