As Week 15 approaches, every game, series, and snap becomes more and more crucial for teams who find themselves in serious contention for a trip to Miami in early February. The NFC is flooded with teams well-suited for a deep playoff run, while the AFC is spearheaded by the hottest team in football, followed closely by a handful of teams who look to emerge as the AFC’s superior team. With three weeks remaining in the regular season, three teams have already punched their ticket to the postseason; Kansas City (9-4, AFC West Champions) and Baltimore (11-2) are the first two teams in the AFC Playoffs, while New Orleans (10-3, NFC South Champions) is the lone team sitting in in the NFC bracket. The pieces to the postseason puzzle should continue to fall into place on Sunday, as teams such as the 49ers and the Patriots can grab playoff spots with wins.
Baltimore Ravens (12-2, AFC North Champions)
While the parity is rife in the NFC, the AFC is headlined by the hottest team in football in the Baltimore Ravens. Sitting at 12-2, Baltimore clinched its second consecutive AFC North title with a 42-21 win over the Jets in Baltimore on Thursday night. The next step for the Ravens is to clinch the AFC’s top seed for the first time in the franchise’s 24 year history; a win in either of its final two games would secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC Playoffs. After a rocky start, the Ravens have found the formula for success, as a devastating rushing attack along with a constantly improving defense have propelled Baltimore to an NFL-best 12-2 record. Led by quarterback and MVP candidate Lamar Jackson, the Ravens average a league-leading 33.7 points per game, while Jackson and running back Mark Ingram have anchored the league’s best rushing attack, which averages 202.1 yards per game on the ground.
New England Patriots (10-3, first in AFC East)
Despite being 10-3 and in control of the AFC East yet again, the Patriots have numerous flaws, including a surprisingly mediocre offense and an unusual inability to play well in big games. That being said, however, New England has been headlined by a historically dominant defense, allowing a league-leading 12.9 points per game and playing a big role in the team’s league-best +19 turnover differential. While this season hasn’t been as smooth and easygoing as other successful seasons in the past, New England will still be playing come January, and it would be foolish to doubt a Tom Brady-led team pursuing a second-consecutive Super Bowl championship.
Kansas City Chiefs (9-4, AFC West Champions)
After falling in an overtime heartbreaker to New England in last season’s AFC Championship, the Chiefs are gearing up for another deep playoff run in 2019. Led by 2018 MVP Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs have utilized their high-powered offense to clinch their fourth-consecutive AFC West Title, and are hoping key players such as tight end Travis Kelce and rookie receiver Mecole Hardman can stay healthy as the team pursues a trip to Miami in early February.
San Francisco 49ers (11-2, first in NFC West)
Under the leadership of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and a stout defense, the 49ers have bounced back from an injury-riddled 2018 season and have taken the NFC by storm, posting impressive wins against the Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams, and Seattle Seahawks. If the Niners can secure the first overall seed in the NFC, it would be hard to bet against them in their trek to the Super Bowl.
AFC: Buffalo Bills (9-4, second in AFC East), Houston Texans (8-5, t-1st in AFC South), Tennessee Titans (8-5, t-1st in AFC South)
NFC: Green Bay Packers (10-3, first in NFC North), Seattle Seahawks (10-3, second in NFC West), New Orleans Saints (10-3, NFC South Champions)
THE VERDICT: After a disappointing first-round exit in last season’s playoffs, the Ravens are out for blood in 2019, steamrolling their way towards the AFC’s top seed. If key players stay healthy, there is no reason not to believe that an AFC title is Baltimore’s for the taking. In the NFC, San Francisco looks like the team to beat, leading one to believe a Super Bowl XLVII rematch could be in the cards. SUPER BOWL LIV: BALTIMORE RAVENS VS. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS.