The AFC East belongs to the Patriots, again.
For the eight consecutive year, the Patriots have won their division, and for the seventh consecutive year, the Patriots have earned a first-round playoff bye. That’s an extraordinary run of dominance, something unmatched in NFL history. Although the Patriots won three of their four Super Bowls from 2001 to 2004, they’ve actually been a more consistently great team over the last seven years than they were early in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era.
So the Patriots will be major players in the AFC playoffs again. Here’s how the rest of the playoff picture shapes up:
1. Patriots (12-2): The clear favorites to get to the Super Bowl again.
2. Raiders (11-3): Clinched a playoff berth today.
3. Steelers (9-5): Pittsburgh leads the AFC North heading into the big Christmas game against Baltimore.
4. Texans (8-6): Despite Brock Osweiler playing so badly he was benched, Houston remains atop the AFC South.
5. Chiefs (10-4): The loss to the Titans was costly, dropping Kansas City from a first-round bye to a wild card team.
6. Dolphins (9-5): Miami is looking like a playoff team, even without Ryan Tannehill.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
7. Ravens (8-6): If they beat the Steelers on Christmas Day, the Ravens own the head-to-head tiebreaker and would lead the AFC North.
8. Titans (8-6): Tennessee still controls its destiny, thanks to a Week 17 meeting with Houston.
9. Broncos (8-6): The defending champions now look like long shots to make the playoffs.
10. Bills (7-7): Buffalo isn’t totally out of it, but it’s hard to envision a scenario in which the Bills make the playoffs.
11. Colts (7-7): They looked good in a beatdown of the Vikings, but it will be hard to catch the Titans and Texans.