If you had told me at the start of the year that two AFC South teams would be in the playoffs, I might have laughed at you. Between the competition in the AFC North (Steelers, Ravens and Bengals always being in the hunt) and the AFC West still having the Chiefs and Chargers, my last thought was the Colts and Texans getting in to the postseason.
The AFC this year, like years past, seems to have quite a disparity once you travel down the list. The top two seeds, Kansas City and New England, are clearly the favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.. but Baltimore represents a sneaky option to come out on top based on their defensive success. The Chargers could make a case as another sneaky option, but they have to prove themselves against Baltimore after losing to them Week 16.. otherwise they won’t get the chance, which to me is a little insane.
I think the playoff seeding system should see a slight transformation for upcoming seasons, and I would be happy to submit this proposal to the NFL; change the seeding system so that teams are ranked in order of their records, regardless of their division.
In my new system, the current seeding would look like this:
1) Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
2) Los Angeles Chargers (12-4)
3) New England Patriots (11-5)
4) Houston Texans (11-5)
5) Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
6) Indianapolis Colts (10-6)
Of course, tiebreakers like head-to-head record, division record, etc. would all stay the same.. but make it so a 12-4 team isn’t the friggin’ 5-seed just because they didn’t win their division. That’s all I’m gonna say on that.
Without further ado, what I think on each team in the AFC playoffs:
(6) Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck has led this team to 9 wins in their last 10 games, and this team is getting hot at the right time. Having T.Y. Hilton and Eric Ebron to throw to, Luck is finding himself the beneficiary of an overall strong passing attack. Marlon Mack has overall been far more efficient than most of Indy’s running backs in the past.
That being said, the defense for this squad is middle-of-the-pack. Outside of LB Darius Leonard, this defense doesn’t pop out at you in any way. I don’t have much confidence in this team’s ability to stop the Texans on the road – these teams have both changed a bit since Indy’s 24-21 win over Houston earlier this month. If the Colts beat Houston this weekend, it’s because Luck out-duels Deshaun Watson and passes for 350+ yards.
Even if this team does win against Houston, I don’t have them getting past the divisional round. I don’t see them keeping up with Kansas City.
(5) Los Angeles Chargers: I don’t think anyone would have guessed the Chargers would end the season 12-4. There’s definitely a lot of talent on this team, from Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen on offense to Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa, Casey Hayward and Derwin James on defense.
Where I worry is in their recent performances. Rivers had a few consecutive bad games (Week 17 being a little more understandable as the running game and defense were featured far more). With the Chargers struggling offensively of late and a rematch with the Ravens on the horizon, this team will need to be on their A-game to topple Baltimore’s stingy defense.
If the Chargers make it past Baltimore, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them go to the AFCCG. They’ve done well against the Chiefs this season and I think could give Kansas City a run for their money in the divisional round.. assuming they can topple the defensive juggernaut that is Baltimore.
(4) Baltimore Ravens: This team has done a makeover of their offensive identity, heavily leaning towards the run thanks to the style of rookie QB Lamar Jackson. The combination of Jackson and RBs Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon make for a rough combination to stop – this team has been averaging north of 200 yards/game on the ground since Jackson took over for the injured Joe Flacco.
Defensively, this team has been lights out. CB JImmy Smith’s return from his suspension early in the season added to an secondary that already was excellent at blanketing opposing pass-catchers. They host the Chargers in the Wild Card round, and I can’t imagine why they’d have trouble containing Melvin Gordon in order to force Philip Rivers into errant throws.. you know, like they did not too long ago.
Overall, the defense has a chance to carry this team far.. the biggest weakness of Baltimore is their lack of an effective pass attack. If Lamar Jackson can beat people with his arm, the rest will fall into place as there are going to be too many elements to stop.
(3) Houston Texans: Like the Colts, the Texans have been on a roll, with the latter winning 10 of their last 12 games. QB Deshaun Watson is as much of a dual threat as Russell Wilson was back in 2013-2014, making him a sharp thorn in the side of opposing defenses.
With WRs Demaryius Thomas (Achilles) and Keke Coutee (hamstring) sidelined lately, the passing attack has seen its moments of inefficiency. DeAndre Hopkins keeps his name in the “best WR in the league” conversation week by week with solid performances. RB Lamar Miller is always capable of a breakout performance if you don’t respect the running game.
Defensively, this team could be better, and that is what will kill them in these playoffs. A strong front seven on paper featuring J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and Bernardrick McKinney, they lack effectiveness in big games (see the Week 16 loss to the Eagles for instance). The Colts scored a combined 58 points on Houston this season, and will likely put up another 24 or 27 points at the very least this weekend.
I have the Texans trending in the right direction, but ultimately falling in the divisional round to New England.
(2) New England Patriots: It pains me as a Patriots’ fan to say this, but I just don’t think this is their year. They clinched a first-round bye, sure.. but they’ve been so inefficient on the road that it kills me.
This team doesn’t seem to have the passion that they had in the Super Bowl runs of old. They ended 11-5, which isn’t a bad record at all, however for Tom Brady-led Patriots team, it feels like a letdown. They’ve consistently put up 12-4 or better records for the last decade or so, with the last time they did worse than 12-4 being in 2009 (10-6).
They still have Gronk, and Julian Edelman continues to be effective in his 30s. The two-headed threat of Sony Michel and James White out of the backfield, with splashes of Rex Burkhead, has been monstrous through much of the season. Defensively though, this team feels underwhelming.
Getting to the AFCCG shouldn’t be a huge struggle with the first-round bye and all. The only way NE plays Baltimore is if Indy wins their game against Houston to advance against KC. Any other team, I’d have NE coming out on top (just barely against LAC). However, I think if a NE-KC rematch occurs, the game being at Arrowhead would tip the scale in KC’s favor.
(1) Kansas City Chiefs: What. A. Year. QB Patrick Mahomes became the third QB in NFL history to throw for 50+ touchdowns in a season (P. Manning and Brady being the other two). What’s crazier is that this is Mahomes’ first season as a starter. You won’t find a single Chiefs fan that misses Alex Smith (hope he can potentially recover from that awful leg injury from earlier in the season).
Even with the release of RB Kareem Hunt due to the video of him accosting a woman at a hotel going public, the Chiefs have been high-flying and multi-dimensional. RB Damien Williams has filled in nicely, and I think it would be a shame for the Chiefs to try and start a committee between Williams and Spencer Ware. Williams is more than capable of handling the lion’s share of the work.
WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce round of the most explosive offense of 2018, both taking advantage of the strong-armed Mahomes to maximize their potential.
What this team lacks sorely is a consistent defense. The trade of CB Marcus Peters to the Rams this past offseason severely crippled their secondary. The Chiefs rely on winning shootouts against good offenses because their secondary has more holes than a block of Swiss cheese.
This strategy didn’t work against the Patriots or the Rams earlier this season, however. The way to beat Kansas City is to force Mahomes into turnovers. He fumbled multiple times against the Rams and threw 3 INTs, so losing by 3 (54-51) is actually an incredible feat. The Patriots forced 2 turnovers of their own, although miraculously the Chiefs lost that game by 3 as well (43-40).
If Mahomes can make smarter decisions with the football when rolling out to either side, this team would be virtually unstoppable. They fall by shooting themselves in the foot.