It was not a good week for the top teams in the AFC, as three division leaders all suffered a loss. Let’s see if it makes a difference in this week’s power rankings:
1. Denver – Let’s not overreact too much to Denver’s loss last Thursday. If it were easy to control the clock and keep the ball away from Peyton Manning, more teams than the Chargers would have done so. The Broncos are still in position to have home field advantage in the playoffs, and they should still be seen as the favorites in the AFC.
2. Kansas City – Giving up 31 points to the Raiders is a major red flag. The Chiefs won’t be scoring 56 points against any team they’ll meet in the postseason, so they need to find a way to get their defense back on track. This week’s game against the Colts will be an interesting test for Kansas City, as it’ll be their first game against a playoff-caliber team other than Denver since September.
3. Baltimore – Despite being kept out of the end zone, the Ravens pulled out a huge road win on Monday night. The Baltimore defense is looking like the Baltimore defenses we’ve seen in years past, and it’s delivered the Ravens four straight wins, control of their own destiny in the wildcard race, and a shot at winning the AFC North. The Ravens will be challenged the final two weeks, but they’re playing good football and finding a way to win close games, which makes them a dangerous team right now.
4. Miami – Just about every game they play is close, but after a rough patch earlier in the season and plenty of drama off the field, the Dolphins are coming on strong late in the year. The eye test says that they’re a playoff team, and they could be a tough team to face if they’re able to get there.
5. Cincinnati – The Bengals take a big hit in the power rankings after their poor effort Sunday night. Special teams was their biggest problem in their loss to the Steelers, and as solid as they’ve been on offense and defense this season, they need to be good in all three phases when they get to the postseason. The Bengals also hold a 3-5 record on the road, and those three wins are by a combined 13 points, so they haven’t been great away from home, which would be another problem if they want to go deep in the playoffs.
6. San Diego – The Chargers get a big boost in the power rankings for figuring out and executing the formula for beating the Broncos, doing so in Denver nonetheless. They’ll need a lot of luck to reach the postseason, but they’ve played good football for the past month, and that deserves some recognition.
7. Pittsburgh – If only the Steelers hadn’t gotten off to that 0-4 start, because they look like a playoff-caliber team after manhandling the Bengals on Sunday night. If Pittsburgh were to make the playoffs, they’d be a team that nobody wants to play, which means something, even if their postseason hopes are slim.
8. New England – This is just not the same team without Rob Gronkowski, as they don’t have the red zone target they need in clutch situations, and that was evident at the end of the game on Sunday against the Dolphins. The Patriots barely got past Houston and Cleveland, and without Gronkowski beating playoff-caliber teams is going to be a real struggle, which is why they don’t look like a big threat in the AFC.
9. Indianapolis – Even after a comfortable win over the Texans, the Colts still look very pedestrian. They haven’t beaten anybody outside of Houston and Tennessee in two months and they’re one of the least feared teams in the AFC right now. The Colts will travel to Kansas City this week with a chance to make a statement and pick up some momentum heading into the postseason, which is something they need because they won’t survive in the playoffs unless they start playing better.
10. Tennessee – The Titans nearly pulled out a win against a quality team on Sunday, but they found a way to lose the game in overtime. Of course, Tennessee still has a chance to finish the season strong and avoid a double-digit loss total.