Ranking AFC teams fighting for wild-card spots: Patriots and Bengals rising, Jets falling

Now that we are 11 weeks through the 2022 NFL regular season, it’s time we really start paying attention to the playoff picture. There’s plenty of football left to be played, however, and nothing is set in stone. With how the season has gone up to this point, it feels like we are set up for a fascinating rush to the finish line.

The Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans may have established themselves as the best teams in their respective divisions, but the other two are up for grabs. Especially the AFC East! All four teams in the division have won at least six games. Is it possible all four make the postseason? Remember there are three wild-card spots now. Which teams fighting for those spots have the best chances? 

Let’s talk about the playoff picture. Below, we will list the current AFC division leaders, and then rank the current wild-card contenders:

Current AFC division leaders

These can change, but here are the top four seeds at the moment:

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (8-2)
  2. Miami Dolphins (7-3)
  3. Tennessee Titans (7-3)
  4. Baltimore Ravens (7-3)

AFC wild-card contenders, ranked

1. Buffalo Bills (7-3)

Well this one is obvious. Despite currently being the No. 5 seed at this point, the Bills still have the shortest odds to win the Super Bowl (+380 at Caesars Sportsbook), and are still the heavy favorites to win the AFC East (-220). Buffalo statistically has the No. 2 offense in the NFL, and the No. 2 scoring offense. 

This past week against the Cleveland Browns, the Bills scored 30 points for the fifth time this season. That’s tied for the most 30-point games in the NFL. Rookie running back James Cook had a season-high 86 rushing yards, and linebacker Matt Milano went absolutely buck wild. I do still wonder about Josh Allen’s elbow injury, but the Bills are obvious Super Bowl contenders. 

2. New England Patriots (6-4)

The Patriots and New York Jets gave us one of the grossest games of the Sunday slate, although Marcus Jones recorded an incredible 84-yard game-winning punt return touchdown with five seconds remaining to seal the deal. Mac Jones received criticism for his performance, but he completed 23 of 27 passes for 246 yards. That’s the highest completion percentage he’s had this season (85.2%). I didn’t think he was too bad. The Patriots defense really stood on their head in this game. They sacked Zach Wilson four times, kept pressure on him all afternoon and allowed just 103 yards of total offense! Two of those 103 yards came in the second half — seriously. 

Similarly to the San Francisco 49ers, I think the Patriots are a candidate to go on a big second-half run. Remember last year they won seven straight games from Weeks 7-13. This stout defense is going to keep them in playoff contention. 

3. Cincinnati Bengals (6-4)

The Bengals are the reigning AFC champions for a reason, and they are very much live to win the division. Do you remember what the Bengals’ record was last year when they were coming off of their bye? 5-4. Just like this season. Cincy finished the 2021 campaign 5-3, and then of course made that amazing Super Bowl run.

Cincy has suffered some rough losses this season, but it is 6-2 over the last eight games after starting the year 0-2. The Bengals have also scored 30 or more points in four out of their last five games. The offense has looked great over the past few weeks, and then Ja’Marr Chase is on the way back. 

4. Los Angeles Chargers (5-5)

The Chargers gave the Chiefs everything they had in prime time on Sunday night, but Patrick Mahomes was just too good. Injuries have destroyed this team, but they have a rather easy schedule down the stretch. Justin Herbert, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Josh Palmer and Austin Ekeler can do some fun things on offense. I’m not saying the Chargers are Super Bowl contenders, but they are going to be in that playoff mix until the very end. Herbert needs to watch the interceptions and L.A. needs to start winning some of these three-point games. The Chargers have lost eight games decided by three or fewer points over the last three seasons. That’s the second-most in the NFL behind the Bengals (10). 

5. New York Jets (6-4)

I think this team is trending downwards. New York objectively has one of the best defenses in the NFL, but the same can’t be said for the offense. After racking up a grand total of 103 yards of total offense against the Patriots, head coach Robert Saleh told reporters that the offense was “dog shit.” 

Zach Wilson completed 9 of 22 passes for 77 yards, and gained two total yards of offense in the second half. Additionally, the Jets had negative 21 pass yards in the final two quarters. That’s the fourth-fewest by any team in a second half since 2000. Wilson missed easy throws and luckily had two to three would-be interceptions that were dropped. He was terrible, and weirdly refused to take blame after the game on Sunday despite being the main reason for the loss. 

Now, Saleh won’t commit to Wilson as the starter this week. It’s because he didn’t take blame for the loss on Sunday, but it should be because of his play. Sources in the Jets locker room told SNY that the quarterback was “walking around after the game ‘like he isn’t the problem.'” It apparently rubbed “more than a few” the wrong way. Wilson has a lot of developing to do, and I just don’t see this team as a legitimate contender.

Not quite good enough

These teams are not “dead” just yet, but may be soon. 

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