No. 1 New England Patriots (13-3)
The Pats play a bunch of patsies over the last month, with the Redskins, Broncos, Dolphins and Bills on the schedule. I’m well aware that two of those teams are playing their butts off right now, but neither can keep up with the Patriots offensively. With four AFC teams at 9-3, New England will have to play hard every week if they want a first-round bye.
No. 2 Baltimore Ravens (12-4)
The Ravens have the benefit of a tiebreaker with the Steelers, so if Pittsburgh falls in Week 15 to the 49ers in San Francisco, the Ravens will have the division, and likely a first-round bye, locked up heading into Cincinnati in Week 17. I don’t see them falling to the Colts, Chargers or Browns before that game, and they may wind up resting players in the second half if the Pats go up big on the Bills early. The Bengals could be fighting for a wild card spot on that day and should bring their A-game.
No. 3 Houston Texans (11-5)
The Texans have a tough task in Week 14 when they head to Cincinnati. They were able to defeat the Falcons with T.J. Yates at the helm, so they may find a way to win against a desperate Bengals team, but I’m not counting on it. Since Baltimore already beat them head-to-head, Houston would lose out on a tiebreaker if they managed to tie the Ravens in the final week. I seem them locked into the No. 3 seed at that point and resting players.
No. 4 Denver Broncos (9-7)
That’s right — give the AFC West crown to the Broncos. They’ll have two tough games over the next two weeks (Chicago, New England), but so do the Raiders (Green Bay, Detroit). If the teams end up tied, Denver should have the tiebreaker, whether it’s based on divisional record (currently 3-2 to 2-2) or conference record (currently 6-3 to 5-5). Mark Tebowmania down for a home game in January.
No. 5 Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
The Steelers have the misfortune to face a very good 49ers team in San Francisco in Week 15, and a loss there could cost them a shot at the division crown. They need to do one better than the Ravens over the last four weeks, but both teams have pretty easy matchups in three of their four remaining. That leaves Pittsburgh with a trip to Denver, in which they should be heavily favored. Could it be another Saints-Seahawks from a year ago?
No. 6 Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
The Bengals hold the tiebreaker for the No. 6 spot right now, and they also have the easiest remaining schedule, especially if the Ravens take their foot off the gas in Week 17. I think they take down the Texans in Week 14 and make quick work of the Rams and Cardinals leading into that final game. The Titans play the Saints this week and they’re in Houston to close the season. The Raiders play the Packers and Lions over the next two weeks. The Jets face the Giants in Week 16, and I totally expect them to screw the pooch in Miami in Week 17 even if they have a postseason shot. That leaves the Bengals to face the Texans again in January.
Early predictions? I like the Texans to oust the Bengals in the rematch, while I think the Steelers should down the Tebow Magic. The Steelers beat the Patriots in Pittsburgh in Week 8 — can they win on the road? Definitely, thanks to a poor New England secondary and the lack of a reliable running game from the Patriots. On the other side, the Ravens had no problem with the Texans while Matt Schaub was healthy, so they should roll against T.J. Yates. Can the Ravens beat the Steelers three times in one season? I’m going to say no, as Pittsburgh gets their revenge and goes back to the Super Bowl as a result.
Post your predictions in the comments section.
R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe, writes for FanDuel and Razzball and has previously written for FanHouse. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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