AFC RUN IN PREVIEW
We are now in the home straight and the race to the playoffs is now officially on. In this blog I will look division by division where we stand now, the key games, and who Honest Jim sees making it through to the post season.
Let’s begin with the AFC EAST. The Buffalo Bills are currently in the box seat with a two-game lead over the Jets and Patriots. Last season they ended the season with four straight defeats to lose the division the title to the Pats who stormed past them after winning five out of their final seven games. Equally as painful the season before, a week seventeen loss to the Fins in a winner takes the division showdown had them on the outside looking in. This year I believe it will be different and Glyn will make a long-awaited appearance in the Wild Card game.
Buffalo has some tricky games to come, especially a week 13 showdown at home to the Patriots, but they should have enough to get the job done. They have continued problems moving the ball on the ground, but turnovers have reduced this year in Looney’s second season as quarterback. A respectable nine interception thrown so far this campaign.
The Patriots are in catchup mode, and their season will all depend on their next three fixtures against the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills. So, they could be playing for a one game lead in the division in week 13.
I think that two game lead now is crucial, but if New England can put the pressure on, we have seen the Bills crack before. Both teams will be desperate to win one or two games outside the division to push them over the edge.
HJ PREDICTS – Bills to claim their first division title but still a losing record.
In the AFC North the Bengals are closing in on a second successive division title. They have a one and two game lead over both the Browns and Steelers respectively, but just as important they already have head to head wins over both.
With a relatively comfortable schedule left, and in great form, I can see the Bengals storming to a first round bye, and possibly home field advantage through the playoffs.
They have tricky divisional games in W13 against Cleveland and against Pittsburgh to close the season. But I can see the Bengals victorious in both as they appear to have all the momentum at the minute.
If the Bengals do slip up, then Cleveland and Pittsburgh will look to take advantage. The Browns who are hopeful for a third straight appearance in January can’t afford any mistakes and will look to chalking of the wins one at a time. But the game in Cinci is circled on the calendar already. With Baker Mayfield throwing picks at an alarming rate, and a lack of run game I don’t believe the Browns will be consistent enough to make it this season.
The Steelers are on a three-game skid, but their schedule does soften a touch in the final weeks. For them a Cleveland it seems now their W14 clash will be for who takes the runner up spot and a probable wild card appearance
HJ PREDICTS – Bengals to take the 1 Seed and Steelers to sneak in at #6
In the AFC South the Texans have a three-game lead and look to have already sewn up the division. After an amazing comeback win this week over Steelers it seems the footballing gods want to see them in the playoffs.
They still can be caught by Tennessee and Jacksonville, but I don’t believe that either side is consistent enough to get the the seven or eight wins needed in the final run in. Out of the two I think that Jaguars are the most capable and do have a must win W14 game in Houston. Ultimately though both will fall short and look to regroup in the close season before pushing on again in season four.
For me the question is how many more wins can the Texans get, and can they hold of the pack to get a first round bye?
HJ PREDICTS – A 12-win season from Houston will see them just mis out and a Wild Card rematch against Pittsburgh
Finally, the powerhouse AFC West. The Broncos have a two-game lead over the Chargers who have lost an uncharacteristic three defeats at the mid stage of the season. A classic battle looms this week between the two.
If the Chargers can beat the Broncos here, then they do have a path to the division for a third straight time. Out of the twoschedules I believe that LA has the easier run in, and will be possible double-digit favorites in each of their matchup’s.
Whereas Denver have some tough games to come, notably finishing against Tampa Bay, and Carolina. The latter may have the scrubs in at this point though.
It would be remiss not to mention the third wheel in this race, the ever-improving Kansas City. Currently they have a 5-4 record, but they have it in their hands to fight back in the race with games against Denver (W13) and Los Angeles (W14/17)
HJ Predicts – Denver to hold on to win their first division, and LA to comfortable take a WC Spot
So that the regular season, who will win the playoffs I hear you ask
(6) PIT bt (3) HOU
(5) LAC bt (4) BUF
(1) CIN bt (6) PIT
(5) LAC bt (2) DEN
(5) LAC bt (1) CIN