Just as western Pennsylvania is the breeding ground of quarterbacks, the AFC East is fertile territory for producing playoff teams. In the past five years the division has sent 15 of its finest into the postseason, which averages out to its champion, plus two out of the conference's three wild cards.
The division's right on pace again this season, with the three 6-2's, Indy, Miami and the Jets, all figuring on playoff berths and 4-4 Buffalo not exactly out of the running. There's only one problem. They all still have to play one another (sometimes twice), and while they're beating each other's brains out, Kansas City or Pittsburgh or Baltimore could sneak in as wild cards.
Starting next Sunday, two of the four AFC East playoff hopefuls will square off for six straight weekends. We'll get tired of reading about another crucial matchup in the division. This weekend, though, there's the little matter of disposing of outsiders, like the NFC Central.
The Colts visit Chicago to face a team they haven't beaten in 17 years, which means exactly zero to Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James and the boys. I don't see an Indy loss here, but the Dolphins play at Detroit as an underdog, and if the Lions come up with as good a game plan against Miami as Green Bay did on Sunday, things could get interesting.
Dolphins middle linebacker Zach Thomas, who patrols the interior of the defense, missed the Packers game with a sprained ankle, and he figures to be out on Sunday as well. Green Bay aimed its attack at his replacement, special-teamer Larry Izzo, who had never started an NFL game. The Packers just about eliminated their wideouts from the formula, at least until they had to play catch-up, concentrating instead on throwing to the tight ends and running backs while mixing in counters and misdirections for good measure—anything that might bedevil a nervous first-time starter. I'm sure the Lions will try more of the same, particularly because their wideouts are ailing. I like the Dolphins anyway. I like them on the good old combination of pass rush and turnovers.
The Jets, bouncing back from that tough loss in Buffalo, will beat Denver at the Meadowlands. The Bills, meanwhile, travel to Foxboro as an underdog to the 2-6 Patriots. I like the way Doug Flutie is running the Buffalo attack, but New England coach Bill Belichick—whose Jets defenses beat the Flutie-run Bills in three out of their last four meetings—has a read on Doug. In those four games, Flutie completed 47.4% of his passes, threw for just two touchdowns and got intercepted five times. A vote for the Patriots.
If the Packers want to have a chance in the Monday-nighter, they'll have to switch gears and attack the Vikings cornerbacks, as Tampa Bay did last week. I see Green Bay getting its points, but Minnesota putting up more of them.
Oakland will make it two for two over Kansas City. Chalk up a win for the Eagles, who will turn the blitzers loose on Dallas, just as they did in the opener. The Saints can't match San Francisco's firepower, but their defense must be taken seriously. Seriously enough to get the win? No. I like the 49ers in a Superdome upset.