The New York Jets had a good week this week, by not playing. Three other AFC teams entered the weekend at 4-4. The Titans were playing the worst team in the league at home, the Dolphins were playing the other team that had yet to win on the road, while the Chargers faced a tough test at home against the Denver Broncos.
All of them lost, and that means that New York is currently alone in the 6th spot in the AFC as we turn down the stretch in November, with five teams log jammed at 4-5. Three others (Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Oakland) are two games behind the Jets in the loss column.
New York has hardly been a powerhouse. In fact, they have the worst point differential of any team to have a winning record after nine games, having been outscored by 62 points. All five wins have come in close games, while they have been destroyed in a couple of contests.
This kind of thing matters, of course. If we take the 24 other teams who played a 16 game schedule, that have been 5-4, but outscored by at least 20 points, they won 44.6% of their games the rest of the year (3.1 more wins on average). Only 8 of the 24 finished the season with a winning record, with 6 reaching the postseason.
Here’s the thing, though. None of the other teams in near contention look like a sleeping giant at this point, either. I like to look at things like the simple rating system rankings, as well as both Football Outsiders and Advanced NFL Stats rankings. None of these AFC teams are ranked higher than 15th in any of them. There is not a team like the 2009 Jets, who had one of the best defenses and best point differentials, lurking under .500 to get into the playoffs and then reach the championship game. At best, the top contenders for the final spot in the AFC are average teams, and that is generous for most of them.
Tennessee- just lost Jake Locker for the year and will now be starting Ryan Fitzpatrick. Just lost at home to the Jaguars.
San Diego- the offense has been really good, but the defense has struggled. Three more games against Kansas City and Denver, also.
Cleveland- showed signs of life with Brian Hoyer, but he got hurt. Jason Campbell has been competent in two starts. Who knows how the offense will be?
Baltimore- they may be the defending champions, but they fall squarely in this group. In fact, they have played five games against others listed here, and every one has been a close game that came down to a few plays. The Ravens are 2-3 in those. The offensive line is a mess, they cannot run the ball, and Ray Rice has aged ten years in one offseason.
Pittsburgh- I mean, this team has major issues, and there are all sorts of rumors flying. They are still some close wins against the others here from climbing back into it.
Oakland- Terrelle Pryor is exciting but not all that efficient, and takes way too many sacks. The roster is still in rebuild mode.
Buffalo- based on the injuries at quarterback already, this is a team that could rise, and we’ll talk about their schedule. Still, at best average right now at full strength, and they haven’t been there yet.
In a vacuum, I would take San Diego. The Chargers, though, have the toughest schedule with four games against KC, Denver, and Cincinnati, and the only game against a team tied with them (Miami) coming on the road.
Here’s a chart showing my estimate for win totals based on the current situation (i.e, Titans without Locker, Bills with Manuel back, etc) and remaining schedules. I also list the current record within the group contending for the final spot, and the remaining number of games against the group.
The Jets may be the front runners in the standings, but they will have to earn it in 50/50 games the rest of the year, as they have six of the remaining seven games against AFC teams chasing them. (The one that isn’t? at Carolina, where they will be a large underdog).
This week’s game at Buffalo is actually a very big contest. If the Jets win, they pretty much eliminate the Bills and grab one of those coin flip games. A Buffalo win, though, tightens that list up even more. I’ve allocated that as close to 50% for both, so everyone would be projected for less than 8 wins with a Jets loss. Buffalo has by far the most favorable schedule, as they should be favored in the next four games (Atlanta, at Tampa, at Jacksonville, vs. Miami) and then get a Patriots team in the final week that may be locked into a playoff spot.
If the Jets lose on Sunday, I think the #6 seed is going to be an 8-8 team, as I don’t see any of those teams at 4-5 reeling off 5 wins in 7 games.