Bills lead charge in new-look AFC
No matter how long you stare at them, the AFC standings after three weeks just look a bit off kilter, don't they? Not upside down per se, but refreshingly out of order, and jumbled to the point where our customary quick glance can't take it all in.
It makes for some great early season buzz in the conference that has been owned by the Patriots and Colts the past five or six seasons. If the playoffs started today, the AFC postseason bracket would be a snap to figure out because there are only six teams with winning records in the conference.
The division winners would be Buffalo (3-0) in the AFC East, a division nobody but New England has won since 2002; Tennessee (3-0) in the AFC South, a division nobody but Indianapolis has won since 2002; upstart Baltimore (2-0) in the AFC North; and surprising Denver (3-0) in the AFC West, where San Diego has claimed three of the past four division titles. The two wild cards would be New England and Pittsburgh (both 2-1).
For strangeness, nothing compares to the sight of seeing the Bills at 3-0 for the first time in 16 years, the first team other than New England to be atop the division since Week 4 of 2005. Buffalo hasn't made the playoffs since 1999, the AFC's longest active drought, and hasn't won the division since 1995, the year the Bills got a league-leading 17½ sacks out of NFL Defensive Player of the Year
There wasn't a thing pretty about the Bills' latest win -- that 24-23 last-second nail-biter over visiting Oakland -- but the resilience Buffalo displayed in mounting its second consecutive fourth-quarter comeback victory should serve
You can see this thing building week by week in Buffalo, and Tuesday morning I asked Bills offensive coordinator
"No doubt about that,'' said Schonert, the Bills' first-year coordinator. "It was one of those days on Sunday where nothing seemed to be going our way. There was a lot of adversity we had to overcome, but nobody panicked and they all stayed the course. Our confidence on offense is growing.''
Down 16-7 late in the third quarter, the Bills and starting quarterback
"That drive took a big effect on them,'' Schonert said of Oakland. "It took a lot out of them, because we had the ball for most of the second half. They only ran 17 snaps in the second half. Our defense was fresh, and it showed in the fourth quarter. The Raiders couldn't generate the same pass rush as they had in the first half, and we felt we were in better shape than they were.''
What you have to like about these Bills so far is they're very democratic in their offensive approach. Edwards, with his fourth fourth-quarter victory in 12 career starts, is rapidly proving why Buffalo felt the third-rounder out of Stanford was the steal of the 2007 draft, but he's far from the whole story. It's the running/receiving of Lynch and backup tailback
"Everybody's getting involved for us, and the players are seeing that,'' said Schonert, whose offense ranks 9th overall in points, with 26 per game. "It's not just a one-man show any more, throwing to Lee. We're using everybody, and everybody's making plays. When that happens for a team, everybody gains confidence and starts believing.''
With this week's game at St. Louis, where the Rams are 0-3 and either at or near the bottom of the league in most major statistical categories, the unbeaten Bills will now take their act back on the road, where another potential lesson in the dangers of overconfidence awaits.
"You try and temper them a bit right now,'' Schonert said. "Obviously they haven't started this well around here in a long time, and with a young team, it can get a little giddy some times. A little caught up in the hype. But this team is pretty focused, pretty level, because Dick really pounds that into them. The Raiders game taught us that it wasn't the 2007 Raiders we were playing. They're improved. We're improved. That's why you have a new season every year. I think our guys get that and have bought into it.''
Everything seems new in the AFC East this season, at least since
"Obviously when the league loses a great player like Tom Brady, it does change the landscape,'' Schonert said. "But no team is built entirely on one guy. He was an integral part of that team and he knew that offense inside out, but hey, they won a Super Bowl there one year when they lost their starting quarterback in a season. So don't underestimate the New England Patriots. Yeah, they had a bad week this week. But they're 2-1 with 13 games to go. They'll be heard from this season. Don't worry about that.''
And so will these 3-0 first-place Bills. Three weeks into the regular season, it's a thought that's still taking some getting used to.
• On the flip side, as surprising as the early season results in the AFC have been, the NFC is confounding in its own way. That's because 10 teams have winning records so far, meaning there's plenty of competition for those six playoff berths.
Since there aren't three wild-card spots to be had, at least one team has to be the odd man out in the NFC East. Dallas and the Giants are both 3-0, with Washington and Philadelphia at 2-1. That's a combined 10-2 record, and did you know that no NFC East team has lost to anyone outside the division? The Redskins lost to the Giants in Week 1, and the Eagles lost that points-fest at Dallas in Week 2. Pretty good indication of the division's strength.
Then there's Tampa Bay, Carolina and Atlanta, all at 2-1 in the NFC South. And the team that I thought would be the division's strongest, New Orleans, hardly looks like last-place material. Green Bay is the only winner at 2-1 in the NFC North, but the NFC West lead is shared by San Francisco and Arizona at 2-1, in what is shaping up as the NFL's weakest division by far.
• It's time for my weekly
• Make the switch now,
• Then there's the iffy quarterback situation in Houston.
Doesn't it seem as if we've seen this movie before with the Texans' quarterbacking? In just two games, Schaub has been sacked eight times, which is a pace that perhaps only
The Texans scored just one touchdown in six red zone trips at Tennessee, and went a combined 5 of 21 on third and fourth downs. That kind of negated the benefit of the 146 yards rushing and 5.2-yard average carry that Houston posted against the Titans' No. 1-ranked defense.
• If I'm a Lions fan, I'm only crazier to hear that
I suppose hearing someone in the Ford family admit they question why Millen's failure has been allowed to become so acceptable is cathartic in a way. But it's also a bit of the ultimate tease, and would only make the agony of having to put up with Millen's continued employment that much more painful for fans who really care about the team's downtrodden fortunes.