Now that we’re past the midway point of the season, each week we’ll take a look at each division and examine the situation, any surprises and look forward to the playoffs.
Pre-Season Prediction: New England Patriots
Current Prediction: New York Jets- Just kidding…Patriots.
Some things don’t change. The sun rises in the East and sets in the West. The Earth is round (sorry, Kyrie). And with the Hoodie on the sideline and TB12 under center, the Patriots rule the AFC East. Since Brady came in for an injured Drew Bledsoe in the 2001 season, they have only let go of the crown twice. First in 2002, when the Jets peaked out, then again in 2008, when, get this, they tied atop the division with the Dolphins at 11-5, but missed the playoffs entirely due to tiebreakers. They certainly haven’t made it easy on their rivals to get a foothold, and they’ve certainly cost more than a few decent coaches some jobs. This year is no exception, despite their profoundly ugly, but not surprising loss in Miami, which I discussed in this week’s 10 Things. The Pats will seal the deal with a win, or tie in Pittsburgh, or a Buffalo loss, or tie against Miami. New England’s primary goal under Bill Belichick has always been Super Bowls, not division titles, so securing a bye week and home field advantage is a good start. Still, fourteen division titles in sixteen years, with another on the way, is crazy to think about.
Buffalo is in the midst of a four team dogfight for two wildcard slots, and at this point, with the AFC West still wide open and the AFC South a tight race, it’s really anyone’s game. The Bills will have Tyrod Taylor back after the Nathan Peterman experiment 2.0, and will look to close out strong in their final three games, all of which are divisional tilts (Miami, New England, Miami). Tyrod Taylor has done well this season to keep the Bills in contests and the defense has been better than advertised. LeSean McCoy has surpassed 1000 yards already, and ranks in the top five in rushing yardage. Combined with the elusiveness of Tyrod Taylor, and the addition of top caliber receiver Kelvin Benjamin from Carolina, Buffalo has given defenses more to think about than previous years.
Miami is riding high following a victory in their Super Bowl, the annual home game against the Pats. They also have to be happy with the results of luring Jay Cutler out of the announcer’s booth. While Cutler isn’t having the sort of season that would make him reconsider his retirement, he’s having a solid season by any measure. He’s also fumbled the ball only once this year, which is pretty spiffy for a guy who’s fumbled the ball ninety times over his career. When Ryan Tannehill went down before the season started, this team can’t have had many hopes of flirting with a winning record. With two tilts against Buffalo and a trip to Kansas City left on the schedule, making it to 8-8 or even 9-7 is possible, but they’ll need to crush their rival’s playoff aspirations to do so.
The Jets sit at the bottom of the division at 5-8, but they’ve mixed it up this season and from my vantage point, they’ve over performed with journeyman Josh McCown having a career season. McCown has already eclipsed his previous season totals for completions, yardage and touchdowns. The Jets have only been blown out twice, inexplicably against the Raiders and the woeful Broncos. Aside from those two matchups, they’ve been extremely competitive, even beating the Jaguars and staying within a single score against New England and Carolina. While the Jets clearly won’t be looking at McCown as a long time answer at QB (he entered the league in 2002), they can’t be upset with the results they’ve gotten out of the thirty-eight-year old.
Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.