Well, it took almost a decade, but the pendulum has swung completely the other way from where it was back in 2004. That was the year that a pretty mediocre Atlanta team got the NFC #2 seed, and they had lost by 46 points at a team that finished with a losing record in the AFC (Kansas City). Only four teams finished with winning records, and both wildcards were 8-8. Both wildcards, of course, then reached the semifinals.
If Denver beats San Diego tonight, there will be only two teams with winning records in the AFC (Houston and Baltimore). I thought I would sort through the remaining schedules and team strengths (based on point differences, strength of schedule so far, and efficiency stats) and try to estimate who is likely to make the postseason.
Here were my back of envelope calculations on projected total wins in the AFC:
- Houston Texans, 11.4 wins
- New England Patriots, 10.0 wins
- Baltimore Ravens, 10.0 wins
- Denver Broncos, 9.3 wins
- San Diego Chargers, 8.9 wins
- Miami Dolphins, 8.2 wins
- Pittsburgh Steelers, 7.9 wins
- Cincinnati Bengals, 7.8 wins
- New York Jets, 7.7 wins
- Buffalo Bills, 7.4 wins
- Indianapolis Colts, 6.8 wins
- Cleveland Browns, 5.4 wins
- Tennessee Titans, 5.2 wins
- Oakland Raiders, 5.0 wins
- Jacksonville Jaguars, 4.4 wins
- Kansas City Chiefs, 4.0 wins
Just like in 2004 in the NFC, I think 11 wins gets you a bye in the AFC. Heck, depending on tiebreakers, it may be enough to get the #1 seed. Tonight is a pretty big game in San Diego. Denver isn’t out of it if they lose by any means, because the schedule lightens up. It would flip San Diego to a slight favorite, though. If Denver wins on the road, though, I look for them to have a big edge in the division going forward.
Baltimore has lost Ray Lewis and Ladarius Webb for the year. Terrell Suggs is still out, but could return. I think the Ravens are now about a win worse than they could be, offset some by a potential Suggs return late in the year. That puts them at a projection right about .500 for rest of year, but still with plenty of room in the AFC because the bar is so low.
Right now, I have the Dolphins at 8.2 wins as the #6 seed. Of course, we know there is no such thing as a 0.2 win. That just means I’ve got a few more games where they are slightly favored to win. Four other teams have a win projection within one win of the Dolphins, including two in the division that they will play. Buffalo beats Miami twice, and you can flip those numbers. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati play this week, and again later in the year also. Those coin flip type games that swing tiebreakers litter the rest of the schedule.
I feel pretty safe in saying that the #6 seed can be had with an 8-8 record and the right tiebreakers. The bottom of the conference is so bad that Cleveland, by winning their first game, jumps to 12th in my conference win projections.
Before the season, I said that there were about ten teams in the NFC I would pick as a wildcard in the AFC. I might up that to twelve today. It’s not going to be pretty, but everyone should still be alive for awhile.
[photo via US Presswire]