AFC playoff picture: Surging Bengals continue their push for the postseason with visit to Patriots

The latest on the Patriots' chances following their disastrous loss.

Peter Joneleit
Joe Burrow has won nine straight games in December/January.

With three games left in the regular season, a whopping 13 of the 16 teams in the AFC still have a shot at reaching the playoffs.

While the top two appear locked in — the Bills and the Chiefs — the surging Bengals are still capable of crashing the party. The Chargers, who have jumped three spots in the last couple of weeks, will continue to benefit from a soft schedule when it comes to their playoff push.

The Patriots moved down one slot after Sunday’s horrendous loss. Here’s a look at the AFC playoff picture entering Week 16

1. Bills (11-3)

Unchanged since last week


Remaining schedule: at Bears (3-11), at Bengals (10-4), vs. Patriots (7-7).

Opponents’ record: 20-22 (.476)

The skinny: Football Outsiders has calculated the most likely Super Bowl matchup is Philadelphia vs. Buffalo at 20.7 percent. They’re calling it the LeSean McCoy Classic. San Francisco vs. Buffalo is at 14.9 percent and Philadelphia vs. Kansas City at 9.7 percent round out the top three choices.

2. Chiefs (11-3)

Unchanged since last week

Remaining schedule: vs. Seahawks (7-7), vs. Broncos (4-10), at Raiders (6-8).

Opponents’ record: 17-25 (.405)

The skinny: On Sunday, Patrick Mahomes became the fourth quarterback In NFL history to throw 35 touchdowns passes in three straight seasons, joining Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Brett Favre.

3. Bengals (10-4)

Up two from last week

Remaining schedule: at Patriots (7-7), vs. Bills (11-3), vs. Ravens (9-5)

Opponents’ record: 27-15 (.643)

The skinny: “QB wins” is kind of a meaningless stat — football is the ultimate team game. But it’s tough to ignore the fact that when it comes to December/January games, Joe Burrow has won nine straight. Can he make it 10 in a row this weekend in Foxborough?

4. Titans (7-7)

Unchanged since last week

Remaining schedule: vs. Texans (1-12-1), vs. Cowboys (10-4), at Jaguars (6-8).

Opponents’ record: 17-24-1 (.406)


The skinny: Four straight losses have the Titans reeling. Remarkably enough, there’s still a very real chance they could be caught by the Jaguars. And given the less-than-competitive nature of the AFC South, Tennessee would be on the outside looking in at a playoff berth. If that happens, could Mike Vrabel be looking for a job this offseason? Hmmm …

5. Ravens (9-5)

Down two from last week

Remaining schedule: vs. Falcons (5-9), vs. Steelers (6-8), at Bengals (10-4).

Opponents’ record: 21-21 (.500)

The skinny: A not-so-bold prediction? The last regular-season game will end up deciding the AFC North. And given the nature of the races in the AFC East and AFC West, the loser could miss the postseason altogether.

6. Chargers (8-6)

Up two from last week

Remaining schedule: at Colts (4-9-1), vs. Rams (4-10), at Broncos (4-10).

Opponents’ record: 12-29-1 (.286)

The skinny: The Chargers have jumped from the ninth spot late last month to No. 6. And with that schedule the rest of the way, I’d say it’s a good bet they climb even higher before the end of the season.

7. Dolphins (8-6)

Down one from last week

Remaining schedule: vs. Packers (6-8), at Patriots (7-7), vs. Jets (7-7).


Opponents’ record: 20-22 (.476)

The skinny: Miami acquitted itself well on Buffalo’s frozen tundra but … the Dolphins have now lost three straight. Miami folding late in the season in the chilly North were a fairly regular occurrence years ago. Are the Dolphins headed for another collapse?

On the bubble (teams .500 or better)

8. Patriots (7-7)

Down one from last week

Remaining schedule: vs. Bengals (10-4), vs. Dolphins (8-6), at Bills (10-4).

Opponents’ record: 28-14 (.667)

The skinny: Crippling losses like the one New England suffered Sunday in Las Vegas have a way of sending a team in one of two directions — players can mail it in the rest of the way, or find solace in each other and rally to the end. We’ll see what sort of team the 2022 Patriots are.

9. Jets (7-7)

Unchanged since last week

Remaining schedule: vs. Jaguars (6-8), at Seahawks (7-7), at Dolphins (8-6)

Opponents’ record: 21-21 (.500)

The skinny: They’re not out of it yet, but Sunday’s defeat against the Lions felt like the sort of crushing loss that marked the end of New York’s playoff hopes. Like the Patriots, we’ll see if the Jets can bounce back from a December loss and make things interesting the rest of the way.


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