The NFL's Closest Division Race Just Got Better

Marc LundeContributor IMay 27, 2009

DAVIE, FL - MAY 02:  Rookie cornerback Vontae Davis #24 of the Miami Dolphins catches a ball during mini camp on May 2, 2009 at the Miami Dolphins Training facility in Davie, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)


That was the record of the American Football Conference East Division last season. It was in a three-way tie for second-most wins behind the NFC South's 40—where the worst team finished 8-8.

So half of the NFL's divisions had 38+ wins (9.5 per team). Those divisions produced seven (of at most eight) of the 12 playoff teams and three of the first-round byes.

However, the AFC East was the only one of those four divisions with 38+ wins to only send one team to the playoffs. It was also the only division among those four that didn't have a 12-win team.

This tells me that this division is the toughest in the AFC (the NFC East and South's lowest teams were 8-8 and both still sent two teams to the playoffs even though the Eagles got in with only nine wins).

It is easier to make the playoffs when your division's bottom-feeder four wins or less... but seven? Granted the Bills were 0-6 in the division, that means they were 7-3 against the rest of the league - not a bad mark translating into a not-so-easy win.

With teams in your division stealing much-needed wins in the tightest divisional race, one off week can turn a 11-5 team into a team that has just as much a chance to win the Super Bowl as an 0-16 team does: none.

At a quick glance: The Patriots will be tough every year and if Brady is half the quarterback that we've seen him then they are a threat. The Jets last five games were miserable (1-4) and they still could have won the division title (by beating the Dolphins and the Patriots losing in week 17) and they have addressed some issues - spending their first three picks on offense. The Bills added a deep threat that can "make a (game-changing) play."

The defensive secondary was addressed in the draft in picks like Vontae Davis and that was very important. Pat White is a good addition that can make the Wildcat your set offense. Because of the offense at West Virginia, he is used to making reads on pass-run option and makes those other horses at tailback a bigger threat. Giving him some young, talented receivers wasn't a bad touch either.

For the Dolphins, the formula is simple: Win the games that you should and steal some of the games you shouldn't (like week two with the Colts, week 15 at the Titans and week 17 against the Steelers) and you can make the playoffs. Don't do that and Belichick and the Patriots should be marching back into the playoffs.

The cliche is that in a 16-game season "every game counts." Three teams could have won the division title in week 17 last season. And with a realistic one playoff spot open, this division should be the most interesting race until the last play of the regular season.