The middle-ground is packed. Which is going to make for some interesting match-ups with some late wild-card pushes. Saying it up front, I fully expect the Steelers to claim the first wild-card. That’s if they don’t make a run for the division. But the second wild-card is up for grabs at this point, and focusing on the Bengals playoff hopes, what teams should we be watching for during the second half?
Chargers, Dolphins, Colts, Raiders.
These four teams, along with the Cincinnati Bengals are going to be the teams to watch for as the playoffs approach in a few weeks.
Looking at the schedules for each team, we’ll start off with the Bengals. Tough. Very tough. The key: How many games can they win where the other team is favored? If they can pick up one or two, I think they have a very good chance at claiming the last AFC playoff spot. I say that after looking at the situations of the other four teams that I mentioned.
To start with the Chargers, their next five games are against teams that they could easily lose against. If a losing streak starts to build, a lot of negative momentum could come into play as well. When looking at the Dolphins, their schedule is pretty even, with some tough teams thrown in with some very beatable-ones. The same goes with the Colts schedule this second half. Their opponents range from the Chiefs and Jaguars to the Texans and Patriots. Lastly, the Raiders. I think this team is the least likely to challenge for the wild-card in the second half, mainly because of the fact that I’m skeptical they have enough strength on either side of the ball to grab any must-win games down the stretch.
Out of those five teams, I’ll pick two. The Chargers are on a roller-coaster season, and their schedule will be their downfall. I don’t think the Raiders will become a threat, and I think the Colts need one more year before they can challenge for the playoffs. That leaves the Dolphins and Bengals. Out of those two teams, I can easily see Miami grabbing the last playoff spot in the AFC. They are a team with a young quarterback, I agree. But if ever a rookie quarterback was to take a team to the playoffs, the Miami Dolphins team is built for that to happen. A strong defense, near the top of the league in every major category. A powerful downhill runner in Reggie Bush, who has revived his career at just the right time. And a group of receivers that can only be identified as underrated, but extremely reliable. The team is made so that even if Ryan Tannehill isn’t having a great game, the defense has the ability to keep it close.
Come to think of it, sounds a little bit like the Bengals last year, doesn’t it?
Ultimately, the last spot in the AFC playoff picture will be given to the team that has the best record, not necessarily the best team. If any of the five teams can get above .500, I think they make the playoffs. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the spot went to a 8-8 team by way of tiebreakers. The number six seed will be a race to see which team reigns as the best of the average. Then again, when you want to make the playoffs, sometimes that’s all you need.