At this point, it's relatively safe to assume that Kansas City or Denver will pick up one of the playoff bye weeks. Out of the three 5-2 division leaders, New England, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis, who do you see claiming the other bye?
Jason: I think the safe money is still on the Pats. Losing Reggie Wayne is an enormous blow to the Colts, and Cincy's remaining schedule is no walk in the park. New England will still have some growing pains, but they still project to win around 11 or 12 games. That should be good enough for a 2 seed.
Raj: I really want to be a homer and say the Patriots will claim the other bye. But I have to be realistic too. After seeing how both the defense and offense played against New York, it's hard to imagine getting a playoff bye. Indianapolis has a good shot. Though they're also 5-2, they have proven they can play and beat some of the NFL's most elite teams (Seattle, San Francisco, Denver).
Derek: Let's look at the remaining games on each team's schedule against teams .500 or better…
Bengals: Indianapolis, San Diego, NY Jets
Colts: Cincinnati, Kansas City
Patriots: Denver, Carolina
It won't be tough sledding from here on out for any of these teams. Just taking a big-picture look, Indy seems to have the easiest schedule, then New England, then Cincy. Keeping in mind that the Bengals own the tie-breaker over the Patriots, I think the most likely road to a bye for the Pats involves the Bengals beating the Colts and then stubbing their toe against a team like Baltimore. Then again, with nine weeks to go, it's impossible to predict these things. Three weeks ago, I was concerned that Miami may go on a tear and give the Patriots a race for the division.
In the end, I think the Patriots can be consistent enough with Gronk and Amendola back to secure the bye. I see the Colts and Bengals dropping some winnable games that the Patriots find a way to win.