Nov 25, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis during the second half against the Oakland Raiders at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals defeated the Raiders 34-10. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE

A Look Inside the AFC Playoff Picture


We are heading into week 13 of the 2012 NFL season. Boy, how time flies. With teams wrapping up their regular season schedules this month, it is time to start looking toward the playoffs. Let’s take a look behind the curtain in the AFC.

Six teams from both conferences will get a bid to go to the postseason. Four of those teams will be division winners from the North, South, East, and West. The other two will be teams that have the best record but didn’t win their division.

AFC North

The Ravens are 9-2 and barring any drastic set-backs, they will clinch this division easily. The other teams are chasing Baltimore and are three games behind heading into week 13.

AFC South

The Houston Texans have all but wrapped this division up. They are sitting on a 10-1 record and the only threat they have is from a seven win Colts team.

AFC East

New England is poised for another playoff run this season. The East has struggled all year and it doesn’t look like anyone in the division is playing up to the Patriots level of competition. With a win over Miami on Sunday, the Pats can wrap this one up.

AFC West

Seriously, did Peyton Manning just take a year off for neck surgery? No, seriously. I can’t remember with the way is throwing. He is back to form and the Broncos are going to be off to the races in this division. The team is 8-3 and their closest competition for the division has only won four games.

AFC Contenders

With the division leaders already shaping up, there are only two spots remaining in the AFC playoff picture. Currently there is one seven win team, two six win teams, and a slew of four win teams. The group is tightly muddled together, just waiting for the other to falter.

The Indianapolis Colts are 7-5 and hold the current top Wild Card spot. The Colts schedule is favorable until the last three weeks of the season. They face a 4-7 Lions team on Sunday and then a 4-7 Titans team the following week. Then Indianapolis will face their toughest matchup in this last stretch when the team heads to Reliant Stadium to take on the Texans. They will have relief the following week with Kansas City and then invite the Texans to their house to close out the season. If the Colts can win the games against the teams with losing records, the team will assure themselves a playoff spot.

The AFC North holds the two six win teams that are currently fighting for the last playoff spot. The Pittsburgh Steelers are 6-5 and the Cincinnati Bengals are 6-5. Both teams have been dealing with injuries all season long, but have pulled it together to stay ahead of the pack.

The Steelers, though, appear to be headed down a dark path. Pittsburgh lost their starting quarterback two weeks ago against the Kansas City Chiefs and without Big Ben the team has dropped their past two games against Baltimore and Cleveland. Now, heading into week 13, it appears Roethlisberger will be riding the pine again and the team is headed to Maryland to play Baltimore for the second time on Sunday. It is not looking good, at least until the quarterback is healthy again, for the Steelers. However, once the Steelers are out of the Ravens cloud, the team does have a manageable schedule to close out the season.

Then, here comes Cincinnati, the Steelers’ biggest competition for the last playoff spot in the AFC. The Bengals, out of nowhere, are 6-5 and making another run at the end of the season. Cincinnati will have the opportunity to take over as the sole owner of the last playoff spot this week with Ben Roethlisberger being ruled out in the Steelers matchup against the Ravens. The Bengals are heading to San Diego to meet up with the Chargers that are 4-7 on Sunday and then will head home to face the 5-6 Cowboys. Then the team will head into a short week with a Thursday night matchup against the struggling Eagles, then go head to head with Pittsburgh and Baltimore. The upside for the Bengals is the Big Ben injury and winnable series of games. They will have to keep their current pace, though, going forward.

The Dolphins are the final team on the brink in the AFC. The team has a 5-6 record and has done better than anyone dreamed they would have after a rough start to the season. They have a tough end to the schedule, though, that starts with a matchup against New England on Sunday, then a road trip to San Francisco. The team will come home to face Jacksonville and Buffalo, only to head to Gillette Stadium to face the Patriots to finish off the season. Already being a game out behind the other Wild Card contenders, this end to the season could be disastrous for this Miami team.

The 4-7 teams on the cusp include: New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, and the San Diego Chargers.

Taking a look at their upcoming schedules and their past play, I think only one of those 4-7 teams will have the chance to still be mentioned come the end of December. The San Diego Chargers have the more favorable schedule and the most talent closing out the season. The next two weeks will be very telling for the Chargers and their chances.

My seed projections look like this:

#1 Houston Texans
#2 New England Patriots
#3 Baltimore Ravens
#4 Denver Broncos
#5 Indianapolis Colts
#6 Cincinnati Bengals

Dick's Sporting Goods presents "Hell Week":

Tags: AFC AFC Playoffs Ben Roethlisberger Broncos Chargers Cincinnati Bengals Colts Jets NFL NFL Playoffs Patriots Peyton Manning Playoffs Ravens Steelers Texans