January marks the start of the NFL playoffs every year and this year is no different. In 2018, the AFC is very top-loaded in comparison to the NFC.
The New England Patriots are the overwhelming favorite. The next closest competitor is the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Kansas City Chiefs were the last team to lose a game this season and are on a winning streak. The Jacksonville Jaguars have one of the best defenses in the league.
Here are the power rankings for the AFC playoffs with the percent chance they win the conference and play in the Super Bowl at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4.
#1 New England Patriots (38 percent)
In the most Super Bowl scenarios, the Patriots represent the AFC. They have home-field advantage and very recently beat their biggest competition in Pittsburgh. A Tom Brady and Bill Belichick-led Patriots team will be the favorite to win the conference. They have their deficiencies on defense, but they always seem to find a way at the end of the game to make the big play.
#2 Pittsburgh Steelers (27)
The Steelers have the most dynamic trio in the league on offense, but, it could be just two-thirds of threesome with Antonio Brown nursing a calf injury. There are holes on defense that could keep the Steelers from reaching the Super Bowl. It is highly unlikely they won’t reach the AFC title game, but they did suffer a lopsided loss at home to the Jacksonville Jaguars during the regular season. The likely opponent for the Steelers in the divisional round is the same Jaguars.
#3 Kansas City Chiefs (25)
The Chiefs started the season on fire. They had the best record in the league after five weeks. They beat the Patriots in Foxboro in Week 1 and were nearly unstoppable. But, after the 5-0 start, they lost five of the next six and slipped to .500. The only reason they were still leading their division was because of the ineptitude of the other three teams. They may have re-found their form winning each of the last four games and outscoring their opponents 112-65. If they are on-track and on their game, the Chiefs could make a run through the Patriots and Steelers on the road.
#4 Jacksonville Jaguars (10)
The Jaguars are one of the most unlikely playoff teams this season. They won more than five games for the first time since 2010 and haven’t been in the playoffs since 2007. Also, they won their division for the first time since 1999. They overcame their own history with the best defense in the conference and one of the best in the league. Quarterback Blake Bortles has taken a step forward and not sabotaged games with turnovers. The defense has taken the ball away and scored points. No other team has as many defensive touchdowns (two interception returns and five fumble returns) as the Jaguars. They have to get scoring plays from the unusual places (special teams and defense) in order to get upsets in the divisional and championship rounds.
#5 Tennessee Titans (1)
The Titans opened the season as many people’s favorite to win the division. They expected quarterback Marcus Mariota to take another step forward to complement the running game. His running ability combined with running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry give the Titans a very potent rushing attack. Mariota is still a good runner, but he did not take the next step everyone expected. His throwing skills are still a big question mark. His own injuries as well as ailments to his receivers have stunted the growth of the entire passing game. The Titans won in Week 17 to clinch one of the wild-card spots. The Titans need to get big plays out of their rushing trio to pull off an upset they make in the playoffs.
#6 Buffalo Bills (1)
The nearly impossible likelihood the Bills made the playoffs during Week 17 makes them a fun story to watch. They haven’t made the playoffs since 1999, despite having continuously had at or near a .500 record in nine of 16 seasons in that span. The Bills do not have the star power of the other teams in the playoffs, but have won four of their last six games, including a 16-10 victory over the AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs. They are highly unlikely to reach the Super Bowl, but would be a fun story as the biggest underdog in the playoffs and their 0-4 Super Bowl record.
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