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The Tomfoolery That Is The AFC Playoff Race: Part 1

The AFC playoffs is anyone’s game going into the final week of the regular season. Who will book the final spots and who will finish on top?

Josh Allen by Erik Drost is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Tomfoolery That Is The AFC Playoff Race: Part 1

Estimated Reading Time: 3 Minutes

The NFL playoffs used to be a 12-team affair. With the extended season and a new playoff format, 14 teams now have the opportunity to fly in the postseason. And this has been the year of “nobody seems to really want it”, as every time we think there’s a clear path to the Super Bowl for a team, they shoot themselves in both feet.

The AFC playoff possibilities are truly wild

While the NFC looks to be all but decided, the AFC has five teams going after two spots. There’s also a wild possibility that the top five seeds could all be 11-6 going into the playoffs. Steve Kornacki will have his work cut out for him up until Week 18 is decided.

Let’s start with those who have already clinched.

The Titans, Chiefs, Bengals, Bills, and Patriots have all booked their spot in the AFC playoffs. But there are some wild election night-esque scenarios that could come into play. NFL tiebreakers are…WILD.

The 11-6 conundrum

There is a very real, albeit unlikely, possibility that each of these five AFC teams can finish the year with the same number of wins and losses. So, what happens if that becomes the case? Chaos ensues, thanks for asking.

The Bills and Patriots are the only two teams of this bunch who play in the same division. That would mean the very first thing that happens is a division tiebreaker to determine who even gets to be in the top four. This falls to the Bills, who would have a better divisional record by one game. So, in this scenario, the Patriots are your five seed.

Then the remaining four teams would be lined up based on conference record.

  • The Bengals would become the number one seed and get the bye with a 9-3 record.
  • Tennessee would edge out the Bills for the two seed due to having the same 7-5 conference record, but winning their head to head matchup.
  • The Bills would have the three due to a better conference record than the Chiefs.
  • Kansas City would fall to the four due to a 6-6 conference record.
  • As I mentioned above, the Patriots would be the five.

If Buffalo loses, but the rest go 11-6

  • New England would get the one seed. They would hold an identical 9-3 conference record, but would edge the Bengals due to win/loss in common games. Both teams played the Jets, Jaguars, Browns, and Chargers. The Patriots went 4-0 in those games (5-0 if you count both Jets games), while Cincy would be 1-3 (2-3 if you count both Browns games).
  • Cincinnati is the two seed due to superior 9-3 conference record.
  • Tennessee gets the three due to a better conference record than the Chiefs at 8-4.
  • Kansas City would fall to the four due to a 7-5 conference record.
  • Buffalo eats dust in the five seed

All five teams win their final matchup

If all five teams win their final game, the current seeding will be exactly as it is now.

  • Tennessee
  • Kansas City
  • Cincinnati
  • Buffalo
  • New England

But…what do I think will happen?

I think Tennessee, Cincinnati, and Buffalo will win their matchups, while KC and NE could both lose away to divisional spoilers. In this scenario…

  • Titans get the one seed as they’ll have the best record.
  • Cincy will get the two seed due to a superior conference record over Buffalo and KC.
  • Buffalo will edge out KC with a better conference record.
  • KC will still have a better record than NE, so they’ll get the four.
  • Patriots live in that five spot.

The beauty of the game for KC, Cincy, and Tennessee is that they have all clinched a home game in their first game no matter what. The only two teams that have a home game up for grabs are Buffalo and New England. And, really, the Patriots are the most likely odd man out.

All scenarios in this article are based on the Playoff Picture data as well as the NFL Tiebreaking procedures as stated on

Kevin is an actor, director, playwright, and musician who works in tech. He is die hard New England sports and an avid Tottenham supporter. His qualifications include scoring 1 point in his elementary school basketball career, 4 years of mixed little league results, and breaking his arm with a skip-it days before pre-season workouts started for Freshman football.

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