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The AFC Playoff Picture

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Who would've thought the Cleveland Browns would be in the thick of the AFC playoff race during the Thanksgiving holiday?

Actually, the entire team knew this was achievable. We wrote about how the Browns' mental toughness has taken the forefront and is the reason for Cleveland's 7-4 record.

But battle will be a tough one. The AFC North is the first division in NFL history with every team three games above .500 at any point in season. And with other teams log-jammed in the AFC, there is a chance multiple teams finish with a 10-6 record and miss the playoffs.

Let's analyze what stands in the way of Cleveland's first playoff berth since 2002.

Cleveland Browns (7-4)

Upcoming schedule

Nov. 30 at**Buffalo (6-5)

Dec. 7 Indianapolis (7-4)

Dec. 14 Cincinnati (7-3-1)

Dec. 21 at Carolina (3-7-1)

Dec. 28 at Baltimore (7-4)

Average winning percentage of the five remaining opponents:  .554

Two toughest games: Indianapolis and at Baltimore

Most important thing for the Browns down the stretch: Consistently running the football with Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West.

Cincinnati Bengals (7-3-1)

Nov. 30 at Tampa Bay (2-9)

Dec. 7 Pittsburgh (7-4)

Dec. 14 at Cleveland (7-4)

Dec. 22 Denver (8-3)

Dec. 28 at Pittsburgh (7-4)

Average winning percentage of the five remaining opponents: .563

Two toughest games: Denver and at Pittsburgh

Most important thing for the Bengals down the stretch: Quarterback Andy Dalton must play mostly mistake-free football

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4)

Nov. 30 New Orleans (4-7)

Dec. 7 at Cincinnati (7-3-1)

Dec. 14 at Atlanta (4-7)

Dec. 21 Kansas City (7-4)

Dec. 28 Cincinnati (7-3-1)

Average winning percentage of the five remaining opponents: .536

Two toughest games: at Cincinnati and Kansas City

Most important thing for the Steelers down the stretch: Running back Le'Veon Bell keeps posting 150-plus yard days at the office.

Baltimore Ravens (7-4)

Nov. 30 San Diego (7-4)

Dec. 7 at Miami (6-5)

Dec. 14 Jacksonville (1-10)

Dec. 21 at Houston (5-6)

Dec. 28 Cleveland (7-4)

Average winning percentage of the five remaining opponents: .472

Two toughest games: San Diego and Cleveland

Most important thing for the Ravens down the stretch: The defense keeps overcoming injuries and keeps creating turnovers and sacks.

Indianapolis Colts

Nov. 30 Washington (3-8)

Dec. 7 at Cleveland (7-4)

Dec. 14 Houston (5-6)

Dec. 21 at Dallas (8-3)

Dec. 28 at Tennessee (2-9)

Average winning percentage of the five remaining opponents: .454

Two toughest games: at Cleveland and at Dallas

Most important thing for the Colts down the stretch: Is this defense talented enough to bail out the Colts offense if-need-be.

San Diego Chargers

Nov. 30 at Baltimore (7-4)

Dec. 7 New England (9-2)

Dec. 14 Denver (8-3)

Dec. 20 at San Francisco (7-4)

Dec 28 at Kansas City (7-4)

Average winning percentage of the five remaining opponents: .690

Two toughest games: New England and Denver

Most important thing for the Chargers down the stretch: Can Philip Rivers return to early season-form, when many said the quarterback was playing at an MVP-type level.

Kansas City Chiefs

Nov. 30 Denver (8-3)

Dec. 7 at Arizona (9-2)

Dec. 14 Oakland (1-10)

Dec. 21 at Pittsburgh (7-4)

Dec. 28 San Diego (7-4)

*Average winning percentage of the five remaining opponents: *.581

Two toughest games: Denver and at Pittsburgh

Most important thing for the Chiefs down the stretch: Balance on offense. The Chiefs are fourth in rushing yards but 31st in passing. They need to avoid becoming one-dimensional.

Other teams in the race:Buffalo (6-5), Miami (6-5) and Houston (5-6)

Thoughts on the playoff hunt

  • On paper, the Colts have the easiest remaining schedule while the Chargers have the most difficult.
  • While Indianapolis does have the easiest schedule, they are almost all but a lock to win the AFC South. All experts are predicting Denver to win the AFC West, although Kansas City and San Diego are nipping on their heels.
  • So essentially, seven teams are competing for two wild card spots. Lord have mercy. This thing won't be decided until the very last play of the Week 17 games.
  • Speaking of Week 17: The matchup between the Chargers and Chiefs could have tremendous implications on the Browns' playoff hopes.
  • The loser of next week's Pittsburgh-Cincinnati matchup is going to have an uphill climb the rest of the way.
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