Week 9 is in the books and it’s the halfway point (more or less) for the division. It’s time to examine what we’ve learned, ponder what we know, and predict the future.
In first place (surprise!) we have the New England Patriots, fresh off a dominant win over the defending AFC Champion Denver Peyton Mannings. The Patriots were left for dead by many after the first quarter of the season, but now they have rattled off five straight wins in impressive fashion. Gronkowski is no longer the hobbled, frail man he was at the start of the season, he is once again Gronk, dominating the middle of the field and basically making life hell for opposing defenses and heaven for Tom Brady. In addition to a resurgence on offense, the Patriots sport a top five passing defense and are getting a lot of help on special teams as well. In short, boys and girls, the Patriots are 7-2 with an upcoming bye week and are well on their way to yet another division title.
Upcoming Schedule: @Indianapolis, vs Detroit, @Green Bay, @San Diego, vs Miami, @New York Jets, vs Buffalo.
There’s a solid chance the Patriots run the table, but I think they could lose as many as three more games this year. I predict that they will go 5-2 down the stretch and yet again be in contention for the #1 overall seed in the AFC.
The Buffalo Bills are in second place at a surprising 5-3 record. They had a restful bye week in week 9, and are currently preparing for a nice revengeful beating of the Kansas City Chiefs in week 10. The Bills have won more games than expected due to a combination of ferocious, opportunistic defense and an improbable revitalization of Kyle Orton’s NFL career. A man who was sitting on a couch a week before the regular season has now lead the Bills to a 3-1 record as a starter and has put up some of the best numbers in the league over that stretch. The vaunted (and over-priced) first round wide receiver, Sammy Watkins, has actually shown that he might be worthy of the price the Bills paid to get him. He’s been making some eye-popping catches in crunch time and is a major reason why the Bills have five wins instead of five losses. At 5-3, the Bills are right on the edge of the wildcard and will need a strong second half to make the playoffs and the 14 year curse of Rob Johnson, but they have a schedule that might just allow them to do it.
Upcoming Schedule: vs Kansas City, @Miami (Thursday), vs New York Jets, vs Cleveland, @Denver, vs Green Bay, @Oakland, vs New England.
The key to a Buffalo playoff berth will be winning in November. The Bills need to sweep the month to have a good chance to get to ten wins. Fortunately the schedule is favorable, with only one tough road game in Miami. I predict they will go 5-3 for the second half of the season as well and end up 10-6, finally breaking that pesky playoff drought.
The Miami Dolphins are the third place team in the AFC East. They are tied with Buffalo at 5-3, but the Bills have the head to head tie breaker (for the moment at least). The Dolphins are coming on strong with three straight wins, the most recent being a complete dismantling of the former “hottest team in the NFL”, the San Diego Chargers. The 37-0 beat down was a result of stifling defense and suddenly efficient quarterback play from Ryan Tannehill. The third year QB finally looks like he might have put it all together, but the team as a whole continues to play to the level of their opponents. The Dolphins destroyed Chicago at Soldier Field, then stumbled badly against Jacksonville, whom they only beat thanks to a pair of defensive touchdowns, then hosted San Diego to the aforementioned result. The Dolphins need to consistently play at their highest level to win a chance at the playoffs, or they’ll see yet another opportunity slip away in the final weeks of the season.
Upcoming Schedule: @Detroit, vs Buffalo (Thursday), @Denver, @New York Jets, vs Baltimore, @New England, vs Minnesota, vs New York Jets.
The Dolphins have a pretty rough schedule ahead, starting with a Detroit team with a top five defensive line, followed by the Bills with another top five defensive line four days later. If they want some post season glory, they’ll need to win five of the next eight, which won’t be easy. I predict the Dolphins will get 4-4 in the second half and just miss the playoffs.
Oh, the Jets. The Jets are 1-8 and have basically written off the season, the head coach, and their young quarterback, Geno Smith. If the fans are lucky, they’ll also write off John Idzik, the General Manager. The problem, for the rest of the division, is that the Jets aren’t really as bad as your typical 1-8 team and that makes them just good enough to play spoiler for the remainder of the year. The Jets defensive line is pretty outstanding and their linebackers are good too, so they can cause problems for unwary teams. But the Jets have never been lacking on defense, it’s the offense that has been their problem over the last few years and so it is again. The Jets turn the ball over like it’s infected with Ebola and as long as they keep doing that, even a team like the Bills playing a pretty poor game will beat them by double digits.
Upcoming Schedule: vs Pittsburgh, @Buffalo, vs Miami, @Minnesota, @Tennessee, vs New England, @Miami.
At this point, the Jets might as well just tank the season and grab that #1 overall pick (if Oakland will let go, that is), but knowing Rex Ryan, he’ll keep trying to win. The Jets have a few winnable games in the second half, but they also face a red hot Pittsburgh passing offense, plus four more division games. I don’t see the Jets winning more than 2 games in the second half for an abysmal 3-13 season.