AFC (who’s in)
No. 1 seed: Patriots (12-4). The AFC East champions, with the top seed already in hand heading into Sunday, went for the rest option with their key players and lost a meaningless home game to Buffalo, 17-9. Bill Belichick will get Tom Brady and his veteran playoff team revved up again for the divisional playoffs against either Indianapolis, Cincinnati or Baltimore. Indianapolis lost in New England in that same round a year ago; Baltimore won the AFC title there two years ago.
No. 2 seed: Broncos (12-4). The AFC West champions drop down a spot from last year’s playoffs, but at least secured the second first-round bye and one home game by rolling past Oakland, 47-14. Peyton Manning and the rest of the Broncos’ banged-up key offensive players will get a needed week off before facing either Pittsburgh, Indianapolis or Cincinnati in the divisional round. They avoid Baltimore at first, which won at Denver two years ago.
No. 3 seed: Steelers (11-5). They won the AFC North by finishing their season sweep of Cincinnati, 27-17 on Sunday night, and with it, leapfrogged Indianapolis, which they also beat in Pittsburgh earlier in the season. Their immediate reward is a rubber wild-card match with hated archrival Baltimore, when the usual physicality and chipiness will be taken to whole new level. They now will hope to have a healthy Le’Veon Bell to give them their best chance.
No. 4 seed: Colts (11-5). The AFC South champions were locked into this seed before Sunday, and they managed to get in a playoff tuneup for Andrew Luck and their other regulars before pulling them out in a sound 27-10 thrashing of Tennessee. The Colts are No. 4 with a wild-card home game for a second straight season. They again will play Cincinnati, whom they shut out in Indianapolis earlier this season, 27-0.
No. 5 seed: Bengals (10-5-1). They fell from the division throne in PIttsburgh, but they still make the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season, this time as the top wild card. They will try to snap both a three-game playoff losing streak with Andy Dalton and end a 24-year playoff-win drought. They will try again against Indianapolis after quick exits vs. Houston (twice) and San Diego. It will require Dalton casting off all his old demons, maybe without A.J. Green.
No. 6 seed: Ravens (10-6). They got the last AFC playoff berth by beating Cleveland 20-10, taking the second wild card from San Diego, a 19-7 loser at Kansas City. It marks the second time in four seasons that three AFC North teams are in the field. The last time that happened in 2011, none were able to win the AFC. Baltimore, however, is back in the tournament for the first time since winning it all as a No. 4 in 2012. The Ravens’ first challenge is in Pittsburgh, where they lost in the divisional round four years ago.