Getty Images

With just three weeks remaining in the 2023 NFL regular season, the playoff race is really heating up. In the AFC, things couldn't be more tight as just one team from the conference has secured a postseason berth, while five teams currently sit at 8-6 -- including three from the AFC South. 

Could the South field three playoff teams? What about the competitive AFC North with all their backup quarterbacks? Let's take a look at the AFC playoff picture. Below, we will rank the nine teams still in playoff contention that are currently battling for wild-card spots. (For a breakdown on the NFC's wild-card race, click here.)

Playoff simulation percentages via SportsLine

Division leaders

  1. Baltimore Ravens (AFC North, 11-3)
  2. Miami Dolphins (AFC East, 10-4)
  3. Kansas City Chiefs (AFC West, 9-5)
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars (AFC South, 8-6)


Wild-card contenders

9. Los Angeles Chargers (5-9)

The Chargers were blown out by the rival Las Vegas Raiders in prime time, 63-21, which led to the firing of head coach Brandon Staley and general manager Tom Telesco. Those 63 points were the most allowed in Chargers franchise history.

Remaining schedule: vs. Bills, at Broncos, vs. Chiefs
Playoff chances: 0.0%

8. Las Vegas Raiders (6-8)

Interim head coach Antonio Pierce has this Raiders team playing hard, and they decimated a Chargers team that was ready to lie down last week with 63 points scored -- including 42 in the first half. Aidan O'Connell threw for 248 yards and four touchdowns, while the Raiders defense scored twice. Obviously that Thursday night explosion is not an accurate representation of what the Raiders are, but this is a team capable of creating problems for the final three squads that play them. 

Remaining schedule: at Chiefs, at Colts, vs. Broncos
Playoff chances: 1.5%

7. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)

The Steelers have lost three straight games after starting 7-4, and their playoff chances dropped from 80% to under 5% during this losing streak. Pittsburgh has scored 18 or fewer points in five straight games, and recorded a season-low 216 yards of total offense in the 17-point loss to Indianapolis on Saturday. On the other side, the Steelers defense allowed Trey Sermon of all people to explode with 88 rushing yards, while Gardner Minshew threw three touchdowns.

Everything is going wrong for Pittsburgh right now. The Steelers racked up eight penalties for 101 yards in Week 15, and lost the turnover battle 3-0. We will see if Mason Rudolph can change their fortunes. 

Remaining schedule: vs. Bengals, at Seahawks, at Ravens
Playoff chances: 4.8%

6. Denver Broncos (7-7)

The Broncos are kind of what we thought they were. They can take down struggling teams, but they had no chance of keeping up with the versatile Detroit Lions offense. Denver allowed 42 points after going 6-1 with 15.6 points allowed per game from Weeks 7 through 14. Seeing Denver's defense surrender that many points was a little surprising, but you could argue it was more surprising that Russell Wilson's offense struggled against a defense that was allowing 28.7 points per game over the past seven contests. The Broncos' remaining schedule gives them a shot to make the playoffs. Only four teams in the Super Bowl era have made the playoffs after beginning a season 1-5. This year, there could be three with the Chicago Bears, New York Giants and Broncos.

Remaining schedule: vs. Patriots, vs. Chargers, at Raiders
Playoff chances: 17.6%

5. Houston Texans (8-6)

No C.J. StroudTank DellNico CollinsWill Anderson Jr., no problem? Well, I guess we will find out this week, as Stroud is expected to miss another start due to his concussion. But what a gutsy win from Case Keenum and this Texans team in Week 15. Houston came back from down 13-0 to beat the Titans 19-16 in overtime. Devin Singletary exploded again with 170 yards from scrimmage, Noah Brown caught eight passes for 82 yards and a touchdown and the defense held Derrick Henry to nine rushing yards on 16 rushes. He had a total of 10 scrimmage yards, which are the fewest by any player who recorded 20 touches in a game over the last 75 years! The Texans eliminated the Titans from playoff contention in overtime while they wore their Houston throwback uniforms. Savage.

Remaining schedule: vs. Browns, vs. Titans, at Colts
Playoff chances: 59.1%

4. Indianapolis Colts (8-6)

I've said it for weeks now, and I'll say it again. The Colts are one of the most interesting teams in the NFL. After winning an overtime thriller in Nashville, Minshew and Co. fell to Jake Browning and the Bengals in Week 14, then came back against the Steelers on Saturday -- scoring 30 straight points after falling behind early, 13-0. Indianapolis is 5-1 since starting the season 3-5, and Shane Steichen clearly knows how to scheme for the run, as the Colts rushed for 170 yards vs. the Steelers defense. They were led by Trey Sermon, who had crossed 32 rushing yards in a single game just once before.

Minshew is a fun player capable of splash plays and turnovers at the same time, and the defense has shown the ability to force turnovers. With two winnable games next up on the docket, Colts fans have to be feeling pretty good.

Remaining schedule: at Falcons, vs. Raiders, vs. Texans
Playoff chances: 58.7%

3. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)

The Bengals have become a fascinating team to watch despite the loss of Joe Burrow. Against the Minnesota Vikings, Jake Browning and the Bengals combined to score 24 points in the fourth quarter plus overtime to extend their win streak to three games. This was impressive, as the Vikings defense hadn't allowed a single touchdown in 11 quarters. The Cincy defense has forced four turnovers over the last two games, and Joe Mixon has scored four touchdowns in the last three contests. The Bengals are hot, but they have a rather tough schedule to end the year. All three future opponents have records of at least .500. 

Remaining schedule: at Steelers, at Chiefs, vs. Browns
Playoff chances: 43.5%

2. Cleveland Browns (9-5)

The Browns are teetering on that fine line of being a team of destiny or the unluckiest team in the league. They are 5-0 in games decided by three or fewer points this season, including Sunday's come-from-behind victory over the Bears which featured a dropped Hail Mary. But, there's no doubt Cleveland has suffered with some of the worst injury luck. Thankfully Joe Flacco is still elite.

While I do kid, Flacco threw for 212 yards in the fourth quarter last week, which are the most yards by a Browns quarterback in any quarter since at least 1991. In fact, no other quarterback has thrown for that many yards in a fourth quarter this season. It's looking like Cleveland will make the playoffs for the first time since 2020. Wouldn't it be something if Flacco drew the Ravens in the postseason?

Remaining schedule: at Texans, vs. Jets, at Bengals
Playoff chances: 88.9%

1. Buffalo Bills (8-6)

The Bills, of course, registered the win of the week when they stomped the Dallas Cowboys, 31-10. Despite owning a +125 point differential, the Bills are fighting for their postseason lives, and currently own the No. 9 seed in the AFC. 

James Cook went off for 179 rushing yards and a touchdown, then added 42 yards and another score through the air. Interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady has this offense looking different in a good way. Buffalo has averaged 29.3 points per game since firing Ken Dorsey, which ranks fifth most in the NFL in that span. You have to credit the Bills defense, too. They held the Cowboys out of the end zone until the fourth quarter, and held (maybe former) MVP candidate Dak Prescott to 134 passing yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. 

Remember, Buffalo's defense lost several important playmakers such as Tre'Davious White and Matt Milano, but DaQuan Jones had his practice window opened this week. Did you know Buffalo has allowed fewer than 10 points in three games this season? That's tied for second most in the NFL. 

Remaining schedule: at Chargers, vs. Patriots, at Dolphins
Playoff chances: 54.1%