Week 12: State of the AFC East

An updated look at the AFC East Standings following week 11 of the 2011 NFL season:

1. New England Patriots: 7-3, Division: 3-1 | Last Week: 34-3 W over Kansas City Chiefs | Streak: W2

The Patriots have found themselves back on top of the AFC East after a turbulent second quarter to the season. What's even better, is that the Patriots are now back as the #1 seed in the AFC, due to tiebreakers with the Houston Texans (Strength of Wins) and Baltimore Ravens (Conference Record), and because the Ravens have their own tiebreakers over the Pittsburgh Steelers (head-to-head). The Patriots are facing the final stretch of the season with the easiest schedule in all of football and look to get some of their key players healthy and back on the field before the playoffs come around.

They have two more divisional games- Home against Buffalo, and Home against Miami. Because the Patriots have won both head-to-head games against the Jets, the Patriots have to finish 3-3 or worse (and the Jets must win out) for the Jets to win the division. Hopefully the Patriots continue one week at a time and ignore that five of their six remaining games are against teams who are in the bottom two of their division- and that the only other game is against the Denver Broncos.

2. New York Jets: 5-5, Division: 2-2 | Last Week: 17-13 L to Denver Broncos | Streak: L2

The Jets are in a funk after they thought they found their mojo after beating the Chargers and the Bills in consecutive weeks. Still, the only team the Jets have beaten with a current winning record (over .500) is the Dallas Cowboys, and that was in Week 1. Mark Sanchez isn't inspiring anyone and, while he's had a history of poor regular season play before an excellent post-season performance, the Jets need to get into the playoffs first. With games against the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Jets, as well as a Week 17 game against the spoiler Miami Dolphins, the Jets can't afford to finish 3-3. In fact, the Jets can most likely only afford one more loss if they wish to claim a wild card berth.

The Jets currently stand behind the AFC North (the Ravens/Steelers/Cincinnati Bengals trio) in the wild card hunt, as those teams all have over 6 wins. The Ravens and Steelers are pretty much locks for the playoffs as they each face the Browns twice, and have an easier game against the Chiefs (Steelers) or the Colts (Ravens). Wins against those teams place the Steelers and Ravens at a minimum of 10-6 and with the conference record tiebreakers.

The Bengals are looking at a potential 3-3 finish, with games against the Ravens, Steelers, and a questionable Texans team. This could give the Bengals a 9-7 record and would mean that the Jets and their 4-5 conference record will have to win out against AFC teams (Bills, Chiefs, Dolphins) to take the Wild Card spot from the Bengals. This is entirely possible, so don't count out the Jets just yet.

However, the Jets also sit behind the Denver Broncos (head-to-head) and the Tennessee Titans (conference record). Just a few teams to keep an eye on.

On a team level, the Jets are struggling with their offensive line, which is the lifeblood of their ground-and-pound and, as a result, entire offense. Until the Jets can fix their offensive line, they will struggle in their fight for a playoff spot.

3. Buffalo Bills: 5-5, Division: 1-2 | Last Week: 35-8 L to Miami Dolphins | Streak: L3

The Bills sit behind the Jets by nature of the head-to-head battle and they appear to be circling the drain after three straight blowout losses. Like the Jets, the Bills can't afford to lose more than one game for the rest of their season, and they'll be facing fellow Wild Card contenders for most of the season. They have games (in order) against the Jets (5-5), Titans (5-5), Chargers (4-6), Dolphins (3-7), Broncos (5-5), and Patriots (7-3). None of those games can be taken as a win, as four are fighting for their wild card life (Jets, Titans, Chargers, Broncos), the Dolphins cannot be taken for granted anymore (coming off a 35-8 win against these very Bills), and the Patriots, who will most likely be playing with a chip on their shoulder after losing a close game earlier in the season.

The Bills need to jump out of their tailspin before they finish as just another 7-9 Bills team. Injuries are stacking up on offense and their defense has been a sieve. However, there may be a few too many problems for this team to turn around in time to make the playoffs.

4. Miami Dolphins: 3-7. Division: 1-2 | Last Week 35-8 W over Buffalo Bills | Streak: W3

So the Dolphins are playing like the second best team in the division. They've willed themselves out of the race for Andrew Luck (although I think Robert Griffin III is a perfect fit) on three straight dominant wins of 31-3, 20-9, and 35-8. Still, they were against the Chiefs, Redskins, and Bills, which could represent as much of a paper tiger as the Jets mid-season wins against the pre-hot Dolphins, Chargers, and Bills. The Dolphins are pretty much out of the running for the playoffs, but they're the perfect team to play spoiler for the rest of the season. The team has been playing with swagger and are picking up a defensive identity. The offense has been settling down as there is finally consistency at the running back (Daniel Thomas) and quarterback (Matt Moore) positions. Still, the Dolphins final schedule is a gauntlet of playoff dreamers, where they face, in order, the Cowboys, Raiders, Eagles, Bills, Patriots, and Jets. All teams with something to prove as the season comes to a close, and all with varying levels of desperation.

It would not be surprising to see the Dolphins finish 0-6. It wouldn't be surprising if they finished 6-0. However, the truth most likely lies somewhere in the middle and they should finish 3-3. A 6-10 record still puts the Dolphins in position for a top player in the draft and they'll have the ability to take another step forward next season. Still, don't count them out this year- they're still dangerous.

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