by Scott Benson

This Sunday, we’ll enter week ten of the NFL’s seventeen week schedule, and it seems like a good time to start looking at how the AFC playoff picture is shaping up.

I know, I know, the playoffs don’t begin today, and this point in the season, a good bit of the following could still turn on a dime this coming Sunday. That I’ll grant you. Still, we hope this new weekly feature will – at the very least – be here to provide you with a quick update on where the teams seem to be landing as we roll on towards January.

We’ll also offer a quick snapshot of which games in the coming weekend could have the most impact on next week’s seedings.

Let’s get started. Hey, look at this – pretty clean for our first week. Only a couple of tiebreakers needed to make the top six.

The Six Seeds As We Speak

1st seedAFCE division leader New England Patriots (9-0). Last Sunday’s gutty comeback win over the reigning champion Colts gives the Pats undisputed possession of the AFC’s first seed this week. Little known fact – prior to Sunday, the Colts held this spot by virtue of the 4th tiebreaker; strength of victory.

2nd seedAFCS division leader Indianapolis Colts (7-1). The Colts now trail the Pats by what amounts to two games. The good news for Indy is that they hold the same advantage over 6-2 Tennessee (who they presently have a head-to-head advantage over) for the South division lead. Considering the first 51 minutes of play last Sunday, I really don’t think they have much to worry about there.

3rd seedAFCN division leader Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2). Let me tell you something. The Patriots are going to kill the Steelers dead in a few weeks. Never forget which team’s players were among the first to jump on the coattails of Spygate. Keep your head up, Hines Ward. And your teammates shouldn’t get too comfortable in this spot.

4th seedAFCW division leader Kansas City Chiefs (4-4). The Chiefs have only the 7th best record in the conference but get the 4th seed this week as the division leader with the fourth best record. Great division they have there – all four teams lost on Sunday. Still, please let them win the West so that the Chirping Chargers, bastions of class, end up on the outside looking in. One problem: superback Larry Johnson could be out for the rest of the season with an ankle injury suffered in the loss to Green Bay, perhaps putting the Chiefs’ playoff hopes on life support. I hear a Priest has been summoned.

5th seed (First Wild Card)AFCS Tennessee Titans (6-2). I simply do not understand the Titans. How are they 6-2? I thought they stunk. You need to stay on top of the NFL, folks. Things change. If the playoffs started today, the Titans would visit the Chiefs in KC, and if Wild Card Weekend held to form (see below), they would be the likely suspects to visit Foxboro the following week.

6th seed (Second Wild Card)AFCS Jacksonville Jaguars (5-3). The Jags are teetering on the edge after getting hammered by the Saints last weekend. They’re a heartbeat away from playing Matt Jones at quarterback. Speaking of Spygate piling on, there’s Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio. Which means we’ll particularly enjoy their fall from the playoff picture in a few weeks. Jax gets the nod over 5-3 Cleveland this week due to a one-game advantage in conference record. If the playoffs started today, they’d be heading to Pittsburgh, a game where you could rightfully hate both teams.

Waiting to Pounce

7th contenderAFCN Cleveland Browns (5-3). The Browns just won three straight for the first time in, I don’t know, a bazillion years. Good on them, I say. Plus, we love Romeo Crennel. We love that Derek Anderson has frozen Brady Quinn on the bench. I will not rest until My Browns are seeded third in these playoffs.

Hoping For A Break

8th contenderAFCW San Diego Chargers (4-4). Nice effort last week, guys. The Chargers miss out on an undeserved fourth spot because THEY ALSO GOT POUNDED BY THE KANSAS CITY CHIEFS. I sure hope they don’t get in the playoffs, because if they played the Patriots 10 times, they’d beat them 9, right LT? I am doing everything I can to keep from laughing right now.

9th contenderAFCE Buffalo Bills (4-4). I know I’m supposed to be all offended by Two Bills Drive and all that garbage, but I’m pulling for these guys like they’re the Cleveland Browns. The sound you’re hearing is my heart breaking at the prospects of their head-to-head matchup with Cleveland on December 16th. The Bills sit behind San Diego – for now – by virtue of an only slightly inferior conference record. Keep plugging, Bills (though not at the Patriots’ expense a week from this Sunday).

10th contenderAFCN Baltimore Ravens (4-4). They’re a sparkling 1-4 in the AFC. And that is probably the last time I’ll have to write anything about the Ravens for the rest of this column’s run.

Games of the Week

6th seed Jacksonville at 5th seed Tennessee – Two words: Playoff Atmosphere! The Titans have won 4 of their last 5 and they’re at home against a team coming off its worst defensive performance ever.

7th contender Cleveland at 3rd seed Pittsburgh – Between these two games, not a bad slate for a Pats bye-week, huh? The Steelers hammered the Browns in week one, so Cleveland will try to neuter Pitt’s current head to head advantage (and division tiebreaker, which the Steelers also hold) with a road win. That would bring the common opponents tiebreaker into play – I hate that one. It’s a lot of work to figure out. Let’s see what happens this Sunday before I go to that sort of trouble (I’m not discouraging you from doing it for me, though).

2nd seed Indianapolis at 8th contender San Diego – The Chargers try to pump the home crowd noise back through their own PA, but end up being embarrassed when it amplifies a bunch of people complaining about Norv Turner. Colts romp.

Denver at 4th seed Kansas City – Denver has the worst rush defense in the league, which is exactly what the Chiefs need, exactly when they need it.

Miami at 9th contender Buffalo – Who would the plucky Bills rather play than the winless Miami Dolphins, right here, right now?

Cincinnati at 10th contender Baltimore – This is not a prime time game, so don’t expect the kind of frenzied effort you saw from the Ravens last Monday night. You know how they get up for those things. Lucky for them, they draw the Bengals at home, not exactly the most exacting test. I’m sure Ray Lewis will proclaim it as a defining win, though.

That’s it for this week – next time, we’ll try to expand this and get more into the head-to-head advantages and so on. We may even try a chart! Your suggestions are, of course, welcome.