Today's win filled me with enough confidence that I am starting to look ahead at how the AFC may play out this season.
I think the Patriots are a lock to take home the AFC East (I still felt that way at 3-3) and after today I am more sure of it, but this team does not get judge on division titles so I want to look at where that will put them. The Patriots post-bye schedule is not easy. The technically have 5 games against teams over .500, but 3 of those are the Colts and the Dolphins so I am not terribly worried about them. The Jets on Thanksgiving is no gimme (I doubt they will struggle against them twice in one season, but the Jets maybe 5-5 or 3-7 at that point - they might be a desperate team). The Mon/Sun Texans/49ers back-to-back is the obvious point for a stumble. I feel like best case is to beat the Texans and lose to the 49ers (who have full rest after a home game vs the Dolphins). If the are going to lose one more game, make it non-conference...
In the AFC North, I expect the Steelers to over take the Ravens. That is good news for the Patriots as the Steelers have 3 conference losses already. Since they do not play each other that will probably be the tie breaker. If the Patriots were to lose two more conference games so that they ended up with the same record in the AFC, the Steelers would probably have a better overall record at that point. Pittsburgh does take on the Giants next week which will let us know if they are for real.
In the South, I am surprised Houston has not clinched it yet. Even if the Patriots beat them in Foxoboro in December, I would think the Texans will hang on for the number one seed, and the Patriots will end up travelling there at some point in the playoffs.
The AFC West is interesting, the Broncos are probably going to win a terrible division. I would actually be surprised if another team can even finish .500 out there. The Pats have the tiebreak over them, but Denver's schedule for the rest of the year is the easiest in the NFL. The only have one team over .500 (Baltimore) left on their schedule.
Looking at all of this, I feel like the Patriots have little margin for error the rest of the season (in terms of the bye - it would take a Red Sox circa 2011 collapse for them not to make the playoffs). Even if the Patriots can split the Texans/49ers back-to-back (which is a short week), one other loss along the way may cost them the bye since I think it is reasonable to expect the Texans to finish 13-3 and either the winner of the North (be it Pittsburgh or Baltimore) or the Broncos to be 12-4.
Of course, the Pats, Broncos and Steelers/Ravens could all end up in a three way tie (at 11-5 or 12-4) for the second spot. In that case, there are so many permutations involving who the teams other losses occur to over that stretch (Baltimore and Broncos still play each other). I am not going to try to figure it all out right now.
I know I am getting ahead myself, but it is a bye week...