February 22, 2024

2023 NFL Playoff Photo: Ranking all 12 AFC wild-card candidates, from revamped Steelers to surprise Texans

There are just six weeks left in the 2023 NFL regular season, and everyone is paying close attention to the playoff picture – especially in the intriguing AFC. While the top-four seeds haven’t changed over the past week, there’s a lot happening among the division leaders. The Denver Broncos now have the longest active win streak in the NFL at five games and could make the postseason after starting the year 1-5, the Indianapolis Colts rising to the No. 7 seed and the Buffalo’s 2023 season Bills is rapidly declining .

Let’s talk about the twelve teams competing for the wildcard spots as we enter Week 13. Which ones are legitimate contenders and which ones have no realistic chance of even dancing?

(To see our rankings of the NFC’s 12 wild card candidates, click here.)

Playoff simulation percentages via SportsLine

Division leaders

  1. Baltimore Ravens (AFC North, 9-3)
  2. Kansas City Chiefs (AFC West, 8-3)
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars (AFC South, 8-3)
  4. Miami Dolphins (AFC East, 8-3)

Wildcard candidates

12. New England Patriots (2-9)

Last week against the New York Giants, the Patriots played their fourth game this season with seven points or less. They had five such games with Tom Brady as the starter. The Patriots also became the first team in 30 years to lose consecutive games while allowing 10 or fewer points. We’ll see where Bill Belichick is traded this offseason.

Play-off odds: 0.0%

11. New York Jets (4-7)

Tim Boyle’s QB switch didn’t help the Jets offense like Robert Saleh thought it would. Mike White was able to spark the offense a bit last year, but Boyle isn’t him. The Jets recorded just 159 yards of total offense against the Dolphins, and the defense’s performance began to deteriorate in recent weeks. How can you blame them? This season they had to spend most of every game on the field.

Play-off odds: 0.9%

10. Cincinnati Bengals (5-6)

Jake Browning completed 19 of 26 passes for 227 yards, one touchdown and one interception in his first career start, but the Bengals managed just 25 total rushing yards. What’s more concerning is that the Bengals defense allowed the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first 400-yard rushing game since 2020. The Steelers hadn’t recorded that many yards of total offense in 58 games!

The Bengals are in a tough situation without Joe Burrow. Especially considering they have one of the toughest remaining schedules in the NFL.

Play-off odds: 1.5%

9. Tennessee Titans (4-7)

Congratulations to the Titans for getting back in the win column against the Carolina Panthers, which led to the firing of head coach Frank Reich. The Titans are 4-0 at Nissan Stadium this season and 0-7 playing football outside the state of Tennessee. The Titans appear to be the worst team in the AFC South, and the fanbase has now shifted its focus to the future with the development of quarterback Will Levis, and what draft pick the Titans will have in 2024.

Play-off odds: 1.3%

8. Las Vegas Raiders (5-7)

The Raiders had a chance to get a win over the Chiefs on Sunday, but instead they squandered a 14-0 lead. The Raiders are now 2-2 under interim head coach Antonio Pierce, and allowed the Chiefs to score their first second half points in just over a month, while Patrick Mahomes and Co. to 17-3 in the last two quarters. leaves Vegas with a 31-17 victory. Rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell actually looked very solid, completing 23 of 33 passes for 248 yards and one touchdown, while Josh Jacobs rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.

Play-off odds: 2.1%

7. Los Angeles Chargers (4-7)

The Chargers just look flat right now and we’re probably living our last days in the Brandon Staley era. The offense scored just 10 points against the Ravens, lost the turnover battle 4-0, and the defense couldn’t come up with a big stop in the fourth quarter to keep the game within reach.

Play-off odds: 6.4%

6. Indianapolis Colts (6-5)

The Colts are on a three-game win streak, following a three-game losing streak, and they would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jonathan Taylor rushed for 91 yards and two touchdowns, and Michael Pittman caught 10 passes for 107 yards. Gardner Minshew did throw an interception, but he has been better with turnovers lately. In Weeks 6-8, he turned the ball over an NFL-high nine times. In the last three games, he has turned the ball over just twice.

The Colts are still one of the most fascinating teams in the league and they have an easy schedule to end the year. They have a chance.

Play-off odds: 39.3%

5. Cleveland Browns (7-4)

Even when Deshaun Watson was ruled out for the rest of the season, the thinking was that the Browns’ historically good defense could get them to the playoffs. Cleveland narrowly edged past the hapless Steelers and was blown out by the Broncos this past week. That wasn’t the only loss they suffered either, as quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson suffered a concussion, and then Amari Cooper and Myles Garrett were also hit. Next up for the Browns are the underrated Los Angeles Rams and the Jaguars. I’m not very optimistic about this team right now, but their chances of making the postseason remain high.

Play-off odds: 76.6%

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4)

Unreal. After firing offensive coordinator Matt Canada, the Steelers recorded 421 yards of total offense against the Bengals. They achieved a streak of 58 straight games under 400 yards, and it was the first time this season that they outscored an opponent! Kenny Pickett threw for a season-high 278 yards, Najee Harris rushed for a season-high 99 yards with an average of 6.6 yards per carry (second-highest of his career) and Pat Freiermuth exploded with 120 receiving yards on nine catches. I’m not saying the Steelers will turn into the 1999 Rams to end the year, but I expect more from this unit.

Despite the offensive issues, the Steelers have remained competitive this season. At 7-4, SportsLine says they have a better chance of making the playoffs than any other team on this list.

Play-off odds: 79.6%

3. Denver Broncos (6-5)

What about these Broncos? From 1-5 to 6-5, Sean Payton’s team is the most popular team in the NFL. Since this winning streak began in Week 7, the Broncos lead the league with 16 points and rank first in turnover differential (+13). The defense is clearly the reason for this remarkable turnaround as they have allowed just 16 points per game over the past five games.

The Broncos aren’t braggarts, and they have a pretty good chance to upset the Houston Texans this weekend. This is a big game when it comes to the AFC playoff picture. If Denver beats Houston, the Broncos’ chances of making the playoffs are 45%, according to SportsLine. If the Broncos lose, their chances drop to 11%.

Play-off odds: 26.8%

2. Buffalo notes (6-6)

Placing the Bills over the Broncos is a controversial decision. After all, Russell Wilson’s boys beat the Bills in Buffalo just a few weeks ago, but Wil Lutz needed two chances for the game-winning field goal, and it’s possible that new offensive coordinator Joe Brady has breathed some life into this Bills offense. Do you think the Broncos could have gone to Philly and scored 34 points? Denver has yet to score 34 points in a game in the Russell Wilson era.

The Bills are 6-6 this season and the playoffs are not looking good. However, they have the second-best point differential (+101) of any team at .500 or worse through 12 games in NFL history. Buffalo has not lost by seven points in 35 games! The Bills are still a solid team, even if their defense allowed a monstrous second half from Jalen Hurts in rainy Philly. Just an unfortunate year for Bills fans.

Play-off odds: 18.7%

1. Houston Texans (6-5)

The Texans missed their chance to steal the lead in the AFC South Sunday against the Jaguars in a very entertaining game. Matt Ammendola missed a 58-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter that hit the bottom crossbar and rebounded. It’s especially painful when you consider that a sack by CJ Stroud returned Houston from the Jaguars’ 37-yard line to the 46-yard line on that final drive. Amendola’s kick came from the 39-yard line, so if he had had the privilege of taking the kick from the 37-yard line, it likely would have been successful. The Texans secondary also committed several questionable penalties on third downs in the second half, which hurt.

The Texans offense had success against the Jaguars secondary for most of the afternoon. Stroud became the first rookie in NFL history to record four consecutive passes for 300 yards, Nico Collins caught seven passes for 104 yards and a touchdown and Tank Dell caught five passes for 50 yards and a touchdown. Houston’s defense wasn’t great as Jacksonville racked up 445 total yards, going 7 of 13 on third downs and punting just twice. That will be something to watch in the future.

Houston has a huge matchup against Denver this week, so we’ll see if I’m right in giving the Texans the No. 1 spot on this list. If the Texans win, SportsLine would increase their chances of making the playoffs to 68%. If Houston loses, those odds drop to 31%. As it stands now, the Texans have a 52.3% chance of making the postseason.

Play-off odds: 52.3%

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