Can Any A.F.C. Crew Catch the Chiefs?

The one actual hazard to the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs within the playoffs would be the Chiefs themselves.

The defending N.F.L. champions have grown bored of terrestrial soccer currently. The Chiefs (who’ve already clinched the A.F.C. West) now attempt to show their video games into inscrutable efficiency artwork installations, permitting inferior opponents to remain shut whereas they execute play ideas that seem to have been discovered scribbled within the margins of Hunter S. Thompson manuscripts.

Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill normally join for a couple of 40-yard touchdowns to compensate for his or her penalties, turnovers and self-indulgent noodling, however the Chiefs’ weekly makes an attempt to commune with the cosmos might finally end in a playoff upset that permits one of many following fairly good — however removed from flawless — challengers to characterize the A.F.C. within the Tremendous Bowl.

The Steelers rose to 11-0 by pummeling opponents’ backup quarterbacks whereas hoping that nobody seen that their offense is constructed completely out of display screen passes. The Washington Soccer Crew and Buffalo Payments discovered in latest victories over the Steelers that Ben Roethlisberger now throws the soccer like he’s attempting to drift a Ping-Pong ball right into a crimson plastic cup. The Steelers’ protection stays dominant, when not coping with well being points, and the staff can discover reassurance in the truth that Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers almost beat the Chiefs within the Tremendous Bowl final season with the identical set of strengths and weaknesses.

A long time within the shadow of the New England Patriots left the Payments with a deep-seated inferiority advanced, they usually misplaced essential midseason video games to the Chiefs and Tennessee Titans after a 4-0 begin by taking part in as in the event that they merely felt unworthy of being counted among the many A.F.C. front-runners.

The Payments seem to have outgrown their self-doubt in latest victories over the Seattle Seahawks and Steelers, however behavioral conditioning could be laborious to interrupt. If quarterback Josh Allen transforms again into an interception-happy Winter Soldier when the Payments go to the Patriots in Week 16, it might imply that the Payments have been irrevocably compromised.

Working again Derrick Henry is an indomitable December power, like a Nor’easter, Mariah Carey’s “All I Need for Christmas is You,” or a vacation shopper stiff-arming retailer greeters and grandparents en path to an (empty) PlayStation 5 show. Henry rushed for 215 yards and two touchdowns within the Titans’ victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars final week, and he seems decided to stuff the Titans’ conventional smash mouth values down everybody’s throats for the vacations identical to he did final yr.

The Titans’ protection shouldn’t be almost as rugged and playoff-ready as their old style fame may counsel, however bludgeoning skeptics into quiet acquiescence can also be a December custom, as is post-holiday disappointment.

With their balanced offense and harmful move rush, the Browns are virtually able to compete for the Tremendous Bowl. However the universe itself shouldn’t be fairly prepared for the Browns to compete for the Tremendous Bowl; Lamar Jackson’s restoration from mid-game cramps and fourth-quarter comeback to defeat the Browns in Monday evening’s 47-42 thriller could have been actuality’s manner of repairing a harmful rift in its personal cloth.

The Browns are having fun with their first successful season since 2007. Permitting them to get pleasure from something extra would merely be an excessive amount of pleasure for anybody to expertise in 2020.

The Colts are kit-bashed collectively from leftover items of the 2010s San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers (Philip Rivers), 2017 Minnesota Vikings (cornerback Xavier Rhodes) and final yr’s 49ers (defensive sort out DeForest Buckner), all hot-glued onto the body of the Andrew Luck-era staff. In consequence, they appear fairly good till you look at intently and notice that they have been cobbled collectively virtually purposely so they might lose a playoff sport.

The Dolphins are higher at making opponents look silly than at making themselves appear to be legit contenders. They mixed takeaways (they’re tied with the Steelers for the N.F.L. lead with 25) with wonderful particular groups and an ultraconservative offense to upset the Los Angeles Rams, throw a scare into the Chiefs final week and win numerous low-scoring video games towards the Jets and different bottom-feeders.

Just like the Payments, the Dolphins could also be programmed by a long time of hopelessness to self-destruct if they arrive too near success. Head coach Brian Flores already benched rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in a single loss in what regarded like a panicky transfer, and Flores is likely to be tempted to show once more to Ryan Fitzpatrick when he wants a comeback, not realizing that the true “FitzMagic” is the outsized fame the journeyman backup has nurtured by virtually successful significant video games.

With their midseason swoon behind them however with apparent lingering shortcomings on each side of the ball, the Ravens are barreling towards one more low season of “why can’t Lamar Jackson win playoff video games?” conversations. Come late January, that could be the one factor fathers-in-law on Fb have to speak about.

The Raiders stay mathematically alive however have misplaced three of their final 4 video games, they usually fired defensive coordinator Paul Guenther on Sunday after surrendering 44 factors in a loss to the Colts and (extra troublingly) 28 factors in a near-loss to the Jets.

The Raiders upset the Chiefs in Week 5 and misplaced by simply 4 factors within the Week 11 rematch, in order that they can’t be discounted as a risk in the event that they attain the playoffs. However once more: The trick to successful the A.F.C. is to be on the sector when the Chiefs resolve to beat themselves. The Raiders are the least probably of the A.F.C. playoff hopefuls to place themselves to make that occur.

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