Last year, the New England Patriots clinched the division some time around preseason Week 3. They finished 13-3, with the Jets a distant second at 8-8. Apart from that fluky game against Buffalo, the Patriots faced almost no resistance, as they mercilessly stomped their "competition."
Buffalo came out hot in 2011. They went 4-1, edging New England in a crazy game in Week 3. But then, all of a sudden, Ryan Fitzpatrick remembered he was Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Bills dropped nine of their last 11 games, conceding nearly 28 points per game in those losses.
Running back Fred Jackson, who was on pace for 1,500 yards, went down to injury, and wideout Stevie Johnson was nowhere to be found (unless you were looking on my fantasy bench). Nobody circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills. Because nobody else sets them on fire and crashes them into each other.
The Dolphins faced a completely different situation. Miami jousted with Indianapolis in the "Suck for Luck" competition all the way through Week 8. At that point, both teams remained winless and it appeared they would go down to the wire.
But then, all of a sudden Matt Moore forgot he was Matt Moore. The Dolphins started crushing people. First it was Kansas City, 31-3. Then it was Buffalo, 35-8. And Oakland, 34-14. They went 6-3 down the stretch, but obviously were so hampered by their poor start that they never held any playoff hope.
After reaching the AFC Championship game in 2009 and 2010, the Jets failed to make the playoffs last year. Mark Sanchez (who again, has been to TWO AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES) at times looked just less than abysmal. I don't even know what to call it: He had only three games with over 300 passing yards, and only four games in which he didn't throw an interception.
They also saw a massive decline in their patented run game. Shonn Greene only notched two 100-yard games, and fell far below his expectations...again. Despite this, the Jets inexplicably sat at 8-5 with three games remaining. They promptly blew all three games and threw away a wild card spot.
Now, it is unusual for a division to be so lopsided (ignore the NFC North and West from last year, just humor me). The Patriots constantly stand atop the mountain, true. But I don't expect the margin to be five games again in 2012.
I expect it to be 6.