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If you just look at records, a good argument can be made for the AFC East being the best division in football. Tonight’s battle for first place between the Jets and Patriots being decided by a field goal in overtime is evidence of just how good all the teams in this division might be.
It’s conceivable that at the end of this weekend the Jets could have a one-game lead over all three other teams in the division. And it doesn’t stop there. Take a look at the remaining games for each of the four teams:
(Remaining Opponent’s Records in Parentheses)
JETS: @ Ten, Den, @ SF, Buf, @ Sea, Mia (28-25)
PATS: @ Mia, Pit, @ Sea, @ Oak, Ari, @ Buf (25-28)
FINS: Oak, NE, @ StL, @ Buf (Tor), SF, @ KC, @ NYJ (20-34)
BILLS: Cle, @ KC, SF, Mia (Tor), @ NYJ, @ Den, NE (22-32)
The Dolphins would seem to have the easiest remaining schedule of all four of the teams. But they also have four remaining road games, as do the Patriots. The Bills have three actual road games left, but most consider one of the remaining home games a virtual away game, as it will be played in Toronto, Canada.
A quick glance at the remaining schedules, taking into account how the four teams have played so far, it is not unreasonable to say that each team in this division could actually finish with ten wins!
The Jets already have seven, and they play Denver at home (whose defense is horrendous), and road games against two of the NFC West teams that currently sport 2 wins and 7 losses. Those games alone should get them to ten wins on the season.
The Patriots have been playing really well under their fill-in quarterback. (And their fill-in running backs, for that matter.) They should be favored to win their two West coast road games against Oakland and Seattle. The other five games could be tough, but it would be hard to see the Patriots losing three of those five.
While it is just incredible that the Dolphins actually have a winning record 10 weeks into the season, they have earned it. They are playing hard, and they are using the talent they have to its fullest potential. Don’t expect that to stop. They get to play Oakland, St. Louis, Kansas City and San Francisco. It’s still a little hard to believe, but, the team who had one win last season should win all four of those. That is nine wins, and it seems the Fins might grab one of the three division games they have remaining.
The Bills have their share of “easy” opponents as well, starting with the Cleveland Browns this Monday. The Browns have been up and down all year, but do not have a very strong defense, and are starting a quarterback who has only played one NFL game. The home-field advantage on Monday Night, coupled with the Bills fired up to break out of this 3-game losing streak should give the Bills the win this week, and then they have Kansas City and San Francisco, as well as a game against the Broncos who have struggled. That would give them, quite possibly, 10 wins on the season.
Factoring in what we know now, I’m predicting the division will end up like this:
NY Jets 11-5
New England 9-7
I know I said that everyone could have 10 wins, but honestly I think the Dolphins and Patriots will have a harder time reaching that goal. Although, it is very, very possible. And, the only way the Bills end up with 11 wins is if they rediscover their run game, and bring balance back to their offense. (A little pass rush wouldn’t hurt either!)
The division goes to the Jets (even if the Bills win the rematch) thanks to their likely 4-2 division record (beating Miami in the final game of the season) with the best possible AFC East record for the Bills being 3-3.
That three-game winless stretch against the East was a crushing blow, even with a half-season remaining.
But in the end, a division with a 40-24 record would be pretty amazing. Considering last year (even with the historic 16-0 Patriots) the division was a meager 28-36!
This race should come down to the final weekend with both AFC East matchups playing a crucial role in the Division title and the Wild Card berth.
That is why they play the games!
(Footnote: The final division standing above could be quite different if the Pats beat the Steelers (I think Pittsburgh should win), and if the Dolphins can beat the Jets in the final game of the season. If that happens, it could be like this:
New England 10-6
NY Jets 10-6
Not sure who would win the tie-breakers between NY and NE. Head-to-head, Division, and Conference records would likely be the same. It’s gonna be a fun finish! End footnote.)