At the end of every season the best two non division winning teams from each of the two conferences head out on a road trip to play in something called the playoffs. In order to get there, each of these teams generally wins 9-12 games and is considered to be a legitimate contender. Six of these so called "wild card" teams have even won the Super Bowl! This is a good thing.
One quick look at the AFC Playoff picture makes you question everything about that last paragraph. The notion of flawed contenders is not a new one, but that requires there to be enough contenders to take advantage of said flaws, and that is just not the case. In addition to the Patriots and Broncos, who played an instant classic last night(and have plenty of flaws themselves), there are three teams that ought to make the playoffs. The Colts were looking like the probable second seed after their win over the Broncos, helped in part by their absurdly easy division, but their last four weeks have put them in the shitter. They got slaughtered by the Rams and Cardinals and barely beat the Texans and the Titans, giving them a point differential of -53 for the month of November. The Bengals started very strong, but injuries to stars Geno Atkins and Leon Hall combined with back to back losses to the Ravens and Dolphins have made their prospects a bit more perilous. I don't have much bad to say about the Chiefs, the likely fifth seed, except that they never looked like winning against the only good team they've played (Broncos), and almost lost to the Texans, Browns, and Bills (combined 10-23) in consecutive weeks. Remember, these are the good teams.
There are two wild card places in the AFC. As mentioned, one of those will be taken by the loser of the West. The other spot is currently occupied by a garbage fire. As of the standings today that garbage fire is quarterbacked by Ryan Fitzpatrick, who I'm pretty sure was brought in to tank and earn the Titans a top 8 draft pick after Jake Locker got hurt. They needed a last-second touchdown to beat the Raiders yesterday, so I'm confident that they can't end up in the playoffs. Next up behind them is the Steelers, the second of the six teams currently sitting at 5-6. They are the only team in this group that wouldn't be offensive in the playoffs, due to Ben Roethlisberger being not a horrendous quarterback, but their DVOA heading into this weekend was just below the MRSA-Schiano line. They also don't have a great schedule, with their next two against teams in this group followed by a visit to Aaron Rodgers. They shouldn't be able to make it. Speaking of the Steelers, they play the team right behind them in the standings on Thursday, the Baltimore Ravens. This game features teams that were, less than a month ago, a combined 5-11 on the season, and it might decide a playoff spot. Baltimore also isn't a particularly good team, coming in at a cool 22nd in DVOA, and they finish the season by playing the Lions, Patriots, and Bengals. At least they payed Joe Flacco $120 million while they still could.
Alright, we're halfway through the sludge. Everyone take a breath and think about how good the NFC is, with 10 teams at or above .500 on the year. Have a laugh at Mark Sanchez.
Isn't that pleasant?
We return to the sludge with the Chargers. They beat the Chiefs! That's really good!. They lost to the Redskins, Texans, and Raiders. That's bad. Next. The Jets have Geno Smith as a quarterback. His touchdown-turnover ratio is 11-23, and Rex is considering benching him for Matt Simms. Avert your eyes. The Dolphins started 3-0, and then became a league wide warning story while losing six of eight. Missing the right side of your starting offensive line is not going to help, and playing four of your last five in the division might create a mess.
Phew, that's over. Sort of, at least, as a case can be made for the Bills. I don't want to do it, because I'm a little tired of sadness, but it would probably require E.J. Manuel looking like last year's RGIII, and I'm not entertaining that as a possibility. There's your AFC Wild Card race in all it's pure, unadulterated suck. I almost wish that nobody ended up winning and the three seed would just get a playoff bye as well. With most of these teams likely to be double-digit underdogs in said game, I guess it will be close enough.