Playoff standings don't mean much in early October because we don't really have a gauge on who will be left in contention by January, but it is still intriguing to see that 81% of the AFC has either two or three wins.That means that the difference between second place in the playoff seedings (Bills) and 14th place (Colts) is just a single game. Only three teams in the conference are left out of this huddled mass, and the order of things could change drastically as the hangover of the offseason turns into the pre-party called December.
To get a better idea of how good (or bad) the odds are for each team in the conference to stay atop the standings, we've created an AFC-only set of power rankings. The primary focus will be on each team's odds to make the playoffs, win the division, and ultimately to have the homefield advantage that every team hope for. The AFC has the best team in the NFL right now, but they also have a bunch of teams that are just as enigmatic as they are unpredictable.
15 teams are in contention, but which will still be there in three months?
This is the one team in the AFC that you can truly count out at this point. What really prompted DeShone Kizer to start all this time given how awful he's been and that Kevin Hogan (16-of-19, 194 yards, two touchdowns, one interception on Sunday) immediately outplayed him? Was there really that big of a sense of urgency to see a second-round pick get his shot? Two wins would be huge for Cleveland right now, but they lost to the Jets, Steelers, and Colts by three points apiece.
Beyond all reasonable bounds of logic that we know of in this version of time and space, the Colts are only one game back in the division, and they haven't even played against an AFC South opponent yet. Rumors still have Andrew Luck out for at least a few more weeks, but if the Colts could beat the Titans next week (with Marcus Mariota on the mend) and the Jags in Week 7 (Blake Bortles is still Blake Bortles), then he might be returning with something to compete for. That being said, what a terrible team all-around. The Colts only have wins over the 49ers and Browns, the teams most likely to be picking first in 2018. Indianapolis might be picking third.
New York may be in the midst of a three-game win streak -- which is more wins than most predicted that they'd have all season -- and I'd even say that all their cuts this year ended up as a net positive. But those wins are over the DeShone Kizer, Blake Bortles, and Jay Cutler. The losses are coming.
They're only a game worse than teams like Oakland, Tennessee, Houston, and Cincinnati, but in order for LA to get back on track over the next 11 games, they'd have to go at least 9-2. Are they going to win their games in New England, Dallas, and Kansas City? Forget too little, too late -- as always with the Chargers it was too little, too early.
Jay Cutler is really bad (12-of-26 for 92 yards, one touchdown, one interception) and the defense has zero interceptions through four games. They have as many losses as any other team in the AFC East, but wins over the 1-4 Chargers and Matt Cassel aren't impressive. There's also no bye week coming for the Dolphins, which means any injury or rash of minor injuries could trip them up.
See how quickly things are turning upside down in the AFC? Cincy was 0-3 and the odds of Marvin Lewis' time finally running out seemed to increase with each Andy Dalton turnover, but now they're just a game back in the division with plenty of time left and Baltimore and Pittsburgh scrambling for some answers. But four of their next five games are on the road, including matchups against the Steelers, Jags, Titans, and Broncos. Perhaps this is too brutal of a stretch.
On one hand, Deshaun Watson has nine touchdowns and one interception over the last two weeks, with 91 points scored by the Texans. But they surrendered 20-point and 19-point quarters to the Chiefs alone in Sunday night's loss, then got the news that J.J. Watt is out for the year with a broken tibia and Whitney Mercilus is out for the year with a torn pectoral muscle. It'll be hard to imagine an AFC South team going deep into the playoffs, but even harder to predict which team in the division will get the nine wins needed to get there.
How good or how bad are the Titans? Well, how long is Marcus Mariota going to be out for? Mike Mularkey insists that Mariota could return next Monday against the Colts, and Sunday's loss to the Dolphins is a clear indication that they can't wait for long. They also can't rush him back. That conundrum could sink a young team in the midst of trying to end a 10-year playoff drought.
Among the teams going through a similar conundrum are the Raiders, as Jack Del Rio already seems convinced that Derek Carr will return next week following Oakland's third-straight loss, this time to the up-and-down Ravens. The Raiders have scored 37 points during their losing streak, and many thought this was going to be the best offense in the league. It's already kind of "must win" territory over the next two weeks against the Chargers and Chiefs.
The NFL's top defense heading nto Week 5 gave up 189 yards to A.J. Green alone and is suddenly right back in the middle of the pack despite their back-to-back wins over the Broncos and Falcons. Buffalo does look strong at home and there are winnable games on the rest of their road schedule.
How can I measure blowout wins over the Texans, Ravens, and Steelers any differently than I do a blowout loss to the Titans or just a regular loss to the Jets? Jacksonville can't seem to decide what kind of team they're going to be this year but I do feel encouraged by the play of Jalen Ramsey, Calais Campbell, and Leonard Fournette. Given their schedule, I can see the Jags winning the division … or flopping into their comfortable spot near the bottom.
Veteran quarterbacks tend to just stop working suddenly, like the batteries on a remote dying without warning; they don't have a meter on them like a cell phone, and you definitely can't re-charge when they hit five percent. Did this happen to Ben Roethlisberger when he threw five interceptions in Sunday's loss to the Jaguars? It's kind of impossible to say -- he looked fine in the first four games -- but we will find out soon. If he's broken, though, the Steelers are going to tumble out of contention quickly.
Baltimore is 3-2 with exciting production from cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr -- I mean, first round pick Marlon Humphrey is buried on the depth chart and still has three pass deflections -- but their wins are against Dalton, Kizer, and E.J. Manuel. The Ravens lost by a combined score of 70-16 in the previous two weeks before their win over the Raiders on Sunday. However, they may be the best of a bad bunch in the AFC North.
Perhaps this week they got saved by the Bye, as Denver remains a one-loss team with a phenomenal defense that's allowed 2.4 yards per carry and 6.2 yards per pass attempt. They might have enough weapons to beat anyone in the AFC, but their second-half collapse against the Bills in Week 3 could be a symptom of future problems.
Thursday's 19-14 win over the Bucs was only the second time they allowed fewer than 33 points this season, but the Pats did get the job done again and Tom Brady is on pace for some insane numbers, even by Brady's standards. The Patriots may be in a tie for first place with the Jets and Bills, but they have to be the clear favorites to win the division in spite of their defense.
It's rare that you can say that there is a definitive "best team" in the NFL after five weeks, but the Chiefs are objectively the best team in the NFL. Maybe that changes over the next couple of months, but Kansas City is 5-0 with undeniable wins over the Patriots, Eagles, Redskins, and Texans, all of which could be playoff teams. What's more, three of those victories came on the road. The Broncos are the only other AFC team with fewer than two losses, and while Denver has an elite defense, can Trevor Siemian out-Alex Smith Alex Smith?