Every week during the NFL season, Tiebreaker.com will present our conference power rankings. The AFC will be on Tuesday, the NFC on Wednesday.
This week in the AFC, the Ravens have secured home field in the playoffs behind one of the most prolific running attacks in recent league history.
1). Baltimore Ravens
With their win in Cleveland on Sunday, the Ravens have clinched home field advantage for the AFC playoffs for the first time in franchise history. And they have done it with a dominating ground game. They rushed for 243 yards against the Browns. They are the first team since the 1978 Chiefs to have at least eight 200-yard rushing games in one season. They also have surpassed 3,000 (3,073) yards this season.
2). New England Patriots
The dominating Patriots have won the NFC East for the last 11 seasons, the longest contiguous run in league history. Still, their loss to the Ravens earlier this season was enough to cost them home field for a potential Pats-Ravens AFC Championship Game. On top of their list right now is getting a first-round bye, which will come with a win over the Dolphins on Sunday.
3). Kansas City Chiefs
We’ve been hinting at this for the last few weeks – the Chiefs defense many be just as good as their offense this season, which gives them a legitimate chance to win it all. They beat the Bears 26-3 on Sunday night, the second-straight week they held and opponent to just three points. This is the first time in Andy Reid’s NFL coaching career that his team has done that. Since Week 11, the Chiefs have allowed only 9.6 points a game.
4). Houston Texans
The Texans were singing that dopey overplayed Queen song “We Are The Champions” after beating Tampa on Saturday to clinch the AFC South for the second straight season and fourth time in the last five years. It’s been a nice rebound from a 2-2 start. They currently sit as the fourth seed, but that will change if they beat the Titans on Sunday and the third-seeded Chiefs lose to the Chargers.
5). Buffalo Bills
Let’s not bury the lead here; the Bills have had a fantastic season and have control of the fifth seed in the AFC East. But they just can’t seem to come up with a big performance against the Patriots, and as long as that continues they will remain perennially second – or third – in the division. The Pats dominated them on both sides of the ball in Saturday’s 24-17 loss.
6). Tennessee Titans
Ahead of the Saints 14-0 at home on Sunday, the Titans lost their grip and were defeated 38-28. Had they held on to the win, their path to the final wildcard would have been much simpler. Now they will be required to beat the Texans on the road this weekend. If that doesn’t happen, they will need both the Steelers and Colts to lose. And it all might have to happen without their top halfback, Derrick Henry, who is nursing a hamstring injury.
7). Pittsburgh Steelers
When its all said and done, the Steelers will be able to look back on this season and blame it all on the loss to Ben Roethlisberger to his elbow injury. That got the team started on its quarterback survival plan which has shifted from Mason Rudolph, to Devlin Hodges, back to Rudolph and then back to Hodges. And now in the position of needing to win in Baltimore next week to make the playoffs, they may be without James Conner, Maurkice Pouncey and Rudolph. Good luck with that.
8). Indianapolis Colts
Some might say the Colts have been playing out the string since Andrew Luck retired prior to the season. We don’t see it that way. They were 5-2 at one point. But now we look at a 38-6 win over the Panthers and the best thing that comes out of it are a pair of punt returns for touchdowns by Nyheim Himes, one of 84, the other 71. He’s just the fifth player in league history with at least two punt returns for scores in one game, the first since Darrien Gordon in 1997.
9). Oakland Raiders
You’ve got to give Raiders fans some credit. Last week, they nearly tore down the Oakland Coliseum in their anger after their team lost the final home game in their city to Jacksonville. But this week, the Black and Silver flocked to Los Angeles to see the Raiders bounce back. Can they make the playoffs? Sure. But it will take a win over the Broncos, a Tennessee loss and Pittsburgh loss and an Indianapolis win. How do like those odds, Las Vegas?
10). Denver Broncos
So the Broncos play a game in a snowstorm last week in Kansas City, then return home to the second warmest Sunday afternoon (67 degrees) in the history of December football in Denver. It was a good thing. That gave rookie QB Drew Lock the solid footing he needed (25 of 33, 192 yards) to beat the Lions – his third win in four starts. You can sense the excitement for a franchise with now Lock and Philip Lindsay as building blocks offensively.
11). Cleveland Browns
When are the Browns going to admit hiring Freddie Kitchens coach their 2019 team was a major mistake. You see all the great coaching talent floating around and John Dorsey picks this guy to lead his team. You knew the Ravens would eventually wake up and pound the Browns. What we didn’t know is what type of self-implosion would happen to pave the way. We were all wrong about the Browns.
12). New York Jets
Interestingly enough, the Jets actually drew more laughter in New York City than the Giants earlier this season. The perception was the Jets were more dysfunctional, sad sack, incompetent. But now they have won six games, including Sunday’s “road” win at MetLife Stadium before a crowd of mostly Steelers fans. They haven’t quit on coach Adam Gase, although the city definitely quit on them.
13). Los Angeles Chargers
Every week seems to bring us one step closer to the end of Philip Rivers time with the Chargers. His press conferences the last few weeks and been exercises in nostalgia and sentimentality as the media pokes around looking for clues about a possible retirement. What’s clear is, this 5-10 team needs new direction. Rivers 18 interceptions and 24 turnovers have been too much for it to bear.
14). Jacksonville Jaguars
We’d loved what they did the moment Tom Coughlin was fired last week. The team had the clocks at their facility set back to normal time, as opposed to Coughlin time, which was five minutes fast. They will need all the time they can get to decide if Doug Marrone will be back as coach. The Jaguars are now 10-21 since playing in the 2017 AFC Championship Game and will lose double-digit games for the eighth time in nine seasons.
15). Miami Dolphins
No one expected the Dolphins to win a game this season, so stop complaining about blowing a 23-point lead to the Bengals before recovering to win on a field goal in overtime. Suddenly, we’re hearing that Ryan Fitzpatrick (31 of 52, 418 yards, four TDs) may be their QB again in 2020, which makes sense since the Josh Rosen experiment has obviously crashed and burned. The Dolphins could do a lot worse.
16). Cincinnati Bengals
The 1-14 Bengals secured the No. 1 pick in the 2020 Draft by losing to the Dolphins. That puts them on the clock and sets them up to take Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, the QB from LSU. What we don’t know right now is if Burrow will start right away are or sit for a season behind some veteran, whether it’s Andy Dalton or some other poor schmuck who decides to sign the Bengals.