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AFC Playoff Picture: New England Patriots climb the seeding ladder on their day off

Head coach Bill Belichick departs after Thursday's win over Atlanta (Photo: Getty)
Head coach Bill Belichick departs after Thursday's win over Atlanta (Photo: Getty)
ANALYST

The more things change in the AFC, the more they stay the same.

A dominant Thursday night effort has thrust the New England Patriots back into the national spotlight as they're back in the AFC penthouse through a combination of their shutout triumph over Atlanta and Buffalo's shocking no-show against Indianapolis.

SK takes an in-depth look at the AFC bracket...

AFC Playoff Picture Week 12: How do the team ranks?

Ryan Tannehill wanted to stop a pick six more than any QB has ever wanted to stop a pick six https://t.co/aDzPuHrAfz

#1-Tennessee Titans (8-3)

  • This Week: 22-13 L vs. Houston
  • Top Performer: WR Nick Westbrook-Ikhine (7 rec., 107 yards)
  • Next Week: Sunday @ New England (1 p.m. ET, CBS)

The Titans are probably thankful that the NFL playoffs aren't seeded by the College Football Playoff committee, as their home loss to the lowly Texans would probably boot them from the top four entirely. Instead, the Derrick Henry-less Titans continue to pace both the AFC and its South division, but the road doesn't get any easier.

Tennessee's surprisingly long pre-bye slate ends with a visit to the resurgent Patriots while December features matchups against Pittsburgh and San Francisco, each of whom are becoming increasingly desperate in their respective playoff races.

TYUS BOWSER SEALS ITBALLGAME.https://t.co/0ACsXfHcg7

#2-Baltimore Ravens (7-3)

  • This Week: 16-13 W @ Chicago
  • Top Performer: LB Tyus Bowser (5 tackles, 2 sacks)
  • Next Week: Sunday vs. Cleveland (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC)

No Lamar Jackson, no problem. It was a sloppy effort under Tyler Huntley's supervision, but the Ravens were able to squeeze out a road victory over the Bears. Huntley did his part in relief, guiding the team on a five-play, 72-yard drive that concluded with a three-yard run from Devonta Freeman.

Baltimore faces an interesting three-game AFC North divisional sandwich bookended by orange bread from Cleveland, the first serving as next weekend's Sunday night showcase, and a matchup against Pittsburgh in the middle.

Kyle Van Noy seals it. #ForeverNE @KVN_03📺: #NEvsATL on NFLN/FOX/PRIME VIDEO📱: bit.ly/3nxatFm https://t.co/uuhDsp4KeN

#3-New England Patriots (7-4)

  • This Week: 25-0 W @ Atlanta
  • Top Performer: LB Kyle Van Noy (8 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD)
  • Next Week: Sunday vs. Tennessee (1 p.m. ET, CBS)

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to Foxboro...

The Patriots are riding high through a five-game winning streak that has pushed them back to familiar territory: the top of the AFC East. While most of the headlines fawn over Tom Brady's successor, Mac Jones, Bill Belichick's famous defense has fueled the latest endeavors.

New England has allowed only 13 points over its last three games, with the average margin of victory being 27 points. Amazingly, every Atlanta quarterback that entered Thursday's game threw a pass that landed in the arms of a New England defender, with Van Noy's pick-six sealing the shutout deal.

CHRIS JONES. FOUR SACKS. WHAT 🤯📺: #DALvsKC on FOX https://t.co/0CIiuYZI4q

#4-Kansas City Chiefs (7-4)

  • This Week: 19-9 W vs. Dallas
  • Top Performer: DT Chris Jones (5 tackles, 3.5 sacks)
  • Next Week: Bye (Next: 12/5 vs. Denver)

While the Chiefs' offense continues to struggle with game-by-game consistency, Sunday's defensive showing was one of the most pleasant surprises of Week 11. Defensive end Chris Jones created the most painful kind of Mississippi State homecoming, getting to Dak Prescott on four occasions to stifle the mighty Dallas offense.

It marked the first time a Prescott-led offense had failed to reach the end zone since December 2019 and the Chiefs have now won four in a row despite mediocre offensive outputs.

#5-Cincinnati Bengals (6-4)

  • This Week: 32-13 W @ Las Vegas
  • Top Performer: RB Joe Mixon (30 carries, 123 yards, 2 TD)
  • Next Week: Sunday vs. Pittsburgh (1 p.m. ET, CBS)

A healthy post-bye victory has thrust the Bengals back into the AFC playoff discussion, as they limited the Raiders to 13 first downs and a single third down conversion (1-for-7) on defense while Burrow's rushes helped them whittle away the fourth quarter.

Keeping the momentum alive will be no easy task: the Steelers will be playing desperate football after their Sunday night loss to the Chargers and the Bengals haven't pulled off a sweep of Pittsburgh since 2009.

Justin Herbert and Mike Williams don't care about your comeback.(via @NFL) https://t.co/AmlhIYIZ9q

#6-Los Angeles Chargers (6-4)

  • This Week: 41-37 W vs. Pittsburgh
  • Top Performer: QB Justin Herbert (472 total yards, 3 passing TD)
  • Next Week: Sunday @ Denver (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS)

A wild Sunday night victory has pushed AFC momentum into the Chargers' corner. Herbert's re-arrival has to be the most inspiring sign of all, as he broke the the 300-yard plateau again after last week's tough showing against Minnesota.

Los Angeles has one of the more manageable remaining schedules in the AFC: with the exception of Cincinnati and Kansas City (a divisional rematch that could determine the fate of the AFC West), none of the Chargers' final opponents reside in the playoff bracket.

Turns out Jonathan Taylor the receiver is also really good.📺 CBS https://t.co/Eh54KILP7O

#7-Buffalo Bills (6-4)

  • This Week: 41-15 L vs. Indianapolis
  • Top Performer: WR Stefon Diggs (4 rec., 23 yards, 2 TD)
  • Next Week: Thursday @ New Orleans (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC)

Someone had to be the victim of (Jonathan) Taylor's version of dominance, and it just so happened to be the Bills. A mere return trip to the AFC playoffs could hang in the balance over the next few weeks.

Sunday's loss was Buffalo's first by at least four touchdowns since September 2012, and their failure to take advantage of a manageable AFC ledger (remember the Jacksonville loss?) could come back to haunt them.

Current AFC Playoff Matchups

  • No. 1 Tennessee (bye)
  • No. 7 Buffalo @ No. 2 Baltimore
  • No. 6 LA Chargers @ No. 3 New England
  • No. 5 Cincinnati @ No. 4 Kansas City

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags


Edited by LeRon Haire
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