Week 9 Fallout: Impact On AFC Division Races

Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Another week, another shakeup in the AFC’s power structure. There’s more movement among these teams than there was in Kirk Herbstreit’s face during the Oklahoma earthquake.

AFC East 

Jets and Dolphins win, Patriots and Bills lose

The rise of the Buffalo Bills and the fall of the mighty Patriots both make for good copy, but the outcome has the division as a whole trending toward a disappointing sameness. Most teams in the NFL have flaws that can be exposed, even the good ones, but usually the mighty East produces a team that seems as invincible (and as irredeemably evil) as the Borg.

As the Patriots flounder, they continue to try the counter-intuitive “addition by subtraction” route toward improving their leaky defense. Two weeks ago veteran cornerback Leigh Bodden was told to hit the bricks. This week it’s the apparently unmotivatable Albert Haynesworth. Doubtful the Pats’ coverage or pass pressure will improve with either move, though.

Perhaps the most surprising storyline to emerge, though, is the idea that Mark Sanchez can play like a legit NFL quarterback. He was remarkably efficient and accurate Sunday, completing 71% of his passes and throwing only one terrible Mark Sanchez interception on the day. If he and his team actually shut up and played to their potential, the NFL media might all die of shock. 

AFC North

Ravens and Bengals win, Steelers and Browns lose 

The key for the Pittsburgh Steelers the rest of the way this season: don’t play the Baltimore Ravens again. If they can do that, they might have a clear shot at the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh is 6-3 now, with two of those three losses coming to their bruise brothers in Baltimore. The 6-2 Ravens hold a clear tiebreaker advantage, but they haven’t been very generous in sharing their secrets of how to beat the Steelers. If Joe Flacco can’t become more consistent as a thrower (and he’s made some small strides over the last game and a half), that tiebreaker won’t count for anything.

Meanwhile, would someone please remind the division-leading Bengals that they are, in fact, the Bengals? The very foundations of reality start to tear apart with each Cincinnati win. If they manage to beat Pittsburgh this week, I full expect Kublai Khan and an army of tiger-riding Mongols to ride through a rip in the space-time continuum and lay waste to the Ohio River Valley. 

AFC South

Texans win, Titans and Colts lose 

Don’t look now, but Houston is starting to develop a killer instinct. In the playoff forecast section of my AFC midseason review, I have the Texans as a bye-week winner, and an upset-loser in their divisional championship playoff game. “Happy to be here” was my depiction of them. But with Wade Phillips’ defense actively devouring opponents and Gary Kubiak’s offense flaying them from the inside out, I might have to rethink that assessment.

The Texans have had opportunities to assert themselves in seasons past, but have let those opportunities slip away. This year’s model is developing something closer to an Identity, though. This could be a dangerous team. And it does not appear that the Titans are capable of giving chase.

AFC West

Broncos win, Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders lose 

Ah, the AFC West. Only here could Sid Gilman’s vertical offense come fully to life and erupt for 38 Charger points, only to lose. Only here could a reigning division champion get skunked in their own field by a winless Miami Dolphins team. Only here could a half-man half-icon change his entire team’s offensive gameplan to the scheme he ran in college, and then run it successfully against the Raiders. AND THE RAIDERS! What else can we say.

Three teams at 4-4. A fourth at 3-5. Each team has a .500 record in the division. There may not be enough tiebreakers to figure this mess out a the end of the season. You’re going to need every ‘p’ of your 1080p television just to read the playofff scenario graphics on your screen, come week 16 and 17.