The Patriots are 6-0, while all other AFC East team has at least two losses. Given that New England is the best team in the division and already has a large lead, the odds of the Jets, Bills, or Dolphins winning the division are really, really low. But considering the rest of the AFC — the South has zero good teams, the West has one, and the North has two if Roethlisberger is healthy — it’s pretty likely that the AFC East will send a second team to the playoffs. Right now, 538 has the Jets playoff probability at 59%, Buffalo at 16%, and Miami at 15%.
Interestingly, 538 ranks these teams as roughly equivalent: the Jets are 15th, the Bills are 19th, and the Dolphins are 21st in 538’s ELO ratings. So what explains the large discrepancy? Part of the delta there is due to current record: New York is 4-2, Miami is 3-3, and Buffalo is 3-4. In other words, the Jets are a game up on Miami (with the tiebreaker right now, and a Jets home game to come in the rematch) and 1.5 games up on the Bills, so “banked” wins has a lot to do with it. But so does remaining schedule, which is what I want to look at today.1 As a spoiler, the average ELO rating of the Jets opponents is 1471; that average is 1515 for Buffalo and 1556 for Miami.
But let’s take at each team’s schedule by grouping the schedule into four buckets. Let’s begin with the advantage each team has in reaching the playoffs over teams from the West or North.
The AFC South is the worst division in football, and it’s not particularly close. And the AFC East gets matched against the South this season. Here’s the good news for the Jets: New York beat the Colts in Indianapolis, but hasn’t “used” up its remaining three AFC South tickets. Buffalo and Miami, meanwhile, have not only used up 3 of those 4 coupons, but both are “only” 2-1, courtesy of losses to the Jaguars.
Team in Best Shape: Jets (1-0, games remaining vs. JAX/HOU/TEN)
Team in Worst Shape: Miami (2-1, but with a game still left vs. the Colts; Buffalo is 2-1 but hosts Houston in December.)
Each AFC East team plays one home game and one road game against teams from the North and West divisions. Based on the Jets 4th-place finish last year, New York received Cleveland and Oakland on their schedule. The Jets beat the Browns and travel to Oakland this Sunday. Buffalo, by virtue of its 2nd-place finish, gets Cincinnati (already lost) and has to travel to Kansas City in late November. Miami received Baltimore and San Diego out of the AFC North and West divisions, respectively; both of those games are scheduled for December.
Team in Best Shape: Jets (1-0, game remaining vs. OAK)
Team in Worst Shape: Buffalo (0-1, with road game still to come)
AFC East Games
The Jets and Bills each won “in” Miami this season, with the Jets victory coming in London. That puts Miami behind the 8-ball: not only are the Dolphins 0-2 in the division, not only does Miami have three of the four remaining games on the road, but both Patriots landmines are in front of them. The Jets and Bills have yet to face each other, while both lost to New England. If you want to split hairs, you’d give the slight edge to the Jets, who at least get the Patriots at home in the rematch.
Teams in Best Shape: Jets/Bills (both 1-0 vs. Miami, 0-1 vs. New England)
Team in Terrible Shape: Miami (0-2, with both Patriots games, and both trips up north to the face the Bills and Jets still to come)
The AFC East also plays the NFC East. For tiebreaker purposes, these games matter the least, but it’s the one area where the Dolphins are in the best shape.
Team in Best Shape: Dolphins (1-0, thanks to a win in Washington)
Team in Worst Shape: Buffalo (0-1, with a home loss to the Giants); the Jets are 1-1, with both road games remaining (Dallas and “at” the Giants)
It’s easy to see why 538 is so much higher on the Jets’ playoff odds after running through the schedule: the Jets have the edge in both banked wins and in remaining schedule. New York has a 1.5 game lead on Buffalo and essentially a 1.5 game lead on Miami, and can gain even more ground by being the only of the three to defeat Jacksonville.
The Dolphins are on the rise, but Miami still has to face Indianapolis2 while having their toughest four AFC East games still on the schedule: @NE, NE, @NYJ, and @BUF. Going 0-2 in the two “easier” games on the division schedule puts the Dolphins in an enormous hole, while the loss to the Jaguars eliminated any narrow margin of error that remained. The easiest game left on Miami’s schedule is probably a game in San Diego or a home game against the Ravens. Miami will likely be an underdog in at least 6 (the four remaining AFC East games, @PHI, DAL with Romo/Bryant) of the team’s final 10 games, and home contests against the Giants and Colts may pit Miami as dogs, too.
As a result, Buffalo is probably the greater threat to the Jets, especially given that the teams have yet to square off this season. The worry for the Bills is that they are already 1 back of the Jets due to the AFC North game (largely a bad scheduling beat) and the Jets can double that advantage by beating the Jaguars at home. That would put Buffalo two games behind New York with a slightly harder remaining schedule3 and an arguably worse team. As a result, a sweep of the Jets is Buffalo’s clearest — and most realistic — path to the playoffs.
- The Jets are projected to with 1.5 more games the rest of the season than Miami, and 1.3 more games than Buffalo. [↩]
- And, it’s worth noting, that the Jets and Bills have already beaten the Colts, who may figure things out by the time they travel to Miami. [↩]
- The Jets get Oakland and not Kansas City out of the AFC West, while Buffalo still has to travel to Philadelphia and the Jets still get to use a Titans coupon. [↩]