The favorites in the AFC are, as always, the New England Patriots.
The defending NFL champions earned yet another first round playoff bye for the eighth straight year with their 13-3 record, as well as their ninth consecutive AFC East Division championship. By virtue of being the number one seed in the AFC, they will face the lower seeded team of the two Wild Card round winners.
Meanwhile, the AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers will face the highest seed of the two Wild Card winners, as they enjoy a first round bye as well.
Pittsburgh vs. New England appears to be the favorite match-up among pundits for the AFC Championship, which seemed to be the case well before the regular season came to an end and playoff matches were determined.
Wild Card teams
The AFC Wild Card was not fully determined until the literal last minute of regular season football.
The Baltimore Ravens were battling the Cincinnati Bengals, with the Ravens receiving the final Wild Card slot if they won. They had the lead going into the last minutes of the game, until Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton threw a 4th down touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd with less than a minute to go to seal the Ravens out of the playoffs.
Buffalo, suffering from the longest playoff drought in American professional sports, was given the 6th seed Wild Card spot by virtue of their victory over the Miami Dolphins and the Ravens’ loss. The 5th seed, also in limbo going into week 17, was secured by the Tennessee Titans, their first playoff berth in ten years. Tennessee defeated the AFC South champion Jacksonville Jaguars to secure their spot in the wild card.
Kansas City, the AFC West champions, will face the Titans on Saturday, while the aforementioned Jaguars will face Buffalo on Sunday.
Kansas City and Tennessee will be an interesting match. Tennessee has been maligned all season for it’s extremely predictable and outdated offensive playcalling, while Andy Reid saved the Chiefs’ season by handing over the offensive playcalling duties to offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, who streamlined the offense and assured the Chiefs would make the playoffs. Nagy is scheduled to interview for multiple NFL head coaching vacancies, likely after Kansas City is done with the playoffs, however long that may be.
Some pundits and fans have speculated that even though Mike Mularkey saved his job by guiding the Titans to a win over Jacksonville, all bets could be off if he loses to Kansas City.
The Jaguars have lost their last two games, and the team has come back with a vengeance after losses this season, outscoring their opponents 131-26 in the week following a loss. Many cited this before the Jaguars played Tennessee, but the Tennessee defense was stalwart, allowing no offensive touchdowns and intercepting QB Blake Bortles twice. The Jaguars looked like they had finally gotten all the pieces together, but the pressure and lack of playoff experience could haunt them.
The same goes for Buffalo. When Buffalo last appeared in the playoffs, the Tennessee Titans sent them home with the Music City Miracle, one of the most famous plays in NFL history.
Bills fans have suffered ever since, with the team having a winning record in only three seasons since 2000. Quarterback troubles have plagued the team, with Tyrod Taylor being benched for rookie Nathan Peterman in week 11. Peterman was benched at halftime and Taylor was put back in control after Peterman threw five interceptions to the LA Chargers in the first half.
With the QB situation settled and a solid defense, the Bills will be looking to take advantage of a momentum swing in their favor and the negative momentum of the Jaguars. Jacksonville will be looking to return to form and re-establish themselves as a wrecking crew.