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AFC playoff picture: Chiefs hold slim edge as push begins; Patriots at No. 6

Can anyone catch Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs?Jeff Lewis/Associated Press

It’s Thanksgiving week, which means turkey, stuffing, and the beginning of the run to the NFL playoffs.

In the AFC, the Chiefs have distinguished themselves as the best team in the conference, but four teams — Dolphins, Titans, Ravens, and Bills — remain a game off the pace.

Meanwhile, another three teams sit at 6-4 — a group that includes the Patriots.

1. Chiefs (8-2)

Remaining schedule: vs. Rams (3-7), at Bengals (6-4), at Broncos (3-7), at Texans (1-8-1), vs. Seahawks (6-4), vs. Broncos (3-7), at Raiders (3-7).

Opponents’ record: 25-44-1 (.352)

The skinny: There’s a creeping air of inevitability when it comes to watching the Chiefs, one that’s vaguely reminiscent of the Tom Brady-era Patriots. It suggests that no matter how much time is left and what sort of deficit Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense are facing, things are never really decided until the clock reads 0:00 … and even then, you need to double-check to make sure.

2. Dolphins (7-3)

Remaining schedule: vs. Texans (1-8-1), at 49ers (6-4), at Chargers (5-5), at Bills (7-3), vs. Packers (4-7), at Patriots (6-4), vs. Jets (6-4).


Opponents’ record: 35-35-1 (.500)

The skinny: Miami has put itself in position to be a major player in the postseason picture, but three division games in its final four will go a long way toward determining where it ends up. Could the Dolphins end up hosting their first playoff game since January 2009?

Can Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins keep the heat on Kansas City?Doug Murray/Associated Press

3. Titans (7-3)

Remaining schedule: vs. Bengals (6-4), at Eagles (9-1), vs. Jaguars (3-7), at Chargers (5-5), vs. Texans (1-8-1), vs. Cowboys (7-3), at Jaguars (3-7).

Opponents’ record: 34-35-1 (.486)

The skinny: Ah, the AFC South, where every week feels like a bye week — unless you’re facing the Titans. We’re roughly halfway through the season, and unless Jeff Saturday in Indianapolis turns into the second coming of Vince Lombardi, you can pencil in Tennessee as the division champion. That means the only question is where the Titans will end up when it comes to seeding.


4. Ravens (7-3)

Remaining schedule: at Jaguars (3-7), vs. Broncos (3-7), at Steelers (3-7), at Browns (3-7), vs. Falcons (5-6), vs. Steelers (3-7), at Bengals (6-4).

Opponents’ record: 26-45 (.366)

The skinny: Obviously records can change, but the Ravens have one game left against a team .500 or better. One! With that schedule the rest of the way, if Baltimore doesn’t cruise into the playoffs, John Harbaugh should be fired.

With a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens are poised to make a playoff push.Terrance Williams/Associated Press

5. Bills (7-3)

Remaining schedule: at Lions (4-6), at Patriots (6-4), vs. Jets (6-4), vs. Dolphins (7-3), at Bears (3-8), at Bengals (6-4), vs. Patriots (6-4).

Opponents’ record: 38-33 (.535)

The skinny: Buffalo hasn’t quite looked itself over the last couple of weeks, dropping games to the Jets and Vikings, and playing sloppy at times against the Browns. Don’t discount the Bills’ ability to make a run at the Dolphins, but with three teams sitting a game back in the conference — including a pair of division rivals in the Patriots and Jets — the Bills’ margin for error when it comes to landing a first-round bye is relatively slim.

6. Patriots (6-4)

Remaining schedule: at Vikings (8-2), vs. Bills (7-3), at Cardinals (4-7), at Raiders (3-7), vs. Bengals (6-4), vs. Dolphins (7-3), at Bills (7-3).

Opponents’ record: 42-29 (.592)

The skinny: New England is in the midst of its most unforgiving stretch of the season, a three-game, 11-day run that figures to reveal the true character of the roster. Is elite defense and special teams enough to lift a team that continues to struggle on offense? We shall see.


7. Bengals (6-4)

Remaining schedule: at Titans (7-3), vs. Chiefs (8-2), vs. Browns (3-7), at Buccaneers (5-5), at Patriots (6-4), vs. Bills (7-3), vs. Ravens (7-3).

Opponents’ record: 43-27 (.614)

The skinny: The Bengals are trying to buck an odd trend of Super Bowl losers occasionally struggling the following season. Only three of the last six Super Bowl losers even made it back to the postseason the year after their defeat, and only one team that lost the Super Bowl — the 2018 Patriots — returned to the big game the year after losing it.

Joe Burrow and the Bengals come to Foxborough next month.Joe Sargent/Getty

On the bubble (teams .500 or better)

8. Jets (6-4)

Remaining schedule: vs. Bears (3-8), at Vikings (8-2), at Bills (7-3), vs. Lions (4-6), vs. Jaguars (3-7), at Seahawks (6-4), at Dolphins (7-3).

Opponents’ record: 38-33 (.535)

The skinny: After Sunday’s ugly loss to the Patriots, the Jets are at a crossroads. On Monday night, coach Robert Saleh said he wouldn’t commit to Zach Wilson moving forward. How the Jets respond to a possible change at quarterback could end up defining their season.

9. Chargers (5-5)

Remaining schedule: at Cardinals (4-7), at Raiders (3-7), vs. Dolphins (7-3), vs. Titans (7-3), at Colts (4-6-1), vs. Rams (3-7), at Broncos (3-7).

Opponents’ record: 31-39-1 (.437)

The skinny: The Chargers have three losses in their last four games, but if they can hold steady through the next few weeks, that soft three-game stretch to end the season could end up playing in their favor.


Christopher Price can be reached at Follow him @cpriceglobe.