NFL Playoffs preview – The AFC

The last pigskin has been thrown in the 2015/16 NFL regular season and the playoffs picture is finally known, but not after a final day of drama.

Ben Roethlisberger and his Pittsburgh Steelers made the off season once again after the New York Jets (under the tutelage of former Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Tod Bowles) quite literally threw it away with one of the last plays of the game.

“Super” Cam Newton led the Carolina Panthers to a 15-1 record, clinching the number 1 seed in the NFC from Arizona and sealing home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Peyton Manning, the Sheriff, rode into town to save the Denver Broncos as they secured number 1 seed in the NFC after finally overcoming the San Diego Chargers 27-20.

Tom Brady had an off day in Miami as his New England Patriots side went down 20-10 to the Dolphins, therefore gifting the number 1 seed to the Broncos.

Tom Brady has led the Patriots to another playoffs appearance. Pic by Yahoo!
Tom Brady has led the Patriots to another playoffs appearance. Pic by Yahoo!

The road to Superbowl 50 is now set, with 12 teams competing over the next four weeks. Representing the AFC, you have the Bengals (12-4), Steelers (10-6), Chiefs (11-5) and Texans (9-7) in the Wild Card Round, with the Broncos (12-4) and the Patriots (12-4) securing first round byes.

From the NFC, the Wild Card Round consists of the Seahawks (10-6), Vikings (11-5), Packers (10-6) and the Redskins (9-7). First round byes went to the Cardinals (13-3) and the Panthers (15-1).

The AFC

Let’s talk about the AFC first then. The matchups in there are very intriguing to say the least. The Steelers face the Bengals (winner plays New England) and the Chiefs will play the dominant JJ Watt and the Texans (winner plays Denver).

The Chiefs are my dark horse to get to the Superbowl. They had a 1-5 record at Halloween and ended up winning 10 games on the trot. That is unbelievable from a team that looked so devoid of any confidence at the end of October.

For the Chiefs, it’s a case of not where you finish but how you finish and there is not a more in-form team in the entire league – had Arizona beaten the Seahawks they would also have had 10 wins in a row.

Many thought the Chiefs season was over when they lost star running back Jamaal Charles
Many thought the Chiefs season was over when they lost star running back Jamaal Charles

In fact, two of the most competitive and dangerous teams in the AFC field are the five and six seeds in the Chiefs and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The boss of Severn Sport, Mr Matthew Yates, won’t be happy with my prediction that his Cincinnati Bengals team will fall at the first hurdle.

For a fifth straight year the Bengals have made the playoffs but for a fifth straight year, this is as far as they go.

I would love to see them go further but I think there is such a huge monkey on the backs of those players and coaching team that ultimately it will prove too much and the Steelers will march on.

Andy Dalton could miss the Bengals wild card game vs the Steelers
Andy Dalton could miss the Bengals wild card game vs the Steelers

Chiefs the underdog

So if everyone goes according to my predictions for the Wild Card round, the Broncos will host the Chiefs and the Patriots will play the Steelers in the divisional round.

As I have already mentioned, the Chiefs are my underdog pick to go to the Superbowl as I think the Broncos might falter with Brock Osweiler in at Quarterback.

However if they do bring back Peyton Manning for the off season, just as they did for the last game of the season, then it could prove problematic for Alex Smith and his Chiefs.

Peyton Manning could come back in to start for the Broncos
Peyton Manning could come back in to start for the Broncos

As for the Patriots, they’re going out at the first hurdle if the Steelers get through the Bengals as I think they will.

Look at the stats: they might be 12-4 and were 10-0 at one point, but they have fallen off the boil recently with injury problems and have only won two in six.

Kansas City meanwhile will have won 11 in a row if they progress and so I could easily see the Chiefs causing an upset against New England.

Therefore I think it is highly likely that the AFC Conference Championship game will be between the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers, with the Chiefs going to the Superbowl.

So to recap, my predictions for the AFC playoffs are:

Wild card round:

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Cincinatti Bengals – Pittsburgh win

Kansas City Chiefs vs Houston Texans – Kansas City win

Divisional round:

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Denver Broncos – Pittsburgh win

Kansas City Chiefs vs New England Patriots – Kansas City win

Conference championship:

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Kansas City Chiefs – Kansas City win

There you have it then, the Kansas City Chiefs will be AFC champions but obviously they won’t win the Superbowl because we all know who will.

However, that will have to wait for tomorrow when part 2 of our look ahead to the playoffs comes out when we take a look at the NFC wild card and divisional rounds.

Kelsey De Maria

@kjdemaria