The race for the top spot in the AFC playoff race has turned into a Sunday of action. With the Chiefs (3-4) being beaten on the road by the Titans (5-2) in Week 7 and the Ravens (5-2) being beaten at home by the Bengals (5-2), the 2021 season is on track. to an unpredictable ending for the conference contestants.
Kansas City is now tied with Denver for last place in the AFC West. Tennessee, after also beating Buffalo in Nashville in Week 6, is in full control of the weak AFC South. Cincinnati displaced Baltimore at the top of the tough AFC North.
Here’s what all of that means in the bigger picture of the AFC playoffs:
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The bosses have big concerns at 3-4
The day in Music City was the nightmare before Halloween when the Chiefs were beaten from start to finish, 27-3. Patrick Mahomes struggled to move and protect the ball with his guns against the Titans’ weak pass defense until he had to leave the game late after a terrifying blow to the head when the result was no longer in doubt. His best wide receiver, Tyreek Hill, didn’t look healthy playing through a quadriceps injury. The running game minus Clyde Edwards-Helaire was nonexistent to help and there weren’t enough pass receivers after tight end Travis Kelce was held down.
Some of the offensive problems from Super Bowl 55 against the Buccaneers have carried over to 2021, the inability to adjust and be more patient with Mahomes. The Super Bowl hangover is real for the two-time defending AFC champions. Since the defense has problems at all levels, Mahomes has too many things and one can see him pressing. It’s a perfect storm blowing through Kansas City.
The Chiefs can still get going with a healthy Mahomes by reclaiming the division from the Chargers (4-2), who are sure to fade a bit due to the worst career defense in the league. The Raiders (4-2) are also a bloated team with an overrated defense. The Chiefs can make up a lot of ground in their five remaining AFC West games.
Kansas City will continue to win the West; it just can’t finish better than 13-4. With losses to the Titans, Bills and Ravens and a road game in the Bengals looming late, the ceiling for the Chiefs looks like the No. 4 seed against anything close to No. 1. The goal going forward is getting healthy and just giving Mahomes any kind of fighting opportunity in the tournament.
Crows looking elsewhere for jokers
The Ravens finished second behind the Steelers in the AFC North last season. They are heading for the same fate despite starting 5-2, this time behind the fiery Bengals or the sluggish Browns, who proved to be a red-hot team in the second half last season.
Baltimore lost to Las Vegas in overtime in Week 1. He has managed to fall behind in every game due to some (surprising) fundamental defensive woes and a traditional running offense that doesn’t support Lamar Jackson also struggling down the line. offense and runner exhaustion. . They have become dependent on Jackson for everything. He’s playing very well and has risen to the challenge by passing more than running, but he can’t be the only savior every week.
The Ravens get a goodbye in Week 8 to help them regroup after the Bengals debacle. They’ve got a pretty good three-game streak after that: against Vikings, at Dolphins, at Bears. But then Baltimore’s two games against the Browns sandwiched the first against the Steelers. The Packers (at home), Bengals (on the road) and Rams form a brutal stretch between weeks 15 and 17.
Based on some of the offensive and defensive numbers, the Ravens beat and beat to 5-1. But the Bengals provided more reality check: Nothing will be easy for Jackson and the Ravens for the rest of the season.
Titans in the driver’s seat for No. 1 seed
The Titans have a loss to the Jets this season. It doesn’t matter much anymore after they beat the Bills and Titans at home in back-to-back games to make sure they repeat in the AFC South with the Colts starting slow and needing to catch up.
Mike Vrabel did a great job of propelling his team for two massive games that had Tennessee’s season essentially in early play. The offense has found its rhythm again with Ryan Tannehill and AJ Brown making their big play playing a possessed running, catching (and passing) Derrick Henry. The defense played well situationally against the Bills and found a whole new level of confidence that turned off the Chiefs.
The Titans have already beaten the Colts and they should be in cruise control to take their division back. They can take advantage of Indianapolis and Jacksonville each more, and still have the two bingo clearances against Houston. The only game left in which they will be beaten solid and safe is the Rams in Week 9. The Saints in Week 10 and the 49ers in Week 16, two tougher opponents in the NFC, both are coming to Nashville. . Forget the Titans as an impressive midseason promotion; remember them as the new favorites to jump from the bottom standings of the AFC playoffs to the best possible position for January.
The Bengals should be the new favorites of the AFC North at 5-2
Joe Burrow proved he was the best quarterback in the division by easily beating Jackson in Baltimore. Burrow’s 416 passing yards and 3 TDs drove in a shocking 41-17 run on the road. The Bengals have now won on the road against the Steelers, who won the North last season, and the Ravens. All of the great offseason moves to improve, led by the selection of dynamic wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and the signing of pass rusher Trey Hendrickson, are starting to pay off in a big way.
The Bengals take advantage of the Jets on the road before heading home to face a shell of a Browns team that may be short of Baker Mayfield and the top two running backs. The goodbye is timely in Week 10 before drawing the Raiders in Las Vegas ahead of three straight home games against the Steelers, Chargers and 49ers. The most disappointing games left on the schedule are the Ravens again and the Chiefs back-to-back in weeks 16 and 17, and those are in Cincinnati, too.
When you look at the teams as a whole offensively, defensively and on special teams, the Bengals are the undisputed best team in the division with their strong resume thus far that will continue to grow. They also have a chance to sneak off with one of the top two seeds in an incredible change, all due to Burrow’s landing in 2020.
Invoices must continue to take care of business
Remember your big win over the Chiefs in Week 6? It doesn’t seem to mean much now that they lost to the Titans and the Bengals have tied the Ravens. The Bills (4-2) will come out of their week 7 bye with a half game down and will need to make up key ground in the AFC’s non-Kansas City powers.
The good news is that the Bills have one of the easiest schedules in the league this side of the Titans. They should go through the Dolphins, Jaguars, Jets and Colts over the next month. Like the Titans, they have their NFC on the road, against the Buccaneers, in Tampa Bay in Week 14.
There’s no reason for the Bills to fade from their track to No. 1. But the Titans’ loss puts a lot of pressure on them to make the most of who they play in the last 11 games. Regardless, having No. 2 behind the Titans and ahead of the AFC North winners would still be a good place, as long as it doesn’t mean a trip back to Kansas City for the AFC title game, which surely will be the case.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.