The AFC playoff race has basically become a race for one spot.
Mathematically, that race includes the 5-8 Cleveland Browns.
The Bengals fell apart in the fourth quarter Sunday; the Steelers apparently didn’t show up. Those teams both lost to slip to 7-6 and remain tied for sixth and the second wild card spot.
The Colts put together another rally to win and move to 9-4 and strengthen their grip on the first wild card spot. They’re not only arguably the NFL’s best story, but they’re darn close to being a playoff lock as they’re two games up on the Bengals and Steelers with three games to play.
The Bengals and Steelers play on Dec. 23 in Pittsburgh. You don’t need to have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night to do that math, even if the Colts do run out of Luck — see what I did there? — some time soon.
As for the Browns, they’re two back with three to play, one in Pittsburgh. Lots would have to happen that probably won’t, but they play the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the season finale. If Dallas can beat the Steelers next week and the Bengals lose Thursday night in Philly, it officially gets interesting.
That assumes the Browns winning next Sunday vs. the Redskins and winning out, but it’s now been so long since the Browns lost that assuming such things will no longer get you institutionalized.
Maybe the Mayans were right.
Buffalo is Sunday’s real loser as the Bills showed their true colors and dropped a home game to the Rams, slipping to 5-8. In this year’s AFC, a win would have had them right in it.
The Jets are 6-7 and very much* in it. They would need to win out, have the Bengals lose in Philly, then beat Pittsburgh, then have the Ravens beat the Bengals. It’s plausible because the Jets’ three remaining opponents are the Titans, Chargers and Bills.
It’s just not likely because the Jets aren’t very good. In the Mayan-like event that the Jets, Browns and some other team end up tied, the first tiebreaker is AFC record. It would then come down to common games, common victories and, well, the Mayan calculator died the same day the calendar did.
The Bengals cost themselves in a big way Sunday; with a win, they’d have been one game back of the first-place Ravens. Simultaneous events in Indianapolis and Pittsburgh set up a race that’s probably going to be two teams playing for one spot, probably Dec. 23 in Pittsburgh in a game the Bengals have to have since they already lost to the Steelers once.
Most, but not all signs point to that Dec. 23 game being a one-game playoff.
But in Cleveland, hope lives. Mathematically, anyway, and if Robert Griffin III is hurt and the Bengals happen to lose Thursday, hope lives. Sort of.