Updated 10:40 AM EDT, Wed, Jul 30, 2014

NFL Playoffs 2014 Playoff Picture: In AFC, Denver Broncos Look to Stay Ahead of New England Patriots & Kansas City Chiefs

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Peyton Manning & Tom Brady
Peyton Manning (L - #18) and the Denver Broncos are hanging tough, a game a head of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, as they try to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. (Photo : USA TODAY Sports/Stew Milne (L) & (R))

With the 2013-2014 NFL Playoffs set to begin in three weeks, here is a look at the AFC playoff picture: 

AFC EAST
Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill (R - #17) & New England Patriot Tom Brady (L - #12) (Credit: USA TODAY Sports (L) & Steve Mitchell (R))
Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill (R - #17) & New England Patriot Tom Brady (L - #12)
(Credit: USA TODAY Sports (L) & Steve Mitchell (R))

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The New England Patriots (10-4) have a tw-game lead over the Miami Dolphins (8-6) in the AFC East division, though Miami did breathe new life into their slim playoff hopes, having defeated the Patriots 24-20 at Sun Life Stadium last weekend. New England Patriot QB Tom Brady will be without his favorite red zone target, All-Pro TE Rob Gronkowski, who tore his ACL and MCL during Week 14 and will be out for the year, as the Patriots try to hold on to the second seed in the playoffs - with the Cincinnati Bengals nipping at their heels with the third seed, giving New England a home game in the postseason as well as a first round bye.

The Dolphins have turned their season around despite the controversy surrounding the team since they suspended G Richie Incognito, who was accused by teammate of Jonathan Martin of bullying and work-place misconduct, winning four out of the last five games. The Dolphins are currently tied with the Baltimore Ravens for the last wild-card playoff berth, but the Ravens hold the tiebreaker over Miami, having defeated them 26-23 during Week 5 of the season.

AFC NORTH
Cincinnati Bengals QB Andy Dalton (L - #14), Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco (C - #5), & Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (R - #7) (Credit: REUTERS/John Sommers II (L), USA TODAY Sports/Tim Fuller (C), & Jason Bridge (R))
Cincinnati Bengals QB Andy Dalton (L - #14), Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco (C - #5),
& Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (R - #7)
(Credit: REUTERS/John Sommers II (L), USA TODAY Sports/Tim Fuller (C),
& Jason Bridge (R))

The Cincinnati Bengals (9-5) are looking to lock up the AFC North division, with the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens (8-6) just a game behind them in the standings. The Bengals had a chance to clinch the division last week, against the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8), and seal their third consecutive playoff berth in three years, but ended up losing to their division rival by a score 30-20, failing to lock up the division.

The Ravens, who are holding on to the last playoff wild card spot, have won five out of their last six games and would love to set up a crucial game in Week 17 against the Bengals to determine the AFC North division title, but only if they can get past the New England Patriots this weekend.

The Steelers are still hanging around, two games behind their bitter rivals in Baltimore, despite a sub-.500 record, keeping hope alive after upsetting the Bengals this week. Pittsburgh needs collapses by the Ravens, Dolphins, and San Diego Chargers if they hope to sneak into the postseason.

AFC SOUTH
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (#12) (Credit: USA TODAY Sports/Pat Lovell)

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (#12)
(Credit: USA TODAY Sports/Pat Lovell)

The Indianapolis Colts (9-5) have surprisingly ran away with the AFC South division title, especially after the Houston Texans - a preseason favorite to make the Super Bowl - collapsed at the start of the season, losing their last 12 games in a row.

The Colts, who are four games ahead of the Tennessee Titans in the division, are not only jostling for position to host a playoff game in the first week of the season but hold on to slim hopes that New England will stumble against the Baltimore Ravens this week and the Buffalo Bills next week so that they can get a bye week in the opening round and host a playoff game.

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning (L - #18), Kansas City Chiefs QB Alex Smith (C - #11), & San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers (L- #17) (Credit: USA TODAY Sports/Ron Chenoy (L), Cary Edmondson (C), & Kirby Lee (R))
Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning (L - #18), Kansas City Chiefs QB Alex Smith
(C - #11), & San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers (L- #17)
(Credit: USA TODAY Sports/Ron Chenoy (L), Cary Edmondson (C), & Kirby Lee (R))

The Denver Broncos (11-3) and the Kansas City Chiefs (11-3) have been battling for the top spot in the conference and the AFC West division all season long, with the Broncos holding the tiebreaker over Kansas City after having swept them for the season, defeating them in Week 11 and Week 13. The Broncos missed out on a good opportunity to seal home field advantage, losing to the San Diego Chargers (7-7) last weekend. If the Broncos can beat out the lowly Houston Texans in Week 16 and Oakland Raiders in Week 17, they can clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Kansas City needs Denver to stumble in the next two weeks, as well as defeat the Indianapolis Colts and the Chargers, if they are to earn home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Otherwise, the Chiefs will have to settle for the taking the first wild-card slot in the conference and likely playing on the road during the opening week of the playoffs.

The Chargers, despite a .500 record, enhanced their slim chances of getting into the postseason by stunning the Broncos last weekend, beating them 27-20, allowing them hang around just a game behind the Miami Dolphins and the Baltimore Ravens for the final playoffs spot. The Chargers must win against the Oakland Raiders and the Chiefs, while hoping the other teams ahead of them fall apart during the final two week stretch of the season.

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