The AFC East is All Tied Up, Confusing Gamblers

OK, so, who is actually good at football this year? All good football teams in the AFC, please put your hands up. OK, Houston, we already counted you. No, Jets, put your hand down. Just Houston? Yup, that’s pretty much it.

It is absolutely mind-boggling, but true: every team in the AFC is 3-3 or below except for the Houston Texans. This concept of “parity” in the NFL has officially run wild, though I don’t think this is fair and competitive play: I think this is a lot of mediocre teams beating up on each other.

There’s no funnier or more confusing division in football than the AFC East, where all four teams are 3-3. That’s right: the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills are tied with the New England Patriots for both first and last place in the division simultaneously. Roger Goodell wanted parity in his league, and he got it, though I don’t think he thought it would look anything like this.

But who is actually going to take this division? The Patriots are still heavily favored to win the AFC East, and rightfully so; despite their piddling record, they still have strong odds of reaching the Super Bowl, too. But how many humiliating losses can they sustain before people start to doubt their legitimacy? The Pats get a very long leash from the public (and an even longer one from Vegas when they set the lines) because of recent history in the Belichick/Brady era. But the fact of the matter is that they have not won a Super Bowl in eight years, and Tom Brady has looked shaky at times this season. Still, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else winning this division. The other three teams have way too many glaring weaknesses to possibly take it.

All great teams build up an aura of invincibility around themselves. Perhaps no one has done it better than the New England Patriots. By refusing to speak to the media (or by only offering gruff, one-syllable clichés) Belichick and his Pats have given reporters the creative license to fill in the mystique of the Patriot Way. They’re tough. They’re no nonsense. They’re consummate professionals. This myth of the Pats as more of a corporation than a football team is what has sustained them for these eight Super Bowl-less years.

Put it another way: if the San Francisco 49ers, or the Giants, or the Houston Texans, or any other team that’s projected to be in the hunt for the Super Bowl at season’s end dropped games in the embarrassing fashion that the Pats lost to the Cardinals and Seahawks, they would drop out of everyone’s power rankings and be universally scoffed at. Yet the Pats are still in the top ten of ESPN’s power rankings, and no one seems to be seriously considering that this team may not make the playoffs. And here’s the thing: I’m one of them.

Despite all the points I just made, I can’t bring myself to think of the Patriots as being on the outside looking in come December. They’ve been too good for too long not to make it. For the first time that I can remember since the beginning of their semi-dynasty, there are cracks appearing in the Patriots monolithic façade. But still, every football fan who lives outside of the New England area should be rooting for the Pats to make the playoffs. Why, you ask? Easy: we all need someone to root against. They’re football’s New York Yankees, and the playoffs just aren’t the same without them. For fans’ whose teams are perennial losers, the only joy left is watching the Patriots lose in agonizing fashion in the playoffs. So please, Pats: get your act together and make the playoffs. It’s too much fun to root against you.

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