AFC race for No. 1 seed remains tight

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) walks off the field after a win over the Los Angeles Chargers in an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) walks off the field after a win over the Los Angeles Chargers in an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

Trevor Lawrence and the Jacksonville Jaguars took control of their division. Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs shrugged off a big deficit. Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens showed their balance.

Three of the AFC's division leaders kept pace on the road Sunday, setting up a wide-open race for the No. 1 seed down the stretch.

The Ravens (9-3) beat the Chargers 20-10 to remain a half-game ahead of the Chiefs (8-3), Jaguars (8-3) and Miami Dolphins (8-3).

Jackson threw for 177 yards, the Ravens ran for 197 and a stingy defense shut down Justin Herbert and the Chargers, forcing four turnovers.

The Ravens host the Rams after their bye week and then play Jacksonville and Miami sandwiched around a difficult game against San Francisco (8-3) in Weeks 15-16-17. Those games will help determine who will earn the AFC's top spot.

The Chiefs rebounded from a disappointing loss at home to Philadelphia on Monday night by rallying for a 31-17 win over the Raiders. It took them a quarter to get going in Las Vegas before Mahomes tossed two touchdown passes and Isiah Pacheco ran for two scores.

"When you have a short week and you're playing a team like the Raiders, who always plays you tough, you have to bounce right back," Mahomes said. "You wash it, you learn from it, and then you kind of just go back to the fundamentals and working. And so, we still have stuff to learn from this game."

A major bright spot for the Chiefs was the performance of rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice, who had 8 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. A week after drops by Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Justin Watson cost them a win against the Eagles, it was important someone other than Travis Kelce stepped up to catch Mahomes' passes.

"He's a guy who wants it. I think that's the biggest thing," Mahomes said of Rice. "He has talent. He wants to be great. But it's going to take us staying on top of it every single week, and he's going to be a great receiver in this league."

Kansas City has hosted five consecutive AFC Championship Games. None of the Chiefs' final six opponents currently has a winning record so they have a clear path to the top spot. If they win out, they'll earn a first-round bye.

Lawrence threw for 364 yards and one TD and ran for a score to help the Jaguars hold off Houston, 24-21. Jacksonville opened up a two-game lead over the Texans (6-5) and Indianapolis Colts (6-5) in the AFC South.

"You look at how well Houston has been playing, they were kind of nipping at our heels in the division, so this was a big game," Lawrence said. "They win this game, we're all square, and they beat us twice, so they're first place in the division, and we don't really control our own destiny anymore. ... We just keep winning, we don't have anything to worry about."

The victory wasn't secured until Matt Ammendola's 58-yard field goal attempt hit the crossbar in the final minute. Josh Allen and Travon Walker combined to sack C.J. Stroud for a 9-yard loss a few plays before the missed kick.

"For our D-line to run all over the field sometimes it felt like to make plays, it's just a credit to them and just the 'no-quit mentality,' and Josh had a heck of a game, particularly here at the end," Jaguars Coach Doug Pederson said.

Jacksonville's hopes of earning the No. 1 seed could come down to how the team fares in back-to-back games against Cleveland (7-4) and Baltimore in Weeks 14-15.

The Dolphins had the day off after whipping the New York Jets in the NFL's first Black Friday game.

They earned another victory Sunday when the Buffalo Bills collapsed in Philadelphia. Josh Allen and the Bills blew several leads, including one in overtime, before losing 37-34 to fall to 6-6.

The Bills, who entered the season with Super Bowl expectations, are 10th in the AFC and now trail Pittsburgh (7-4), Cleveland, Indianapolis, Houston and Denver (6-5) in the wild-card race.

Miami's next three opponents are 12-22 combined. But the Dolphins finish with three tough games against Dallas (8-3), Baltimore and Buffalo.

In the NFC, the Eagles (10-1) are the clear leader following their fourth consecutive comeback win. They've been resilient and Jalen Hurts has played at an MVP level. Philadelphia faces the 49ers and Cowboys in its next two games but has margin for error.

The top teams in the AFC don't have that luxury. They have to keep winning.

  photo  Baltimore Ravens running back Keaton Mitchell (34) reacts after running for a first down during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)
 
 
  photo  Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) celebrates as he jogs off the field after the teams NFL football game against the Houston Texans in Houston, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
 
 
  photo  Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) celebrates after an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
 
 

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