Patriots sitting pretty in jumbled AFC

Patriots sitting pretty in jumbled AFC
October 25, 2011, 1:26 pm
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If you saw the Monday Night slopfest between the Ravens and Jaguars, you may have been left with the same impression as me: "Holy crap, the Ravens are completely inept."Who the hell are they? The team that shut down the Steelers and Jets, or the one that's now been handled by the Jaguars and Titans? Who knows? What is apparent is that flaws run deep among even the best teams in the AFC. Or what passes for them. And the Patriots -- despite being the worst defense statistically in the NFL in total yards allowed -- and the upstart Bills are the best teams in the conference. (Check out the NFL Playoff Picture from NFL.com). Unless the playoffs are moved up two months -- and that seems unlikely -- it doesn't really matter who the best team is on October 25. But taking stock of what the rest of New England's competition has done and needs to overcome shows how well-positioned the Patriots seem coming off the bye. Ravens (4-2)Monday night's performance was disturbing. Joe Flacco isn't getting enough time, his receivers aren't getting enough separation and he seems squirrelly as hell (52.1 completion percentage). Terrell Suggs is giving offensive game plan recommendations. They convert 32.9 percent of third downs. Defensively, they are still daunting but the Jaguars ran all over them Monday. Steelers (5-2)Sunday's game against the Patriots could determine where the AFC Championship is played. But Pittsburgh's problems are worrisome. They don't turn opposing teams over (just two picks and a fumble recovery so far), their offensive line is usually a disaster and -- despite the spin from the past few weeks as they've bludgeoned bad teams -- their defense is getting old in a hurry. Chargers (4-2)They're so dumb I can't believe it. Bengals (4-2)Please. Raiders (4-3)Also, please. Texans (4-3)Not as easily dismissed. They don't strike me as a very "tough" team. Two of their wins came against Miami and Indy. Matt Schaub soils himself frequently when things get dicey in big games. But their running game is solid and their offensive skill position guys -- even with Andre Johnson out -- are impressive. Losing Mario Williams for the rest of the year because of a pectoral injury was a mammoth blow, though. Jets (4-3)They are a team that rides emotion and momentum and they picked up a bunch on Sunday when the Chargers went full moron against them. You make your own luck, it's said, so give the Jets credit for creating the necessary luck to have the Chargers hand them the game last week and for being able to play badly and still win by 18 against the horrific Dolphins on Monday night the week before. Bills (4-2)They, along with the Patriots, have been the most consistently predictable team in the conference. Their losses -- 23-20 at Cincy and 27-24 at the Giants -- hinged on just a couple of plays unlike every other team in the conference (except New England) which had full meltdowns in their losses. That indicates to me a surprisingly mature team that plays complementary football: offense struggles, defense is there to pick up the slack, etc. Dismiss the Bills as a cute story at your own peril. Their talent on both sides of the ball is right there with the rest of the conference and Ryan Fitzpatrick is one of the five best quarterbacks in the conference right now.