After a last-second win delivered by their new (old) quarterback and #1 wide receiver, the Buffalo Bills sit at 4-3 overall through 7 games of the 2014 season. This places them alone in 2nd place in the AFC East, just a single game behind the perpetual frontrunners from the Northeast as the Bills are in the midst of their easiest stretch of the schedule. This week’s opponent, the New York Jets, have dug themselves into an enormous hole by starting the season 1-6; they are losers of 6 games in a row after getting a win over Oakland in week 1. Miami has shown signs of life lately sitting at 3-3 with their bye already out of the way.
Though becoming AFC East division champions is obviously the top prize and still well within reach, there are other teams in the AFC that we have to concern ourselves with when you take a look at the overall AFC playoff picture; a playoff picture that the Bills have placed themselves squarely in as we approach the midway point of the season. Outside of the AFC East, I believe there are six teams that Bills fans must really keep an eye on this upcoming week and moving forward. These teams are in the picture as of today and I believe they will stay involved in that picture as the 2014 season rolls on. Lets take a look at who these five teams are, what we’ve seen so far and what they are up against for the remainder of the year…
Baltimore Ravens – Remaining Schedule: @CIN, @PIT, vsTEN, BYE, @NO, vsSD, @MIA, vsJAC, @HOU, vsCLE
The AFC North is going to have a few teams in the playoff picture. The Ravens currently lead the division with a 5-2 mark. They’ve started strong thanks to a very well-balanced offense under the guidance of new OC Gary Kubiak. The run defense has also been a strong point of the team, though they have struggled to defend the pass with nearly the same proficiency. Joe Flacco is having a very solid year and Justin Forsett has been an absolute revelation, averaging 5.8 ypc on the year. This team will be squarely in the picture come December.
Cincinnati Bengals – Remaining Schedule: vsBAL, vsJAC, vsCLE, @NO, @HOU, @TB, vsPIT, @CLE, vsDEN, @PIT
The Bengals were the hottest team in football through the first three weeks, reeling off three straight convincing victories over Baltimore, Atlanta and Tennessee. Then week four came and they got their butts absolutely whooped in New England. They’ve tied one and dropped one since then, sitting at a 3-2-1 record through six games. Months ago, I called for their defense to take a significant step back sans-Mike Zimmer, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen. They are struggling mightily to defend both the pass and the run. The A.J. Green injury certainly hasn’t helped their cause on offense. The remaining schedule is relatively easy, but Cincinnati is nowhere near a guarantee for a playoff spot like some thought they might be.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Remaining Schedule: vsIND, vsBAL, @NYJ, @TEN, BYE, vsNO, @CIN, @ATL, vsKC, vsCIN
Pittsburgh has been a very inconsistent football team this year. At times, their offense looks like an upper-echelon unit. At times, Big Ben looks lost with his accuracy out there and Todd Haley abandons the run far too soon. The defense has also been average at best thus far. That has led to a 4-3 record. This might seem nice, but it comes after a 4 game stretch that was inarguably the easiest of Pittsburgh’s season (vsTB, @JAC, @CLE, vsHOU). They dropped two of those four games. I still believe in the offense, and I’ll never count a Dick Lebeau-led defense out. That said, the remaining schedule is rather daunting. Pittsburgh is definitely in the mix as of today, but they will have to play much better moving forward in order to stay there.
Houston Texans – Remaining Schedule: @TEN, vsPHI, BYE, @CLE, vsCIN, vsTEN, @JAC, @IND, vsBAL, vsJAC
Now, do I really believe that Houston is going to be in the playoff picture come the final few weeks of the season? No, I really don’t. I think their quarterback is too limited to allow them to overcome the faults of a defense that is pretty terrible beyond J.J. Watt and possibly Jadaveon Clowney. That said, they are in the mix as of today at 3-4, play in a pretty terrible division and have already defeated the Bills this year in Houston – a game that Buffalo would undoubtedly love to have back. I believe the Texans will fade down the stretch, but there’s always the chance that I’ve underestimated them and they would hurt the Bills’ chances for the playoffs due to that early-season win.
San Diego – Remaining Schedule: @MIA, BYE, vsOAK, vsSTL, @BAL, vsNE, vsDEN, @SF, @KC
Another team that has already defeated the Bills this season, San Diego sits at 5-3 on the year. This is a good football team on both sides of the ball. They are getting elite quarterback play from Phillip Rivers, they seemed to have finally found a dynamic running back in UB-product Bo Oliver and their defense is much-improved from last year. All of that said, take a look at those final five games of their season. And we thought the Bills had it tough for the last quarter of the year. It doesn’t get any tougher than what San Diego faces to close things out, and if they make it through that stretch with a 3-2 or better record, they deserve one of the two Wild Card spots.
Kansas City – Remaining Schedule: vsSTL, vsNYJ, @BUF, vsSEA, @OAK, vsDEN, @ARZ, vsOAK, @PIT, vsSD
The Kansas City Chiefs are a better team than I thought they would be coming into the season. I thought they were going to be truly awful behind a bad offensive line, a lack of skill players and with lost parts on defense. However, they’ve endured a tough stretch to start the year pretty well, sneaking away with a 3-3 record. Their defense hasn’t really missed a beat from last season and the offense has been steady, especially in the run game. They will be a factor moving forward. Mark your calendars for week 10 when the Chiefs roll into Buffalo. This game should have some serious playoff implications coming with it. Might be a must-win type game for both teams.
Who I left off the list and why…
I was looking outside of the AFC East for this piece. New England is obviously going to be there until the end of the season. They’ve really come on strong these past few weeks. Miami may also be a factor. That defense is very good and they’ve been getting stronger play from Ryan Tannehill as of late. As far as the New York Jets go, I’ll say it, they are dead. Sorry, Rex Ryan. A Percy Harvin trade can’t fix Geno Smith and their pass defense may be the worst in the league.
Denver and Indianapolis were left off the list because I am already reserving playoff spots for both of those teams. Denver is the best team in football, bar none. That defense is harassing quarterbacks and their secondary is the most improved in the league. We know all about that offense. Indy has undergone a defensive-revival as well, and that Andrew Luck guy is pretty damn good. Those two teams are winning their respective divisions. Write that down.
That leaves us with Cleveland, Tennessee, Jacksonville and Oakland. These four teams, in my opinion, represent the worst of the AFC. Though Cleveland has a decent defense and I like their run game, they won’t have the quarterback play to push them into the mix. Those other three squads may be the worst the NFL has to offer right now. Though Washington, Tampa Bay and Minnesota could make strong arguments in the NFC.
There you have a breakdown of some teams the Bills are going to have to keep a very close eye on as the rest of the season unfolds. What teams are you most concerned about? Anyone that I’m over or underestimating? Let us know, and as always, Go Bills!