Evaluating the AFC after Week 14: Patriots even know when to lose
In the biggest upset of the weekend, the Dolphins defeated the Patriots on Monday night in Miami by a final score of 27-20, which surprisingly dropped Tom Brady’s record to 7-9 in Miami against the Dolphins. The loss ended the Patriots’ eight-game winning streak, in addition to their 14-game road winning streak.
However, last night’s loss didn’t really hurt New England’s chances of securing home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, as they will still jump into the No. 1 seed with a win this weekend in Pittsburgh. You can bet Bill Belichick will use last night’s performance as a motivation tool headed into the Steelers game. The Patriots then finish the season with two home games against the Bills and Jets, which you can almost pencil in as victories.
The only potential downside of last night’s loss? It potentially jeopardizes the first-round bye if the Patriots lose as a two-point favorite in Pittsburgh on Sunday. If you assume the Patriots win their final two games after losing at Pittsburgh, they will finish 12-4. If the Jaguars win their final three games against the Texans, Titans and 49ers, they would also finish 12-4, and would actually win the tiebreaker over New England for the No. 2 seed.
Let’s take a deeper look at the entire updated AFC playoff picture headed into Week 15. You know we are in for a wild finish when no team outside of the state of Pennsylvania has clinched a playoff berth after 14 weeks.
Before we continue, let’s all take a moment of silence for all of our fellow degenerates who bet the over 48.5 last night. Also, make sure you check out our NFC Week 14 update if you missed it yesterday.
AFC Playoff Picture
1. Steelers (11-2)
2. Patriots (10-3)
3. Jaguars (9-4)
4. Chiefs (7-6)
5. Titans (8-5)
6. Bills (7-6)
Still Hopeful: Ravens (7-6), Chargers (7-6), Raiders (6-7), Dolphins (6-7)
Life Support: Jets (5-8), Bengals (5-8), Texans (4-9)
Eliminated: Broncos (4-9), Colts (3-10), Browns (0-13)
- Believe it or not, the Patriots still haven’t clinched the AFC East, but they will with one more win and/or one more Buffalo loss. For the #BillsMafia dreamers out there, the Bills would win the division if both teams finish 10-6, which would require the Bills to win out and the Patriots to lose out.
- The Steelers clinched the AFC North in a thriller on Sunday night against the Ravens. With a win against New England this weekend, Pittsburgh will essentially lock up home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, as they finish the season against the Texans and Browns.
- As I previously mentioned, the Jaguars still have a shot at a bye if they win out, especially if Pittsburgh defeats New England. Jacksonville currently holds a one-game lead over Tennessee in the AFC South, but the Titans just need to stay within one game headed into their Week 17 showdown in Nashville since the they already defeated the Jaguars earlier this season. However, that might be easier said than done, as these two teams are headed in opposite directions. Tennessee also has a much more difficult schedule over the next two weeks (at 49ers, Rams).
- The Chiefs got back on track against the Raiders in the first of two critical home divisional games. Kansas City currently sits on top of the AFC West, since they defeated the Chargers in LA earlier this year. If the Chiefs beat the Chargers this weekend as two-point home underdogs, they would only need to win one of their final two games (at Denver, Miami) to lock up the division.
- The Ravens are in great shape for the second wild card, as they will make the playoffs by winning their final three games, all as substantial favorites. They currently sit in the seventh spot behind the Bills, but only because the common opponents tiebreaker doesn’t go into effect until next week (requires a minimum of four common opponents). The Bills do not control their own destiny, but they do make the playoffs in 95 percent of all possible scenarios if they win out.
- Baltimore will automatically gain a game on the loser of the AFC West matchup in Kansas City, and they’ll benefit from a much easier schedule than any of their wild-card competition. The Ravens visit the Browns this week before finishing up with home games against the Colts and Bengals. Conversely, the Bills finish with two games against the Dolphins and a trip to Foxborough. If you assume the Bills lose at New England, the best record they can finish with is 9-7. Baltimore would win the tiebreaker at 9-7 as long as they win their final two home games. The game the Ravens can most afford to drop is at Cleveland, since that won’t impact any common opponent tiebreakers.
- If you’re still with me at this point, another curveball to consider is a Titans’ collapse. If they lose this weekend as two-point underdogs in San Francisco, it could potentially open up a second wild card spot. We can revisit that scenario next week if Jimmy G can win his third consecutive start, but it’s something to keep in mind.
- The Dolphins will have opportunities to help themselves out, as they finish the season with Kansas City and Buffalo twice. However, they would still need to jump the Ravens by a full game since they lost to Baltimore earlier in the season (unless Tennessee collapses). If Miami wins out, they will make the playoffs in 66 percent of all possible scenarios, according to this NYT simulator.
- The Raiders face a similar hurdle, and essentially need to finish 3-0 against the Chargers, Cowboys, and Eagles for any hope. If Oakland wins out, they make the playoffs in 57 percent of all possible scenarios.
- Yes, the 4-9 Texans still have a mathematical chance, but I refuse to go there.
Let’s now take a look at some of the key takeaways from the other marquee AFC Week 14 games that can help us this weekend.
1. Jaguars survive Wilson’s fourth quarter wizardry
Seahawks at Jaguars (-2.5) | Jags win 30-24 (Over 41)
A very misleading final, as Jacksonville led 27-10 in the fourth quarter in a game that featured a second consecutive impressive showing from Blake Bortles. The only points Seattle scored in the first three quarters came as a result of a blown call and a fumbled Jaguars kickoff return. You simply cannot play this Jaguars team without a productive rushing attack. Pray for T.J. Yates this weekend against Sacksonville.
As usual, Russell Wilson pulled out his fourth quarter magical wand and almost led the Seahawks all the way back. In the process, Wilson broke the NFL single-season record with his 16th fourth-quarter touchdown pass, and then added a 17th for good measure.
Seattle, already without Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril, could be without Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright for their most important game of the season. If you still needed proof of how dominant Wagner is at linebacker, the Jaguars scored touchdowns on three of the first four plays after Wagner left with an injury. Todd Gurley could benefit from the injuries in what is a favorable matchup on paper for the Rams, as Seattle can’t exploit their struggles with defending the run. However, the injuries to both starting cornerbacks for LA are concerning.
Three stars of the game:
- CB A.J. Bouye (JAX) – 2 Tackles 3 PD 2 INT
- QB Blake Bortles (JAX) – 18/27 268 yards 2 TD
- RB Leonard Fournette (JAX) – 101 yards 1 TD
— #Sacksonville (@Jaguars) December 10, 2017
2. Steelers steal another one, but show cracks on defense
Ravens (+6) at Steelers | Steelers win 39-38 (O 43)
The Steelers did escape with a win on a last minute Chris Boswell field goal, but you could see the major drop in production on the defensive side of the ball without Ryan Shazier. They must somehow fix some of those issues before an angry Patriots team arrives on Sunday. New England has owned Pittsburgh, most recently in last year’s AFC Championship, when Tom Brady picked apart the Steelers zone (32-of-42, 384 yards 3 TD) en route to a 36-17 victory. In the offseason, the Steelers openly stated they would not play zone again against the Patriots (what took them so long to figure that out?), but can they really afford to play man against Rob Gronkowski and the New England running backs after what they saw out of their linebackers last week? Pick your poison.
Baltimore still has to like their chances of getting in the dance, but they need to address some of the their secondary issues. Rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey actually looked very strong, but the rest of the secondary struggled. Their defense allowed zero 300-yard passers in the first 12 games with Jimmy Smith and a 500-yard passer in the first game without him. The offense is at least showing signs of life, which the Ravens will need in order to compensate for the decrease in defensive efficiency without Smith. Baltimore can at least continue to rely on the best special teams unit in the NFL, led by Justin Tucker, the most accurate kicker in NFL history.
Three stars of the game:
- WR Antonio Brown (PIT) – 11 catches 213 yds
- RB Le’Veon Bell (PIT) – 22 touches 125 yds 3 TD
- RB Alex Collins (BAL) – 20 touches 166 yds 1 TD
3. Titans are who we thought they were
Titans at Cardinals (+3) | Cards win 12-7 (Under 42)
In one of the ugliest games of the day, Marcus Mariota finished 16-of-31 for 159 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. Mariota, who appears to be regressing, joins DeShone Kizer and Trevor Siemian as the only three starting quarterbacks in the NFL with more interceptions than touchdowns.
Tennessee has pulled off Houdini acts all season, and it finally caught up to them. A loss against the 49ers this weekend could put their playoff hopes in jeopardy, especially since they finish up with the Rams and Jaguars. On the bright side, the Taylor Lewan injury doesn’t appear to be serious, and they should have success on the ground against their final two opponents. The pass defense still remains a major issue, however.
Three stars of the game:
- K Phil Dawson (ARI) – All 12 points
- CB Tramon Williams (ARI) – 3 PD 1 INT
- WR Eric Decker (TEN) – 3 catches 56 yards
Marcus Mariota: “Frustration is an understatement… I’ve got to stop hurting this team.”
— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) December 11, 2017
4. Hunt back on track, Chiefs save season
Raiders at Chiefs | Chiefs win 26-15 (Under 48)
The Chiefs finally got their running game going again, which should help tremendously heading into this week’s matchup against the Chargers, who have struggled defending the rush. Kareem Hunt had 138 total yards and found the end zone for the first time since Week 3; their 165 yards on the ground were the most in a game since Week 4.
In order for the Chiefs to beat the Chargers on Saturday night, they will need to feed Hunt and capitalize on their special teams advantage. Keep an eye on the status of Chiefs center Mitch Morse, who missed last week; his leadership will help tremendously against the elite LA defensive front.
Three stars of the game:
- RB Kareem Hunt (KC) – 28 touches 138 yds 1 TD
- TE Travis Kelce (KC) – 7 catches 74 yds
- CB Terrance Mitchell (KC) – 4 tackles 3 PD 1 INT
Kelce crossed up Karl Joseph pic.twitter.com/S9KkJkRUR6
— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) December 10, 2017
5. Bills stay alive in the snow, Colts get moosed
Colts at Bills (-3.5) | Bills win 13-7 (Under 37)
Nobody loves the snow more than LeSean McCoy, who has rushed for 373 yards in two career snow games. Shady helped keep Buffalo’s playoff hopes alive with an overtime win in whiteout conditions despite the fact that Joe Webb finished the game under center after Nathan Peterman left with a concussion. This game featured 97 rushing attempts, the most in an NFL game since 1981.
Indianapolis won the turnover battle 2-0, but Adam Vinatieri missed both of his field goal attempts in horrific kicking conditions. However, he did somehow loop in a 43-yard extra point to force overtime, which had Colts backers rolling their eyes. Thoughts and prayers with anybody who wagered on Indianapolis +3.5.
Three stars of the game:
- RB LeSean McCoy (BUF) – 32 carries 156 yds TD
- RB Frank Gore (IND) – 36 carries 150 yds TD
- WR Kelvin Benjamin (BUF) – 3 grabs 38 yds TD
— NFL UK (@NFLUK) December 11, 2017
6. Chargers keep rolling
Redskins at Chargers (-6) | Chargers win 30-13 (U 46)
All you need to know about this beatdown is the Chargers outgained the Redskins in total yards by a margin of 488-201.
Nobody in the AFC wants to play this Chargers team that remarkably sits at 7-6, after starting the year with an unlucky 0-4 record. This marks the first time the Chargers have been over .500 since 2014.
The two major questions with this team are the special teams, which Football Outsiders ranked as the worst unit in football through Week 13, and the rush defense, which is allowing 4.7 yards per carry, a mark that ranks second to worst in the NFL.
Three stars of the game:
- QB Philip Rivers (LA) – 18/31 319 2 TD
- WR Tyrell Williams (LA) – 4 132 1 TD
- WR Keenan Allen (LA) – 6 grabs 111 yards
— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) December 11, 2017
Key AFC Injuries on Sunday:
Bengals DE Carlos Dunlap – Chest (?)
Bills QB Nathan Peterman- Concussion (?)
Bills WR Kelvin Benjamin – Knee (?)
Jets QB Josh McCown – Hand (IR)
Jets RB Elijah McGuire – Ankle (?)
Patriots DT Alan Branch – Knee (?)
Raiders DE Mario Edwards Jr. – Ankle (?)
Raiders WR Amari Cooper – Ankle (?)
Raiders TE Clive Walford – Concussion (?)
Texans QB Tom Savage – Concussion (OUT)
Titans LT Taylor Lewan – Back (Probable)