Patriots the Front-Runner for AFC's Second Seed

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Nov 05, 2012

by Nate Winkler (@natewinkler)

AFC West Electoral College Dropout


Week 9 is in the books for all but two NFC teams and things are starting to come into focus as we set the clocks back and bear down on the holidays.

The Houston Texans have clearly been the class of the AFC up to this point, amassing a 7-1 record along with the conference's highest point differential at +100. Their one loss came like a freight train against the Green Bay Packers, but the Texans will be tough to catch barring any unforeseen circumstances.

The rest of the AFC isn't so clear cut.

The Baltimore Ravens currently hold the second spot with a 6-2 record, but injury concerns on defense and an inconsistent Joe Flacco have many selling on the Ravens. The New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Indianapolis Colts all sit with 5-3 records and will all attempt to make a move as we come down the back-stretch.

Lets take a quick look at these teams to see who could end up with the coveted first-round bye.

Baltimore Ravens

Current Record: 6-2

Conference Record: 5-1

Remaining Opponents Record: 34-32 (.515)

Remaining Home/Away Games: 4/4

The Ravens have sustained injuries to the legendary Ray Lewis and the dynamic Ladarius Webb, potentially crippling a defense that saw Terrell Suggs return from an Achilles injury in record time. Joe Flacco has failed to find any consistency, having three sub-70 Passer Rating games to go along with his three 100+ games. The Ravens will need him to step up the way he says he can and to lean heavily on Ray Rice to hold onto the #2 seed.

They have to play the Steelers twice in a three game span with a trip to San Diego in the middle, as well as visits from Denver and the New York Giants in back-to-back weeks.

Predicted Final Record: 10-6 (1st AFC North, 4th overall seed)


New England Patriots

Current Record: 5-3

Conference Record: 4-1

Remaining Opponents Record: 33-31 (.516)

Remaining Home/Away Games: 5/3

The Patriots uncharacteristically lost a couple of close games this season but are much more well-rounded than the version that went to the Super Bowl last season. They are running the ball much more effectively than in years past and have added impact players on defense in Chandler Jones and Donta Hightower. New England was the only team to make a move at the trade deadline in an attempt to shore up their greatest weakness, acquiring the much maligned CB Aqib Talib from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Patriots are allowing 281 passing yards and 8.0 Y/PA at the halfway point. 

New England has three teams with winning records remaining on their schedule; Indianapolis, Houston, and San Francisco. All three must travel to Foxboro where the Patriots are 78-21(.788) in the regular season in the Bill Belichick era.

Predicted Final Record: 11-5 (1st AFC East, 2nd overall seed)


Denver Broncos

Current Record: 5-3

Conference Record: 4-2

Remaining Opponents Record: 23-42 (.354)

Remaining Home/Away Games: 4/4

The Denver Broncos are gelling into a team to be reckoned with before our very eyes. After dropping three of their first five to Atlanta, Houston, and New England (combined 20-4 record), the Broncos and Peyton Manning have found their stride, winning three games in a row and taking command of the AFC West.

Denver is doing it with offense, defense, and special teams and may very well be the most well-rounded team in this discussion. They will have a chance to win every game as long as Manning is under center, but they have an uphill battle to reach a first-round bye.

Despite having the easiest remaining schedule of any team in the AFC, the Broncos will not likely be able to overcome another conference loss. A home playoff game and possibly more should be on the line when Denver travels to Baltimore in week 15, where the Broncos have never won (0-5 including playoffs).

Predicted Final Record: 11-5 (1st AFC West, 3rd overall seed)


Pittsburgh Steelers

Current Record: 5-3

Conference Record: 2-3

Remaining Opponents Record: 27-39 (.409)

Remaining Home/Away Games: 5/3

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team that was being overlooked until they beat the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants in Week 9, overcoming logistical and coaching blunders on their way. The Steelers, like the Ravens, have been bitten by the injury bug, especially on defense and at running back. Troy Polomalu and James Harrison have missed significant time but the defense is learning how to move on without them, but there is as much pressure on Ben Roethlisberger as there ever has been. 

The Steelers remaining schedule is favorable other than the two black and blue meetings between the Baltimore Ravens, which will determine the fate of the AFC North once again this year.

Predicted Final Record: 10-6 (2nd AFC North, 5th overall seed)


Indianapolis Colts

Current Record: 5-3

Conference Record: 3-2

Remaining Opponents Record: 31-34 (.477)

Remaining Home/Away Games: 3/5

The Indianapolis Colts have become the feel-good story of 2012 with their head coach Chuck Pagano inspiring the team and countless others as he bravely fights his battle against leukemia.

Rookie quarterback and first overall pick Andrew Luck has exactly the same amount of passing yards through eight games (2,404) as Peyton Manning, the quarterback he was drafted to replace.

Luck set a rookie record in Week 9 against the Dolphins with 433 passing yards and has turned the rookie of the year conversation back in his favor after Robert Griffin III has came back to Earth in his last couple of games.

The Colts are the only team in our discussion with more remaining road games than home games, and must travel to New England as well as play the Texans twice. It's been impossible to root against them to this point but it will be an upset if they can hold on to that final playoff spot.

Predicted Final Record: 9-7 (2nd AFC South, miss playoffs)


The Field:

The San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins are the only two other teams in the AFC without a losing record. Both sit at 4-4 but the Chargers have a 4-2 conference record while the Dolphins are just 3-3. Both have similar remaining strength of schedules with San Diego (.484) having a slightly tougher road than Miami (.470) but the Dolphins must still play the Patriots twice.

The San Diego Chargers traditionally play their best football in December when someone's job is on the line. If the Chargers can get to 9-7 they will likely win the tie-breaker over Indianapolis with a better conference record, squeaking into the last playoff spot and perhaps saving Norv Turner for one more year.


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