Usually I am accused of being an unrealistic kool-aid chugging homer, but it is time for a little reality check. Patriot Nation was jubilant after defeating the loathsome New York Jets a week ago, and before they even had a chance to settle down and look ahead to the next game many a Pats fan was converted into a Tim Tebow fan, at least for a few hours as the Denver Broncos pulled off a last minute upset to drop Gang Green to their fifth loss on the season.
While the Jets chances of winning the AFC East truly did take a huge hit with those two losses, summations by both friends and foes of the Jets that their chances to make the playoffs are slim to none can only be categorized as knee-jerk over reactions by the masses. Let’s take a look at the AFC and see where their team stands in relation to other playoff hopefuls.
First, I will assume that the Jets are not going to win the division. Because the Pats swept the Jets this season they would win a tiebreaker over the Jets, which means the Jets would have to win three more games than the Pats with just six games remaining in the season. New England plays only one team the rest of the way that has currently won more games than they have lost, the reeling 5-4 Buffalo Bills. While it is not unprecedented for a 5-5 team to win their final six games – the 2001 Patriots say hello – mathematically there is only a one in 64 chance of this happening. And that is just what the Jets would need to do, while at the same time having the Pats lose half of their remaining games. Sorry Jet fans, that’s just not going to happen.
But as far as a wild card goes, take a look at the Jets remaining schedule:
- vs 5-4 Bills
- at 3-6 Redskins
- vs 4-5 Chiefs
- at 3-6 Eagles
- vs 6-3 Giants
- at 2-7 Dolphins
It’s not unreasonable to think that the Jets could finish 5-1, which would give them a 10-6 record on the season. If that does happen, will it be enough for the playoffs?
Right now the popular school of thought is that the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals will be the two wild cards, if for no other reason than that’s what would happen if the playoffs started today. But there is a good reason that it is rare for two wild card teams to come from the same division: usually one team drops out of the race due to playing the two other playoff teams from their own division twice in that season. Baltimore and Cincinnati still have to play each other twice, and if one of them is swept then their playoff chances are going to be dramatically reduced – which could open up the door for a team like the Jets, Titans, Bills, or someone from the AFC West.
Both of those AFC North teams have far more difficult schedules than the Jets do. On top of facing each other twice the Ravens also play the 49ers at home and travel to San Diego, while the Bengals’ schedule includes a game at Pittsburgh followed by a home game against the 7-3 Texans. That’s four tough games for each team, and that doesn’t take the Any Given Sunday factor into account; the Ravens, for example, have followed up big wins over quality opponents with huge letdowns in losses to Tennessee, Jacksonville and Seattle this season.
Elsewhere, I still think the Houston Texans takes the AFC South despite having to turn to Matt Leinart at quarterback; they have a two-game lead over the Tennessee Titans and still have a very strong running game and quality defense – something that has never been said previously in the history of their franchise. The Titans still have to play at Atlanta, at Buffalo and home against the Saints; I can’t see them winning enough games to catch the Texans – although if the division is wrapped up before week 17 then the final game against Houston may become a bit easier for them as they shoot for a wild card berth.
Buffalo has an interesting schedule because all six games could go either way, but it’s difficult to back this team after back-to-back losses by a combined score of 71-18. They also don’t get any help from a schedule that includes three straight road games, the third of which is at a team they are battling with for a playoff spot, the Jets. The loss of Eric Wood really hurts; I don’t see them finishing above 8-8 despite their 4-1 start.
I say let’s sit back and enjoy the games, and have fun discussing playoff possibilities – but keep in mind that is way too early to declare anyone other than the Colts, Dolphins, Jaguars and Browns out of it in the AFC. Look no further than how much conventional wisdom changed in regards to the Patriots from their win over Dallas, to games later after the loss to the Giants, to one week later after their win in New Jersey. Much can change in one or two weeks – and it is almost guaranteed to do the same over the next eight days.