The AFC playoff scenario is all set with the Denver Broncos clinching the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout after a 27-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers and a New England Patriots loss to the Miami Dolphins. The Patriots already clinched a first-round bye, but let the No. 1 seed slip away after a 20-10 loss to the Dolphins, giving them the No. 2 seed.
The Cincinnati Bengals, winners of the AFC North and the No. 3 seed in the AFC, will play host to the divisional-rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh clinched a wild card spot with a win over the Cleveland Browns and a New York Jets loss to the Buffalo Bills. The two teams split in their regular season meetings with each team winning on the other team’s home turf. Cincinnati won in Pittsburgh 16-10 and Pittsburgh returned the favor with a 33-20 victory. Cincinnati will likely be without quarterback Andy Dalton for at least the wild card round as he broke his thumb 23 days ago in the game against the Steelers. Backup quarterback AJ McCarron, who has played well in Dalton’s absence, will likely be the signal caller for Cincy next weekend. Pittsburgh nearly let their playoff hopes dwindle away last week after a loss to the Baltimore Ravens, but righted the ship this week and got some help. No matter who is on the field for either team, this game will surely be an all-out brawl as the two teams don’t like one another.
The Houston Texans, winners of the AFC South and the No. 4 seed, will host the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs, who have won 10-straight games to close out the regular season. Houston clinched the division on the final day of the season with a 30-6 rout of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Texans were 3-5 before entering their bye week and went 6-2 to end the regular season, which is remarkable considering they have used four different quarterbacks this season. Kansas City defeated the Texans in Houston in week one, but then lost five-straight games before turning it around and winning the final 10 games to make the playoffs. The Chiefs also lost star running back Jamaal Charles for the season due to injury during their week five contest against the Chicago Bears. If Cincinnati is victorious against Pittsburgh, the winner of this game will get the Broncos in the divisional round. If the Steelers are victorious, the winner of this game would take on the Patriots.
Peyton Manning is back under center for the Broncos, replacing Brock Osweiler in the regular season finale. Denver is primed for another Super Bowl run with how great that defense is, Manning back and home-field advantage. The Patriots let the opportunity of being the No. 1 seed squander and now will have to go on the road for the AFC championship game, if in fact Denver makes it there as well. Will we get one more Manning versus Brady match-up? Can the Bengals finally win a playoff game, this time with a second-year quarterback out of Alabama or will Pittsburgh’s quest for a seventh championship spoil those plans? Can the Chiefs keep up their winning ways or will Houston have other ideas? This should be a fun AFC playoffs, with a lot of different scenarios that could play out on the road to Super Bowl 50.