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NFL Nation Says: AFC's best team

The AFC's top teams could be in a four-way race for the conference's top seed. ESPN Illustration

Peyton Manning's weekly exploits this season have crafted a narrative that assumes the Denver Broncos are the NFL's top team.

A quick look at the standings, of course, reveals they are not even atop their own division. If the postseason began today, the Broncos would be the AFC's No. 5 seed and would be preparing for a wild-card playoff game at the Cincinnati Bengals.

The AFC playoff race could be upturned as early as Sunday night, when the Broncos (8-1) host the West-leading Kansas City Chiefs (9-0). And with seven weeks remaining this season, it's more than reasonable to project a four-team race for the AFC's top seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Chiefs hold a two-game lead over the New England Patriots, a three-game lead over the Indianapolis Colts, and four over the Bengals. Keep in mind, however, that the Chiefs have feasted this season on a schedule filled with average (or worse) teams. The Broncos' schedule hasn't been much different.

In fact, as John Parolin of ESPN Stats & Information points out, the Chiefs and Broncos are a combined 17-0 against teams that are currently .500 or worse. On the only occasion when either team has faced an opponent with a winning record, the Broncos fell 39-33 to the Colts.

Meanwhile, four of the Bengals' six victories have come against teams that have winning records. The Colts have three such victories, including the only losses suffered by the Broncos and Seattle Seahawks. The Patriots have two such wins.

All of this suggests the AFC could be headed toward a more dramatic finish than it might otherwise seem. How will it turn out? Let's turn it over to ESPN's NFL Nation: