There are only four teams in the AFC with losing records while 12 teams are either in playoff contention.
In looking at the upcoming scenarios, it's safe to assume that it will take at least a 9-7 record to earn a wild card spot. With eight teams sitting at 8-6 or 7-7 there's just no logical expectation that two of those teams won't go 9-7.
Before we run through the different scenarios, at the right is a look at the remaining schedules of the playoff contenders. What jumps out is how every one of the 7-7 teams have a tough game left on the schedule.
|New York Jets||23||5||.821|
|>> at Indianapolis, Cincinnati|
|>> at Miami, New England
|>> San Diego, at Seattle
|>> Baltimore, at Miami|
|>> Jacksonville, at Houston|
|>> Houston, Pittsburgh|
|>> at Philadelphia, Kansas City|
|>> at Pittsburgh, Oakland|
|>> Jets, at Buffalo
|>> at New England, Cleveland
|>> at Tennessee, Washington|
|>> Kansas City, at Jets|
So this breakdown is focused entirely on the two wild card spots. With that in mind, here's a guide of who to root for with two weeks to go no matter which AFC wild card contender you support.
Denver -- Win out and they're in. But the improbable loss to the Raiders has really reduced Denver's margin of error with a very tough game against Philadelphia this week. If Denver loses this week, they will be looking at losing the head-to-head tiebreaker to Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
Broncos fans, whom to root against: If Denver loses one of its last two, Jacksonville would have a superior conference record, so Denver fans should be big Patriots fans this weekend. A Steelers win this weekend over Baltimore gives Denver a better chance of winning the No. 5 seed because it hurts the Ravens, but it also ups the chances of Denver not making the playoffs. If Denver, Baltimore and the Steelers end up in a three-way tie at 9-7, Denver will be home for the playoffs.
Baltimore -- At 8-6, the Ravens, like the Broncos, can make things simple by winning out. If Baltimore can get by Pittsburgh this week, you have to like their chances against the Raiders in Week 17. The Ravens actually have the best list of scenarios of any AFC wild card contender thanks to a 6-4 conference record and a head-to-head win over the Broncos. If Baltimore wins its final two games, it's the No. 5 seed no matter what else happens.
Baltimore could even clinch a playoff spot with a win this weekend plus a Jaguars loss and a Broncos loss.
Ravens fans, whom to root against: The biggest thing for Baltimore is to beat the Steelers this week. If they do that, everything will likely take care of itself. Even if they lose that game, there are multiple scenarios where the Ravens would still get in, but they need a Jaguars loss because of Jacksonville's 6-4 conference record.
Jacksonville -- Of all the 7-7 teams, Jacksonville's in the best shape because of its 6-4 conference record (best of all the 7-7 teams). The Jaguars also have head-to-head tiebreakers against the Jets, Texans and Titans (although they did lose to the Dolphins). That Miami loss could come back to haunt the Jaguars in several scenarios, as even with two Jaguars wins and an 8-8 finish by either the Broncos or Ravens, Jacksonville still isn't guaranteed a playoff spot.
Jaguars fans, whom to root against: For Jacksonville, the more the merrier. Jacksonville would have an 8-4 conference record if they win out, which means that they are best off avoiding head-to-head matchups and prefer to see multiple teams eliminate any chance of a head-to-head tiebreaker. If Baltimore and Denver each lose one of their final two, Jacksonville could still end up with the No. 5 seed. So Jacksonville doesn't really need to root for anyone to lose but Denver and Baltimore. But a Miami loss would help things as well.
Miami -- Like every other 7-7 team, the Dolphins need some help, but Miami does have the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Jaguars, the Jets and could knock out the Steelers and the Texans themselves with wins the next two weeks. The only team that a 9-7 Dolphins team would lose the head-to-head tiebreaker to is the Titans.
Dolphins fans, whom to root against: Tennessee could screw things up for Miami if they ended up in a head-to-head tiebreaker, so it's worth rooting for a Titans' loss. The Broncos and/or Ravens need to lose a game just to get Miami into the race. And Jacksonville tops Miami if it comes into a multiple-team tiebreaker that depends on conference record.
Pittsburgh -- A week ago Pittsburgh had a 1.6 percent chance of making the playoffs according to Football Outsiders. But Denver's loss to the Raiders means the Steelers could end up heading into the final week of the season controlling their own destiny with a win over the Ravens and some breaks this weekend.
Steelers fans, whom to root against: In a two or multi-team tie at 9-7 the Ravens would edge Pittsburgh because of their superior division record. Unless Baltimore loses to Pittsburgh and follows it up with an unexpected loss to the Raiders, Pittsburgh needs Baltimore to finish as the No. 5 seed. So the key for the Steelers is to get a loss by the Broncos, most likely this weekend against Philadelphia.
They also have to have Jacksonville lose one of its last two games, most likely against New England this weekend. By going 9-7, Pittsburgh would eliminate Miami by beating them head-to-head and the Steelers hold head-to-head tiebreakers against the Broncos and Titans. The Texans are doomed against almost everyone, but they do hold a tiebreaker advantage against Pittsburgh based on common opponents, so the Steelers need them to lose one more game.
New York Jets -- It's hard to imagine the Jets having a much tougher road than the one they face. In addition to rooting for a Ravens and a Broncos loss, New York also has to beat the Colts and Bengals just to be in the hunt. No other AFC team faces nearly as difficult a schedule, although New York does have the advantage of facing the Colts this week and the Bengals next week when they potentially have nothing to play for.
Jets fans, whom to root against: The Jets are finished if Miami finishes 9-7, so they have to root for a Dolphins loss. The Jaguars also have the head-to-head tiebreaker on the Jets and a superior conference record, so New York can't make it without a Jaguars loss as well.
Tennessee Titans -- The Titans 4-7 conference record means they need more help than nearly anybody. If it ends up being a multi-team tie at 9-7, that 5-7 conference record will be the Titans' doom. But Tennessee does have head-to-head wins against the Jaguars.
Titans fans, whom to root against: Tennessee has to walk a tightrope that seems nearly impossible. Realistically they need Baltimore and Denver to go 0-2 over the final two weeks. But even if that happens, they then need Pittsburgh to lose to Miami in the final week of the season. Even that won't be enough if Miami beats Houston this week and one other team finishes at 9-7.
Houston Texans -- If you thought the Titans had it rough, check out the Texans' slim list of scenarios. Houston loses head-to-head tiebreakers to Jacksonville and New York, would lose a division tiebreaker to Tennessee and holds a 4-6 conference record that would trail the Ravens, Jaguars, Jets and possibly the Broncos if they ended up tied at 9-7.
Texans fans, whom to root against: Houston needs everyone but Pittsburgh to lose. They would win the tiebreaker against Pittsburgh because of an edge in common opponents so they can survive a three-way tie at 9-7 with the Steelers and one other team, but a 10-6 Broncos or Ravens team means they need every 7-7 team but Pittsburgh to lose a game.
Here's the head-to-head cheat sheet to help break down who holds tiebreaker advantages.