Playoff Status: The AFC After Week 14

Isabella Ledet

First thought to be a runaway win for the Pittsburgh Steelers, securing the top seed in the AFC has now become a tight race. Several games with major playoff consequences occurred in Week 14, starting with the 1:00 matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins.

The Chiefs, led by powerhouse quarterback Patrick Mahomes, played an exciting game in Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida. The game was almost a definite runaway victory for the Chiefs, but in the final minutes, the Dolphins (led by rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa) answered back to make it a one-score game. Though the Dolphins defense picked off Mahomes a record of three times in one game, the current AFC East runners-up were unable to capitalize on that, and ended up losing 33-27. This elevated the Chiefs to 12-1 on the season, and launched them to #1 in the AFC, pending the primetime matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers at 11-1 and the Buffalo Bills at 9-3.

Only the second game ever played on Sunday Night Football at Bills Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, the Steelers and Bills game was not very exciting from an offensive standpoint in the first several minutes. The game was scoreless in the first quarter, but after the first touchdown was scored by the Steelers in the second quarter, the Bills scored 23 unanswered points in the next two quarters before the Steelers scored again in the early 4th quarter with a successful two point conversion. Upon kicking a field goal mid-way through the 4th, the Bills reigned supreme in this matchup, seriously deteriorating the playoff picture for the Steelers. Halftime speculation stated that the Steelers’ chance at winning the AFC was 52% if they won, but if they lost, that number would drop to only 5%. After their loss, Kansas City sits atop the AFC, and for the Steelers, it would all come down to the Monday night matchup between their divisional companions, the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns.

Monday night’s high scoring matchup, played in Cleveland with a limited number of fans in the stadium, proved to be very important for the AFC North. The red-hot Browns, coming off a four-game win streak, were looking like playoff contenders for the first time since 2002. However, quarterback Lamar Jackson had an unprecedented night rushing, and was his own leading rusher with 124 yards by the end of the game. The game became very close: the Browns were leading by the end of the fourth quarter, but with two seconds left on the clock, Justin Tucker kicked a 55 yard field goal to put the Ravens back in front, to which the Browns simply did not have enough time to answer. They have dropped to 9-4 on the season, while the Ravens are up to 8-5.

The current playoff picture has the Chiefs at the top of the AFC with their 12-1 record, the Steelers in second with an 11-2 record, the Bills in third with a 10-3 record, and the Titans in fourth with a 9-4 record. The Browns, Colts, Dolphins, Ravens, and Raiders remain in the hunt. None of these teams will play against each other during Week 15, but be sure to watch the important AFC East matchup between the Patriots and the Dolphins and the AFC North matchup between the Steelers and the Bengals. Finally, an exciting matchup for Week 15 will be at 4:25 when the Chiefs take on the NFC’s 10-3 Saints in New Orleans.