With NFL Week 15 in the books, FOX Sports South fearlessly projects and seeds the six participants for the upcoming AFC playoffs. New England (East), Denver (West) and Indianapolis (South) have already clinched its respective divisions -- but the actual seeds have yet to be determined. The AFC North, on the other hand, remains completely up for grabs ... so much that three teams from this rugged division could qualify for the postseason. (Photos: Winslow Townson/Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)
#1 Seed -- New England Patriots
CURRENT RECORD: 11-3 ... GAMES REMAINING: @ NYJ, BUF ... WHY THE PATRIOTS EARN THE #1 SEED: The Patriots played with the Dolphins on Sunday, like a cat deals with a wounded bird -- toying with the creature until it gets bored, before pouncing. Staked to just a one-point halftime lead (14-13), New England subsequently scored 27 unanswered points to rout Miami and capture the AFC East title. But New England cannot afford to rest one bit. The Patriots (tied with 11-3 Denver) need one more win to ensure a first-round postseason bye ... and two victories to secure homefield throughout the AFC playoffs.
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY SportsWinslow Townson
#2 Seed -- Denver Broncos
CURRENT RECORD: 11-3 … GAMES REMAINING: @CIN, OAK … WHY THE BRONCOS EARN THE #2 SEED: Denver avoided a split with the Chargers by handling business in Week 14. And once again, Peyton Manning was efficient, but not overpowering as the Broncos rushing attack balanced the offense. Denver has a tough road game in Cincinnati this week, but secures a first-round bye with a win over the Bengals, or next week at home versus Oakland. The only way to jump into the No. 1 seed is for the Patriots to have a misstep.
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY SportRobert Hanashiro
#3 Seed -- Indianapolis Colts
CURRENT RECORD: 10-4 … GAMES REMAINING: @DAL, @TEN … WHY THE COLTS EARN THE #3 SEED: The Colts won their fourth consecutive game, and secured the AFC South title and a home playoff game on Sunday. They are on the outside of a first-round bye, looking in; even winning out won't push Indianpolis to a better seed without help from Denver or New England. It's never fun to finish the season with two road games, but at least Indianapolis gets Tennessee in Week 17. The Colts' battle in Dallas on Sunday is of the utmost importance. Any loss means Luck and company have to play in the opening round of the playoffs.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY SportsBrian Spurlock
#4 Seed -- Pittsburgh Steelers
CURRENT RECORD: 9-5 … GAMES REMAINING: KC, CIN … WHY THE STEELERS EARN THE #4 SEED: The Steelers have put themselves in great position to take the AFC North with two road wins over the last two weeks. Pittsburgh thumped Cincinnati in Week 14, and handled Atlanta next. Two games at Heinz Field await the Steelers with Week 17 being what might be the battle for the division. If the Steelers win over Cincinnati in the final week, the No. 4 seed and a coveted home game will be their reward.
RVR Photos-USA TODAY SportsBob Rosato
#5 Seed -- Baltimore Ravens
CURRENT RECORD: 9-5 … GAMES REMAINING: @HOU, CLE … WHY THE RAVENS EARN THE #5 SEED: Baltimore was our four-seed last week, and a win usually doesn't knock a team down from that perch. But Cincinnati and Pittsburgh both won road games that could have gone either way, giving them some juice we didn't think they'd have moving forward. The Ravens will still make the playoffs, and surviving the most competitive division in the NFL could do them some good. But they'll have to succeed from the wild-card ranks.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY SportsTommy Gilligan
#6 -- Cincinnati Bengals
CURRENT RECORD: 9-4-1 … GAMES REMAINING: DEN, @PIT … WHY THE BENGALS EARN THE #6 SEED: Cincinnati is in control of the AFC North right now, but the final two games on its schedule are brutal. Even if the Bengals lose their final two games (and there's a very high probablility that will happen), they'll slide into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed at 9-6-1. If that's the case, the AFC North will be rewarded for such a competitive race this season with three teams in the playoffs.