Around The AFC: Patriots, Steelers Taking Hold Atop The Conference

By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — What a difference two weeks can make. The Steelers appeared to be on a downward spiral after losing 30-9 to the Jaguars at home in Week 5, but two straight wins over the Chiefs and Bengals suddenly have them at 5-2 and holding the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

The Patriots (5-2) also began separating themselves from most of the conference in their dominating win over the Falcons on Sunday night, but still find themselves in the No. 3 seed as they lose the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Chiefs (5-2). But with Kansas City dropping two straight against legit AFC contenders, the two teams are certainly headed in opposite directions.

There were other impressive performances among AFC teams on Sunday, but it seems that the Patriots and Steelers are beginning to set up what could be a battle for the top seed when they meet in Week 15. Here’s what else went down around the conference.

Le’Veon Bell stepped up again as the Steelers pulled away from the Bengals in the second half. It’s no coincidence that the Steelers are playing better on offense now that Bell has gotten rolling after a slow start. He compiled 192 total yards on 38 touches and delivered the stiff-arm of the year en route to a go-ahead field goal that put the Steelers ahead for good.

Some internal problems may remain, as wideout Martavis Bryant continues to publicly complain about his role and even rip his own teammate. But as long as Bell is carrying the rock the way he has in recent weeks and their defense continues to keep teams out of the end zone like they have in the last two games, the Steelers will be in this thing for the long haul.

The Chargers are suddenly 3-4 after a dominant performance against the Broncos. Denver is the team that’s supposed to be threatening for AFC supremacy, but instead they find themselves just a half-game ahead of Los Angeles after dropping a 21-0 decision. It was a relatively quiet day for both teams on offense (just 493 total yards between them), but the difference was that Philip Rivers was able to get the Chargers into the end zone.

L.A. now holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Oakland after beating them in Week 6. But of course, they face one of their toughest tests of the season when they head to Foxboro to play the Patriots next Sunday. The Broncos, meanwhile, are just 3-3 and have a very tough stretch coming up as they play the Chiefs, Eagles, and Patriots in their next three.

The Dolphins are somehow 4-2 after yet another win behind the now-injured Jay Cutler. The quarterback reportedly is dealing with cracked ribs suffered during the Dolphins’ 31-28 win over the Jets on Sunday, which will thrust Matt Moore into the starting role for the foreseeable future. Despite a dumpster fire of a QB situation, Miami just continues to find ways to win and stay as relevant as they can in the AFC East, as they came back from a 28-14 deficit in the fourth quarter to secure their second straight comeback win.

It’s not certain that the Dolphins can keep winning games the way they are now, but facts are facts and they would be a Wild Card team if the NFL Playoffs began on Monday. It will be interesting to see if they can keep their momentum going on a short week against the Ravens on Thursday night with Moore having to take over under center.

The Bills are also 4-2 after a clutch defensive play set them up for the win. LeSean McCoy (122 total yards, two touchdowns) had his best game of the season as the Bills and Bucs battled tooth-and-nail down to what was a 27-27 tie in the final two minutes. But it was a great play by Bills rookie corner Tre’Davious White that ultimately made the difference.

White punched the ball out of the hands of Bucs receiver Adam Humphries and recovered the fumble, which eventually led to Steven Hauschka drilling the eventual game-winning field goal. The first-round pick appears to be making a huge impact on the Bills defense so far this season, helping them set up for what could be a big-time AFC East showdown with the Patriots in Week 13.

The Titans took first place in the AFC South after winning a 12-9 thriller. The Browns-Titans game was an epic showcase for those who love field goals. The balls soared left and right as the Titans’ Ryan Succop and the Browns’ Zane Gonzalez traded epic boots for four quarters plus bonus football, as the Titans ultimately took the 12-9 win on a booming Succop kick in overtime.

It was not the prettiest of games, but a win is a win and the Titans (4-3) are now atop the AFC South as they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Jaguars. They appear to have a pretty easy schedule in the second half of the season, so you can reasonably expect them to be in the playoff mix come Christmastime.

Speaking of the Jags, the good version showed up against the Colts. Conventional wisdom suggests that the Jaguars, who have lost to the Titans, Jets, and Rams, stink. But this is a team that has also beaten the Steelers and Texans on the road, and that same dominant version of the team is what showed up in Indianapolis against the Colts on Sunday.

The Jags defense held the Colts to just 232 total yards of offense and quarterback Jacoby Brissett to a passer rating of just 74.2 in their 27-0 shutout win, continuing their Jekyll and Hyde act to start the season. We’re seven weeks in and the Jags still lead the league in defensive passer rating (62.3) and points allowed per game (15.7), so it may be time to take them seriously on that side of the ball. Oh, and they also compiled 518 total yards without star rookie running back Leonard Fournette. Must just be an every-other-week thing, which means they’ll go back to stinking when they come out of their bye in Week 9 against the Bengals.

Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.

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