With the season heading towards the home stretch, the playoff picture starts to become more important each week. With teams like the Ravens, Colts, Broncos all hitting their stride at the right time. Let’s take a look at the road to the playoffs for these AFC contenders.
Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens are currently in the six seed and have won two straight after switching to Lamar Jackson, however, the Ravens have the toughest schedule left. With trips to Atlanta, Kansas City, and Los Angeles (Chargers) there will be very few easy games left. They do have home games against the Browns and Buccaneers, but the Browns have been playing the best football in four years since firing Hue Jackson. Lamar Jackson and company will have to manage a tough road schedule, the defense will have to really carry this team if they plan to make the playoffs. The Ravens will likely go no better than 3-2 down the stretch with a 2-3 record more likely. That will put the Ravens at 8-8 and not playing football in January.
Indianapolis Colts – The Colts have won five straight, after a few close losses early. Andrew Luck has been on fire, and the offensive line looks as good as its ever been in the last decade. Sitting at 6-5 the colts have a very favorable schedule remaining, traveling too all three division teams and homes games against the Giants and Cowboys. The only team with a better record left on their schedule is Houston. The Colts offense has been one of the best in the NFL, even without a strong receiving core the Colts have been able to throw the ball all over the field. Eric Ebron is tied for the lead in touchdowns in the NFL. Marlon Mack has helped restore a decent running attack to bring balance back to Indy. The defense is the concern in Indianapolis. The front seven has been much stronger lately with Darius Leonard leading the way, but the secondary leaves much to be desired. Weak tackling and no lockdown corner has left the Colts vulnerable in the secondary. This glaring weakness is unlikely to be an issue down the stretch as there are no elite passing teams left on the schedule, but if they make the playoffs Chiefs and Steelers both have wide receivers that could cause lots of issues. Colts likely go 4-1 down the stretch finishing 10-6 with a weak schedule.
Denver Broncos – Two weeks ago nobody was talking the Broncos as they had lost six of seven but after two wins over Steelers and Chargers, Denver has become a sleeper for the playoffs. They would need a collapse from the Colts whose schedule is favorable, but if the Colts stumble on the road the next two weeks the Broncos should be there to fill in. The Broncos have one of the easiest schedules in the NFL left, the only team with a winning record left on their schedule are the Chargers at home. Going to the Bengals and 49ers won’t be easy and the Broncos still lack talent on their offensive line, have holes in their defense, and a quarterback who has not had the best season, but the Broncos have started to find ways to win. Predicting the Broncos game by game is one of the toughest things to do, but a 3-2 record down the stretch seems reasonable which keeps them at 8-8 and on the outside. If the Chargers have wrapped up the five seed however you could easily see the Broncos go 4-1 to 5-0 which could make them an interesting thing to watch down the stretch.
The AFC Wildcard picture is starting to become clear has the Bengals fall apart and the Titans continue to struggle with Mariota, but this will be one of the more interesting races down the stretch.