2023 NFL playoff picture: AFC wild card contenders, remaining schedule, standings, odds (2024)

The AFC playoff picture was fun to watch in Week 16. The Cleveland Browns moved to 10-5 with a dominant victory over the Houston Texans, the Pittsburgh Steelers rebounded with a huge win over the rival Cincinnati Bengals and the Las Vegas Raiders avoided elimination with an upset victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Christmas Day.

Buckle up, because these final two weeks of the regular season are going to be incredible. Let's take a look at the AFC playoff picture as it stands now. Below, we will power rank the eight teams still in playoff contention that are battling for wild card spots, and attempt to predict the final playoff picture.

Playoff simulation percentages via SportsLine

Division leaders

  1. Baltimore Ravens(AFC North, 12-3)
  2. Miami Dolphins(AFC East, 11-4)
  3. Kansas City Chiefs(AFC West, 9-6)
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars(AFC South, 8-7)


  • New England Patriots (4-11)
  • Tennessee Titans (5-10)
  • Los Angeles Chargers (5-10)
  • New York Jets(6-9)

Wild card contenders

8. Denver Broncos (7-8)

Losing to the 3-11 Patriots on your home field on Christmas Eve as a playoff hopeful? Yikes. I know Denver put together a 16-point fourth quarter, but it still wasn't enough. Sean Payton is making some curious decisions regarding play-calling and timeout usage, and I don't have much faith in Russell Wilson. Then there's the issue of the defense, which has allowed 34.0 points per game over the last two games after allowing 15.6 points per game in the previous seven contests.

Remaining schedule:vs. Chargers, at Raiders
Playoff chances: 1.4%
Final projection: 8-9, miss playoffs

7. Las Vegas Raiders (7-8)

How about these Raiders? Interim head coach Antonio Pierce led this group into Arrowhead on Christmas Day, and upset Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs on national TV. Pierce may be back on the Raiders sideline as lead man in 2024.

The Raiders offense didn't look great with 205 total yards while Aidan O'Connell completed just 9 of 21 passes, but Zamir White did explode for 145 rushing yards with Josh Jacobs out. It was the Raiders defense that impressed, as the unit scored two defensive touchdowns on BACK-TO-BACK plays! That was the difference in the game. Vegas actually became the first team to score two defensive touchdowns in back-to-back games since the 2012 Patriots.

Have you noticed that Pierce is doing a tremendous job with this Raiders defense? They held the Dolphins out of the end zone in the second half back in Week 11, held the Minnesota Vikings to three points scored in Week 14 and then of course had a hand in that historic blowout of the Chargers in Week 15. This week, the Chiefs managed just 14 points while Mahomes threw for 235 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and led Kansas City in rushing with 53 yards. The playoffs are a long shot, but this Raiders team is going to show up and compete each week.

Remaining schedule:at Colts, vs. Broncos
Playoff chances: 13.2%
Final projection: 8-9, miss playoffs

6. Cincinnati Bengals (8-7)

Our Jake Browning fever dream came to an end this past week, as the Bengals were blown out by Mason Rudolph and the Steelers, 34-11. Browning threw one touchdown compared to three interceptions, while the defense was dominated by George Pickens, who racked up 195 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

The Bengals had their three-game winning streak snapped in a contest that never really felt that close. What's interesting is that Cincinnati is 0-5 vs. its own division this season, and 8-2 vs. the rest of the NFL. With this loss, the Bengals are now in last place in the AFC North. I mean, giving up 34 points to a quarterback who hadn't made a start in over two years? I don't know what to think about the Bengals moving forward. Their playoff chances look bleak.

Remaining schedule:at Chiefs, vs. Browns
Playoff chances: 22.2%
Final projection: 9-8, miss playoffs

5. Indianapolis Colts (8-7)

After winning five of their previous six, it was probably about time the Colts dropped a game. The 29-10 loss to the Atlanta Falcons was gross, as the Colts started the game off with a touchdown, then didn't find the end zone again. The defense allowed 29 points, but just two touchdowns, and the offense really, really missed Michael Pittman Jr. Kylen Granson and Will Mallory were Indy's leading receivers, while Jonathan Taylor averaged 2.4 yards per carry on 18 rushes.

The Colts are still an intriguing team, but their playoff chances are now a coin flip. They have a Week 18 showdown against the Texans that could be for a playoff spot.

Remaining schedule:vs. Raiders, vs. Texans
Playoff chances: 45.4%
Final projection: 9-8, miss playoffs

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7)

With Saturday's win over the Bengals, the Steelers have won eight or more games for the 20th consecutive season, which is the longest such streak in NFL history. Benching Mitch Trubisky for Mason Rudolph was the right decision, as the longtime backup completed 17 of 27 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns. He became the first Steelers quarterback to throw for 250 yards and two touchdowns since Ben Roethlisberger in 2021. George Pickens, who had recently drawn the ire of the Steelers faithful, exploded for 195 yards and two touchdowns on four receptions.

Pittsburgh's defense held the previously hot Bengals to 11 total points, and forced three Jake Browning interceptions. This was the first Steelers double-digit win this season, and the first victory that included 30+ Steelers points since 2020!

Remaining schedule:at Seahawks, at Ravens
Playoff chances: 14.1%
Final projection: 9-8, miss playoffs

3. Houston Texans (8-7)

It's hard to judge this team without quarterbackC.J. Stroud, who missed his second straight game due to a concussion. Plus, DeMeco Ryans may have made the wrong decision in going with Case Keenum over Davis Mills. Sunday, the short-handed Texans secondary got destroyed by Amari Cooper and Joe Flacco. Houston has now lost two of its last three after a 7-5 start.

This Texans defense allowed Cooper to explode for a franchise-record 265 receiving yards and two touchdowns, as Cleveland coasted to a 36-7 lead before Mills came in and made things a bit interesting late. This Texans team is different with Stroud under center. If he returns in Week 17, maybe Houston can win out. The Week 18 showdown vs. Indy could be for all the marbles.

Remaining schedule:vs. Titans, at Colts
Playoff chances: 43.7%
Final projection: 10-7, No. 6 seed

2. Buffalo Bills (9-6)

I had the Bills as the best wild card contender last week, but their win over the Chargers was ugly to say the least. Buffalo lost the turnover battle 3-0, and lost the time-of-possession battle. Josh Allen orchestrated a couple of perfect drives but also missed on some throws, and thenJames Cook fumbled twice. Gabe Davis had a big night with 130 receiving yards and a touchdown on four receptions, but the Bills still needed a game-winning drive to come out on top vs. a team that just fired its head coach, and was led by a quarterback making his second career start.

I think the Bills can beat the Patriots at home next week, but the regular-season finale against Miami will be interesting.

Remaining schedule:vs. Patriots, at Dolphins
Playoff chances: 93.3%
Final projection: 10-7, No. 7 seed

1. Cleveland Browns (10-5)

Sunday was pretty eye-opening. The Texans defense couldn't stop the Browns offense, and the Texans offense couldn't move the ball against the Browns defense. Cleveland held Case Keenum to 62 passing yards and forced two interceptions before his benching in the fourth quarter, while Joe Flacco and Amari Cooper morphed into Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison.

Flacco threw for 368 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, while Cooper caught 11 passes for 265 yards and two scores. Flacco became the second quarterback in Browns franchise history to record three straight 300-yard passing games, and the first to throw for 300 yards in three straight wins. He also became the third-oldest player in NFL history to record three straight 300-yard games. Cooper on the other hand broke Josh Gordon's single-game receiving record set in 2013, and joined Jerry Rice and Calvin Johnson as the only players with four or more 200-yard receiving games in the Super Bowl era.

The Browns are 3-1 with Flacco as the starting quarterback. The soon-to-be 39-year-old is playing good football, and the defense has been great as well.

Remaining schedule:vs. Jets, at Bengals
Playoff chances: 99.9%
Final projection: 11-6, No. 5 seed

I'm an avid football enthusiast with a deep understanding of the intricacies of the game, particularly the NFL. My knowledge is grounded in both statistical analysis and a keen eye for on-field dynamics. I've closely followed the AFC playoff race, delving into team performances, coaching strategies, and player contributions. Now, let's break down the concepts and teams mentioned in the article:

AFC Playoff Picture Overview:

Division Leaders:

  1. Baltimore Ravens (AFC North, 12-3):

    • Current division leader with an impressive 12-3 record.
    • Positioned well for a high playoff seed.
  2. Miami Dolphins (AFC East, 11-4):

    • Leading the AFC East with an 11-4 record.
    • Strong playoff positioning.
  3. Kansas City Chiefs (AFC West, 9-6):

    • The Chiefs, with a 9-6 record, are atop the AFC West.
    • Playoff contention and positioning are significant.
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars (AFC South, 8-7):

    • Leading the AFC South with an 8-7 record.
    • Competing for a playoff spot.

Eliminated Teams:

  • New England Patriots (4-11):

    • Eliminated from playoff contention with a 4-11 record.
  • Tennessee Titans (5-10):

    • Also eliminated with a 5-10 record.
  • Los Angeles Chargers (5-10):

    • Eliminated with a 5-10 record.
  • New York Jets (6-9):

    • Eliminated from playoff contention with a 6-9 record.

Wild Card Contenders:

  1. Cleveland Browns (10-5):

    • Dominant performance in Week 16, moving to 10-5.
    • Secure in playoff contention with a powerful offense and defense.
  2. Buffalo Bills (9-6):

    • Positioned as a strong wild card contender with a 9-6 record.
    • Playoff chances at 93.3%, aiming for the 7th seed.
  3. Houston Texans (8-7):

    • Playoff chances at 43.7%, eyeing the 6th seed with a 10-7 projection.
    • The return of quarterback C.J. Stroud could impact their performance.
  4. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7):

    • Extended their streak of eight or more wins for the 20th consecutive season.
    • Playoff chances at 14.1%, projecting a 9-8 record.
  5. Indianapolis Colts (8-7):

    • Playoffs remain uncertain with a 45.4% chance.
    • The Week 18 showdown against the Texans could be crucial.
  6. Cincinnati Bengals (8-7):

    • Recent blowout loss to the Steelers, making playoff chances uncertain (22.2%).
    • Struggling against their own division but performing well against the rest of the NFL.
  7. Las Vegas Raiders (7-8):

    • Despite a 7-8 record, their playoff chances stand at 13.2%.
    • Impressive defensive performances under interim head coach Antonio Pierce.
  8. Denver Broncos (7-8):

    • Recent loss to the Patriots affected playoff chances (1.4%).
    • Concerns about play-calling, timeout usage, and defensive performance.

Remaining Schedule Highlights:

  • Cleveland Browns (10-5):

    • Final projection: 11-6, No. 5 seed.
    • Closing the regular season against the Jets and Bengals.
  • Buffalo Bills (9-6):

    • Final projection: 10-7, No. 7 seed.
    • Facing the Patriots and Dolphins in the last two weeks.
  • Houston Texans (8-7):

    • Final projection: 10-7, No. 6 seed.
    • Crucial matchups against the Titans and Colts in the final two weeks.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers (8-7):

    • Final projection: 9-8, missing the playoffs.
    • Wrapping up the season against the Seahawks and Ravens.
  • Indianapolis Colts (8-7):

    • Final projection: 9-8, missing the playoffs.
    • Facing the Raiders and Texans in Weeks 17 and 18.
  • Cincinnati Bengals (8-7):

    • Final projection: 9-8, missing the playoffs.
    • Closing the season against the Chiefs and Browns.
  • Las Vegas Raiders (7-8):

    • Final projection: 8-9, missing the playoffs.
    • Critical matchups against the Colts and Broncos.
  • Denver Broncos (7-8):

    • Final projection: 8-9, missing the playoffs.
    • Facing the Chargers and Raiders in the last two weeks.
2023 NFL playoff picture: AFC wild card contenders, remaining schedule, standings, odds (2024)


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