Thursday 19 October 2017 / 02:39 PM

CLEAR PATH IN AFC PLAYOFFS PICTURE

This NFL season has been crazy, with new teams finally rising up to take higher spots in the NFC with the fall of the Panthers, and the AFC seeing new challengers to the AFC South, and the rise of the Raiders and Dolphins as playoff teams. The playoffs looked to be ready for a shake up, but that’s taken a slight hit in the last few weeks.

Let me give you some early betting advice on the AFC playoff picture, now that we have the teams settled in stone: take the favorites going forward. That’s right, the AFC is a glorified warm up for the eventual Steelers vs. Patriots matchup for the AFC title. Look, I know the NFL is wacky, and conceivably anything could happen going forward, but it sure is tough to look at the playoff picture in the AFC and see anything other than another Patriots trip to the postseason.

With the loss of Derek Carr, the Raiders are a paper number two team. The defense has been untrustworthy, and there’s not an offense in the NFL that’s more reliant on their quarterback to go make plays that the one in Oakland. The Raiders offense now turns to Matt McGloin, a QB that hasn’t played a down since 2013, and was serviceable at best in his time as a starter. The receivers around him will be talented, but without Carr, the offense lacks the punch to make up for that defense.

Add to that mix Miami, whom was probably never going to compete with New England or Pitt, but lost most ability to do so with the loss of Ryan Tannehill. Sure, Matt Moore is talented, and the Dolphins have looked roughly the same with him under center and that talented defense, but Bills and Jets are hardly a measuring stick, and even with Jay Ajayi playing well, can anyone really see the Dolphins taking a trip to Foxboro and getting a win with Matt Moore?


And then there’s the Texans, who’ve made the jump to backup Tom Savage in replacement of their seemingly failed investment in Brock Osweiler. Savage looked alright in his relief, but the Texans already weren’t scaring anybody with Osweiler, and that offense just can’t score with the Steelers or Patriots in the postseason.

So that leaves the Chiefs, whom could still win the AFC West and will more than likely get the Patriots in the divisional round. But it’s time to be realistic about Andy Reid’s team this time of year: the Chiefs have a long history of playoff woes and struggles, and have never been able to get over the hump with Reid at the helm. Factor in a quarterback in Alex Smith that isn’t going to sling it, and the Chiefs look like another team that plays right into what the Patriots want to do. Sure, the Chiefs offense has come alive, but to rely on that, as we’ve learned in the last few seasons, isn’t something you want to do.

So that just leaves the Steelers to stand in their way. It’s anticlimactic, sure, but it’s the state of the AFC. The Patriots won’t face a game that can reasonably scare them until the AFC Championship, barring a massive upset. And while those are always possibilities, the idea of anyone representing the AFC outside of the Patriots and maybe the Steelers looks just less and less probable.

And it’s even hard to like the Steelers chances, with Big Bens bad record in outdoor road games this season, and the offense’s inconsistent play for stretches of games, and the injury concerns of Ben. They are the only team with the firepower to hang with New England, but outside of the Steelers’ fan base, you won’t find anyone confident in taking them for the win.

This NFL season has been crazy and wacky, but as of today, it seems that the postseason has come down to something we all know and love: the Patriots in the Super Bowl again, whether we like it or not.

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About the author

Austin Albertson

Austin is CBS' senior NFL and NBA analyst, bringing you commentary on everything between the lines and inside the hashes, from the film room to the scoreboard.

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