Unlike the NFC, the AFC playoff teams are already set as all six teams have clinched a playoff spot. However, the seeding may undergo some serious changes after this week, affecting each team’s road to the Super Bowl.
The Baltimore Ravens have no chance of getting a first round bye or dropping to a wild card, but can enter the playoffs as either a 3 or 4 seed. No matter what happens this Sunday, both the Cincinnati Bengals and the Indianapolis Colts are locked as the 6th and 5th seeds respectively. The Ravens are currently the projected 4 seed and would therefore play the Colts in the first round while the 3 seed Patriots take on the Bengals.
The only possible change in seeding for the Ravens would occur if the Patriots lose to the Dolphins and the Ravens defeat the Bengals. This would make the Ravens the 3 seed and force them to take on the Bengals for the second week in a row.
While this minor change may not seem like much as the Ravens will be guaranteed at least one home playoff game either way, it could alter their path to the Super Bowl run as their possible opponents will change significantly.
From the looks of it, the Ravens entering the playoffs as a 3 seed has bad written all over it.
Doing so means the Ravens will face the Bengals for the third time this season and second straight week in a row. Playing a divisional rival in the playoffs is never easy and the Bengals are also red hot. Even though the game would be in Baltimore, this is not an appealing matchup.
Luckily, I see no way that the Miami Dolphins will be able to beat the New England Patriots in Foxborough. Bill Belichick is not known to rest his starters and he won’t allow his players to not take this one seriously.
Additionally, the Broncos and Chiefs game is about as close to a lock as you can get. The Chiefs are looking for the number one draft pick and the Broncos are simply unstoppable right now. That leaves the Texans and the Colts game, which will have the biggest impact on the AFC seeding.
Assuming that the Patriots and Broncos win this Sunday, the Texans are put in a must-win scenario. Win and you earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and a first-round bye. Lose and you drop to the third seed and will be playing the following week.
The game will have no effect on the Colts as they are stuck with the 5th seed no matter what, but it will give them a lot of momentum heading into to playoffs and deliver a crushing blow to their division rivals. A loss for the Texans will also shift the Broncos and Patriots into the top two seeds which is a scary thought, considering how dangerous they already appear to be.
The best case scenario for the Ravens would be for the Texans to win, leaving the Ravens as the 4th seed and the Texans as the 1st. From my vantage point both the Patriots and Ravens win in the wild card, sending the Patriots to Denver and Baltimore to Houston. Although the Texans delivered quite the beating to the Ravens earlier this season, the Texans are a far different team from what they were in week 7. The Ravens were at their worst, coming off of an extremely tough stretch, while the Texans were playing arguably the best football we’ve seen all season. The Texans are pretty banged up now and that makes the Ravens a solid pick against the Texans in the playoffs.
This scenario also offers additional intrigue.
While the Ravens are in Houston, the big AFC powerhouse Broncos and Patriots will be battling it out a mile high in the sky and the winner will most definitely come out in much worse shape than when they entered the game. This will help the Ravens significantly in the AFC Championship, as they will be playing a physically weakened opponent.
It is hard to imagine the Ravens taking out the Broncos at any point in the playoffs so the hope here is for Tom Brady to take care of Peyton Manning. This would set up a rematch of the AFC Championship of last year where the Ravens came up just short in Foxborough.
But this time around, I really like the Ravens’ chances. The Ravens are no longer intimidated by the resumes of Brady and Bill Belichick and they should be a confident bunch heading back to Gillette Stadium.
The road to the Lombardi will undoubtedly be a bumpy one. But the Ravens have a very fair shot at going the distance, despite an equally bumpy regular season.
While a lot of things will have to happen in their favor, the Ravens can add another Silver Betty to their trophy case.