With one week left in the NFL regular season, FOX Sports South fearlessly projects and seeds the six participants for the upcoming AFC playoffs. New England, Denver and Indianapolis have already clinched their respective divisions, and Cincinnati and Pittsburgh are assured of a playoff game. With one more playoff spot up for grabs, and seeding issues to be solved, Week 17 will be full of story lines. Photo: Charles LeClaire / Aaron Doster
#1 Seed -- New England Patriots
CURRENT RECORD: 12-3 ... WEEK 17 FOE: BUF ... PROJECTED MARK: 12-4 ... WHY THE PATRIOTS EARN THE #1 SEED: With a win over the Jets in Week 16 and a Denver loss to Cincinnati, New England has secured the No. 1 seed. The Patriots wont have to leave Foxborough until the Super Bowl, and that's a good thing since they're 7-0 at home this season. The Bills might hand the Pats a home loss in Week 17, but that's OK because resting some players will be more important, and it won't affect playoff seeding.
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#2 Seed -- Denver Broncos
CURRENT RECORD: 11-4 … WEEK 17 FOE: OAK … PROJECTED MARK: 12-4 ... WHY THE BRONCOS EARN THE #2 SEED: Not only did the Broncos' loss on Monday hand the Patriots the No. 1 seed and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, but it put the two seed in jeopardy for Denver. The Broncos will secure that first-round bye with a Week 17 win over Oakland, and gain some much-needed momentum headed into the playoffs. Peyton Manning threw four picks against the Benglas and will want to clean some things up in the final week of the regular season. Oakland, a team that's won two of its last three games, will be facing the best Denver can offer.
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#3 Seed -- Pittsburgh Steelers
CURRENT RECORD: 10-5 … WEEK 17 FOE: CIN … PROJECTED MARK: 11-5 ... WHY THE STEELERS EARN THE #3 SEED: The AFC North has been the most competitive division in football all season. It's fitting that the crown will go to the winner on Sunday's Steelers-Bengals game at Heinz Field. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 350 yards and led his team to 25 unanswered points in the fourth quarter a month ago when Pittsburgh doubled up Cincinnati 42-21 -- and that game was in Cincy. The Steelers might not win quite so big the second time around, but you have to like finishing the season at home and entering the game with a three-game winning streak.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY SportCharles LeClaire
#4 Seed -- Indianapolis Colts
CURRENT RECORD: 10-5 … WEEK 17 FOE: @TEN … PROJECTED MARK: 11-5 ... WHY THE COLTS EARN THE #4 SEED: No one expected the final two games of the season to be fun for Indianapolis, especially since both came away from home. But after Tony Romo and the Cowboys dismantled the Colts, there's need for concern. Indianapolis rushed for a total of one yard in the loss to Dallas, and Romo threw more touchdown passes (4) than incompletions (2). Andrew Luck gets a much more favorable matchup this week in Tennessee, and although his Colts can't do better than the No. 4 seed, he'll need to orchestrate a much better showing in Week 17 to get ready for the playoffs.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY SportsMatthew Emmons
#5 -- Cincinnati Bengals
CURRENT RECORD: 10-4-1 … WEEK 17 FOE: @PIT … PROJECTED MARK: 10-5-1 ... WHY THE BENGALS EARN THE #5 SEED: The Bengals have already punched their ticket for the playoffs, but can rise all the way to the No. 2 seed with a win over Pittsburgh and a Denver loss. There's plenty to play for on Sunday. Outside of a terrible fourth quarter against Pittsburgh in Week 14, the Bengals have played well over the last six weeks and have a 5-1 record to show for it. Andy Dalton hasn't been the driving force for success as much as rookie running back Jeremy Hill with 295 yards rushing in his last two games. For Cincinnati to win in Pittsburgh, both Hill and Dalton must overachieve.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY SportsAaron Doster
#6 -- San Diego Chargers
CURRENT RECORD: 9-6 … WEEK 17 FOE: @KC … PROJECTED MARK: 10-6 ... WHY THE CHARGERS EARN THE #6 SEED: If there was a recipe for the type of win that should propel a team into the playoffs, it would look an awful lot like San Diego's come-from-behind, overtime win over San Francisco last week. The Chargers, who were on the road in hostile territory, scored the final 17 points of the game and outscored the 49ers 31-7 in the second half to win by three points. With that momentum, expect the Chargers to beat Kansas City in Week 17. We're also predicting a Baltimore win over Cleveland, which would put the Ravens and Chargers both at 10-6. San Diego's one-point win over Baltimore in Week 13 would push the Chargers into the playoffs.