Chaos in the AFC East!
The Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, and New England Patriots all won Sunday. The Buffalo Bills lost. Which means the 2022 AFC East champion is anyone’s guess — and probably will be for weeks.
AFC East Playoff Picture Scrambled After Wild Week 9
The Bills (6-2) were supposed to run away from the division. Instead, they’re the only AFC East team without a divisional victory.
Buffalo laid an egg in North Jersey on Sunday, managing just 183 yards through the air and turning the ball over twice in a 20-17 loss to the Jets. The result snapped a four-game winning streak and trimmed the Bills’ lead in the division to just a half-game over Miami and New York — 6-3 teams that both own the head-to-head vs. Buffalo.
“You want to win these, obviously,” said Bills quarterback Josh Allen, whose MVP candidacy took a hit Sunday. “These are the ones that can make or break you.”
Combine that result with the Dolphins’ 35-32 escape act in Chicago and the Patriots’ 26-3 drubbing of the Indianapolis Colts, and you have four teams separated by a game and a half in what’s been by far the AFC’s deepest division. (New England is 5-4 after winning for the fourth time since Oct. 9.)
The bottom line: Every team in the AFC East can capture the divisional crown by winning out — setting the table for perhaps the most competitive finish since 2002, when all four teams were separated by a game in the final standings.
Six years later was pretty wild too, when a game separated all four teams at the season’s halfway point, although ultimately the best separated from the rest in the year’s second half.
“We don’t flinch,” said Jets coach Robert Saleh, whose team held the high-flying Bills to just three points after halftime. “I think we’re too young to flinch.”
What makes the AFC East so fun is that every division matchup is a showdown between talented young quarterbacks.
Tua Tagovailoa went for 302 yards and three touchdowns on 21 of 30 passing. Miami has one of the three most dynamic offenses in the conference — and perhaps the entire league. (Defense is a different story, but that’s an issue for another time.)
Mac Jones wasn’t asked to do too much Sunday, but that was a function of the opponent. The Patriots blew out the hapless Colts despite gaining just 203 yards. New England’s defense is legit, holding the Colts without a first down on 14 third-down opportunities.
But no one outside of the Wilson family had Zach Wilson outdueling Josh Allen Sunday.
Wilson wasn’t great (18 of 25 for 154 yards, one touchdown). But he avoided the big errors that Allen (18 of 34 for 205 and two picks) could not. The Jets play great defense and can run the ball (174 yards on 34 carries Sunday) — a combination that holds up quite well in Northeast winters.
After the game, Allen sought out Wilson and shared a few words.
“I said stay healthy,” Allen said. “We’ll see you guys again.”
They will — but not for a while. The Bills host the Jets in Week 14 — the second of three straight divisional games that could decide the AFC East.
Buffalo is at New England on Dec. 1 and home against the Dolphins on Dec. 18 — a game that could get flexed into prime time. (The current Sunday Night Football game that week is dreadful — the Patriots vs. the Raiders.)
The Dolphins are also halfway through their divisional schedule. They play in Foxboro on New Year’s Day and host the Jets in Week 18 — which could be an elimination game.
The Dolphins are 81% to make the playoffs per FiveThirtyEight, while the Jets have a 60% chance of making the tournament.
As for the Patriots, their road is the hardest. But they’re still 38% to get in. But with four remaining AFC East games — including home against the Bills on Dec. 1 and at the Bills in Week 18 — they also have the most opportunities to improve their fate.
“Really good to walk off the field with a good win against the Colts,” Bill Belichick said.