The AFC playoff picture is really clearing up for the Patriots heading into Week 17. The scenario is simple for New England: beat the Jets in Foxboro on Sunday and clinch home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs for the second straight season.
Despite sitting pretty at 12-3 and holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Patriots still remain deadlocked with their conference rival. The Steelers ran over the Houston Texans 34-6 on Christmas to keep pace with the Pats.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, on the other hand, came crashing back to Earth after a three-game winning streak. They fell at the hands of former Tom Brady backup Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers. They’ve clinched the AFC South, though, and the conference’s top-four seeds are set – just not the order.
AFC Playoff Picture: Standings and Scenarios
1. Patriots (12-3): The Pats control their playoff destiny. Sunday’s game against the Jets at Gillette Stadium is no throwaway game, so expect all healthy starters to play as long as they need to in order to secure the victory. … But once that’s in hand, you can expect the reserves to flood the field. Rob Gronkowski will have a chance to reach the full value of his contract incentives.
2. Steelers (12-3): After last Sunday’s immense disappointment in Pittsburgh, the Steelers took care of business by handily beating the Texans 34-6 without the services of Antonio Brown. JuJu Smith-Schuster led Steelers receivers with six catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. The Steelers defense held the Texans to just 227 total yards of offense, including 83 passing yards, one touchdown, and an interception for Houston’s T.J. Yates. They’ve secured a first-round bye, but a win against the Browns (0-15) and a Patriots loss on Sunday vaults them back into the No. 1 seed.
Pats Get Help From Jimmy G
3. Jaguars (10-5): Garoppolo went 21-for-30 passing with 242 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception to lead the 49ers to a 44-33 victory. He’s 4-0 with a 96.2 passer rating as the 49ers’ starter. Blake Bortles, meanwhile, was perhaps the hottest quarterback in the National Football League entering Sunday’s matchup against the 49ers before taking a step back in San Fran. He ended up passing for 382 yards and two touchdowns, but but was 32-for-50 with three interceptions – one of which was a pick-six. The Jags are now locked into the No. 3 seed after the loss.
Trent Taylor told me that he didn’t see Garoppolo throw this football — and I needed slow-mo to see the exact point of sidearm release: pic.twitter.com/g7686guPTs— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) December 25, 2017
4. Chiefs (9-6): Amazingly, Kansas City has clinched the once-strong AFC West despite holding just a 9-6 record. Like the Jaguars, they can rest their starters if they so desire in Week 17. They have the No. 4 seed sewn up, but they could still end up hosting the division rival Chargers in two weeks.
5. Ravens (9-6): Baltimore can only win a wild card seed, but they control their own destiny at this point. If they beat the Bengals on Sunday, they’re in. They could also clinch if the Titans and Bills both lose.
6. Titans (8-7): Tennessee is also in with a win at home over the Jaguars on Sunday, but they can clinch with losses by both the Chargers and Bills.
In The Hunt…
7. Chargers (8-7): This is where it gets more complicated. The Chargers need to beat the Raiders on Sunday, of course, but they also the Titans to lose to the Jaguars. Additionally, they will need either the Ravens to win or the Bills to lose.
8. Bills (8-7): Buffalo is still in the wild card hunt despite losing 37-16 to the Patriots in Foxboro on Sunday. They need to clinch their playoff spot on the road against the Dolphins in Miami on Sunday, and they also need the Chargers and Titans to lose.
The Patriots and Steelers will decide their fates as they play at 1:00, but all four AFC Wild Card contenders play at 4:25. So expect a crazy late afternoon slate as the AFC playoff picture rounds out on Sunday.
— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff.