Barring a collapse of epic proportions, five of the AFC’s playoff spots seem close to being locked down. Kansas City leads the pack with nine wins, while Pittsburgh, New England, Houston and the Los Angeles Chargers have seven wins apiece.
The sixth and final spot in the AFC is up for grabs, with Baltimore, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Cincinnati and Miami with identical 5-5 records. Which team will break out and grab the final spot? Here’s a closer look:
Schedule: vs. Raiders, at Falcons, at Chiefs, vs. Buccaneers, at Chargers, vs. Browns
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 41.0 percent
X factor: Starting quarterback. For the first time in 11 years, there is uncertainty about who will play under center in meaningful games. Do the Ravens go with the experienced but banged-up Joe Flacco or rookie playmaker Lamar Jackson? Flacco is expected to miss Sunday’s game against the Raiders because of a right hip injury, but Baltimore will have to make a decision at quarterback for the final five regular-season games. “I’m not getting into any of that,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said when asked about the quarterback situation going forward.
Playoff outlook: The Ravens are likely going to need to win once or twice in their final three road games, and recent history suggests it’s not going to happen. They have to travel to play the Atlanta Falcons, Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers. Since 2015, Baltimore has won once on the road in December (at the Browns last season). — Jamison Hensley
Schedule: vs. Dolphins, at Jaguars, at Texans, vs. Cowboys, vs. Giants, at Titans
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 33.1 percent
X factor: Offensive line. The Colts have the best offensive team in the NFL besides the Saints, Chiefs or Rams. Led by quarterback Andrew Luck, the Colts are averaging 36.5 points, and Luck has thrown 13 touchdowns and one interception while completing 74 percent of his pass attempts during their four-game win streak. Luck can thank his offensive line for his success. Indianapolis hasn’t given up a sack in five games, and Luck has been contacted just once in his past 89 dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Playoff outlook: The Colts started the season 1-5 and have a favorable schedule down the stretch. Houston is the only team with a winning record that the Colts face in their final six games. The Colts proved against Buffalo, Jacksonville and Tennessee, teams with top-10-ranked defenses at the time, that they didn’t have a problem scoring. There isn’t a quarterback left on the schedule who would be favored to outduel Luck, who is one of the front-runners for Comeback Player of the Year. — Mike Wells
Schedule: at Texans, vs. Jets, vs. Jaguars, at Giants, vs. Redskins, vs. Colts
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 18.8
X factor: Offensive line. Tennessee is hard to stop when it is running the ball effectively. The line has to do a better job of moving defensive players off the ball for the rushing attack. The Titans have trouble against the blitz, as shown in their worst losses this season. That falls on both Marcus Mariota and the offensive line.
Playoff outlook: The Titans have struggled to find consistency this season. Tennessee will certainly bring its A-game on the road against the Texans and at home against the Jaguars. The problem is the Titans have had a tendency to play down to their competition, which isn’t good considering their six remaining games include the Giants and Jets. — Turron Davenport
Schedule: vs. Browns, vs. Broncos, at Chargers, vs. Raiders, at Browns, at Steelers
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 17.1
X factor: A.J. Green. The Bengals’ offense has been losing playmakers left and right between Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft and A.J. Green, but Green looks like he’s on track to return against the Browns this week. The Bengals need their best playmaker, considering nobody has stepped up in his place besides Tyler Boyd.
Playoff outlook: The Bengals desperately needed to beat the Ravens last week, and now they might need to win out to make the playoffs. However, their schedule is winnable down the stretch, besides a road trip to the Chargers and a season finale at Pittsburgh. The Bengals play the Broncos and Raiders in addition to the Browns twice, and if Green can return, it could give their offense the boost it needs to make a playoff push. — Katherine Terrell
Schedule: at Colts, vs. Bills, vs. Patriots, at Vikings, vs. Jaguars, at Bills
FPI chance to make the playoffs: 4.7
X factor: Ryan Tannehill. Miami’s starting quarterback has missed the past five games with a right shoulder-capsule injury, but he will start Sunday at Indianapolis. Tannehill is 3-2 as a starter this season, and though he has some flaws, he represents a significant upgrade over Brock Osweiler due to his mobility, accuracy (particularly with the deep ball) and feel within the offense. Miami has the lowest odds of the five 5-5 teams to make the playoffs, but Tannehill’s return could make Miami a tougher out than expected.
Playoff outlook: The Dolphins can take advantage of a manageable schedule that includes two December games against the Bills and a home contest against the reeling Jaguars. It seems 9-7 could be enough to secure the final wild-card spot. But Miami has 10 players on injured reserve — including G Josh Sitton, C Daniel Kilgore, WR Albert Wilson and WR Jakeem Grant — which is why the offense has struggled. On defense, Miami is giving up 142 rushing yards per game, third-worst in the NFL, which doesn’t bode well for them to make the playoffs. — Cameron Wolfe