It's just the midway point of the 2015 season, but already the NFL playoff picture is being discussed. There are, of course, several teams which look like virtual locks to take the top seeds. Then there are a cluster of teams who will be fighting to grab the remaining spots. Among them are the Raiders and Steelers who face each other Sunday in Pittsburgh.
Both teams sit at four wins on the season. The Raiders got to their 4-3 mark by winning their last two games against the Chargers and Jets. The Steelers have had four wins the past two weeks, but two-straight losses have brought them to 4-4.
Both teams have faced two teams who are currently undefeated. The Steelers lost to the Patriots in the opener and last week lost to the now 8-0 Bengals. The Raiders lost to those same Bengals in their opener and in week five lost to the Broncos.
That also means that both teams are sitting behind an undefeated team in their own division, hoping to grab one of the two wild card spots.
Three of the league's four undefeated teams are in the AFC -- the Patriots, Bengals, and Broncos. The other is the Panthers in the NFC.
The final division in the AFC is the South which is arguably the worst division in football. The leader in that division right now is a tie between the Colts and Texans who both sit at 3-5. Which means even the 2-4 Jaguars and 1-6 Titans are actually both still very much in the race to win that ugly division.
So, this is what the AFC playoff picture currently looks like:
1. Bengals (8-0)
2. Patriots (7-0)
3. Broncos (7-0)
4. Colts (3-5)
1. Raiders (4-3)
2. Jets (4-3)
3. Steelers (4-4)
Obviously the winner of the Raiders and Steelers game will improve to five wins on the season. Both teams have about the same strength of schedule the rest of the way. At this point they are each other's biggest competition in the playoff race.
Last week the Raiders beat their first winning team of the season, taking out the Jets. They proved they were the real deal with that win, but they still have something to prove to show they are a bonfide playoff contender. A win Sunday would accomplish that while putting a top contender below .500 on the season. A loss would put the Raiders back at .500 and wondering if they're quite ready for the next level.