Check out the NFl standings today. There are only three teams currently above .500 in the AFC. Three. And if San Diego loses at home to Denver tonight, it'll be two. That's six games into the season. There's generally separation as the season wears on, but it's looking like there will be a jumble of barely-above-average teams battling for playoff spots well into December this season.
Even Houston and Baltimore, who stand atop the conference at 5-1, are showing signs of weakness. The Texans' vaunted defense seemed ordinary in Sunday night's 42-24 loss to the Packers. They certainly seemed to miss star linebacker Brian Cushing, who is out for the year with a knee injury. The Ravens lost veteran linebacker Ray Lewis, whose play has slipped significantly. They are missing several key players on defense.
There's no doubt which is the weaker conference right now. The NFC is 19-9 in games between the conferences this season. Not one AFC division has a winning collective record against the NFC. So unless there's a dramatic surge by several teams, there's a good chance that a 9-7 record could qualify for the playoffs. Chances are, we'll see a tie for the final spot at 9-7.
It's hard to envision New England not winning 10 or more games. Houston, even without Cushing, seems a lock to win 10. Other than that, I can't find a team that's a certainty to finish with double-digit wins. Pittsburgh's defense is a mess. The Jets have problems on offense. Cincinnati has been a disappointment. I'm not sold on the Broncos, despite Peyton Manning.
So this should be heartening to Bills fans. The Bills still have major issues on both sides of the ball, but if a 9-7 record can get you a sniff of the playoffs, they're still a viable playoff contender. They need to beat Tennessee, though. And who knows? There's a four-way tie for first in the division at 3-3. Maybe the Pats will collapse and 8-8 will actually win the AFC East.