Miami & Buffalo Have Earned Respect, But Remain In A Familiar Place
The AFC East’s consistent narrative over the past 15 years has been exhaustively analyzed. As a New Englander, you’re aware that the Patriots dominate the AFC East much like how everyone knows what powers America.
If you’re a member of the Bills, Dolphins, or Jets, the December standings feel like a recurring day in the movie “Groundhog Day.”
This Sunday, the 7-6 Miami Dolphins head to New England to take on the top-ranked AFC Patriots, while the 7-6 Buffalo Bills host the NFC’s finest, the Green Bay Packers. Both the Dolphins and Bills are coming off emotional defeats.
The Bills fought hard but ultimately fell to the Broncos with a one-score loss in Denver, and the Dolphins lost to the surging Ravens at home after surrendering a ten-point lead.
The Jets are having a tough season this year, but the Bills and Dolphins have made significant progress toward earning respect throughout the league.
Nonetheless, Sunday represents a pivotal moment in the AFC East. A Patriots division championship is almost a given, and New England stands on the verge of yet another “Hat & T-Shirt Day.”
A season filled with promise and gradual improvement for the Bills and Dolphins may result in the same old outcome. Welcome to AFC East purgatory.
I don’t highlight this familiar story to ridicule the Bills and Dolphins. On the contrary, I empathize. I spent the majority of my career in New England and was fortunate to be a part of three championship teams.
However, I also experienced the perspective from the other side as a New York Jet. I’ve been through the endlessly frustrating process multiple times of attempting to catch the seemingly uncatchable Patriots and falling short.
You strive to build your team and focus on your own progress, but that relentless, blinding light originating from Foxborough never dims.
The Patriots are the NFL’s equivalent of Seinfeld’s Kenny Rogers Roasters sign, etching an enduring impression on the minds of the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills.
The offseason for the AFC adversaries of the Patriots is invariably filled with optimism, strategic roster construction, and schemes to one day surpass New England. However, it somehow never comes to fruition.
I’ve witnessed all facets of attempting to solve this puzzle. There were years as a Jet when the offseason revolved around New England.
There were also years when we adopted the mindset of “it’s all about us” and tried not to be fixated on the Patriots. Neither approach yielded the desired results.
Deep down, it’s safe to assume that the Bills and Dolphins find themselves in a similar psychological place once more.
They still have meaningful opportunities in the weeks ahead, but their offseason aspirations are once again tossed aside.
When the Patriots stumbled earlier this September, thoughts might have crept in – could this be the year?
And then, very swiftly, it wasn’t. The progress made by Buffalo and Miami this season is undeniable. Both teams fall into the category of formidable opponents that AFC teams can’t afford to underestimate.
Nevertheless, as others learn not to overlook them, they still can’t see beyond the Patriots. I don’t have to speculate about how Miami and Buffalo must be feeling right now. I understand.
The Bills and Dolphins still have a shot at playoff eligibility, though their chances took a significant hit with last week’s defeats.
As it stands currently, the 8-5 Steelers boast a strong 7-3 record in the AFC, giving them a tiebreaker advantage over both Miami and Buffalo, who hold AFC records of 6-4 and 4-6, respectively.
Meanwhile, the 8-5 Ravens, despite a 4-5 AFC record, now have a one-game lead over the Dolphins and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Dolphins might stumble once but could still reasonably finish the season at 9-7. With some assistance from other teams, they could potentially secure a playoff berth.
For the Bills, the path is considerably less feasible, but they’re not officially out of contention yet.
However, it’s important to acknowledge that the ultimate goal is not merely making the playoffs.
When you examine the Bills and Dolphins’ rosters, it’s evident that the trajectory of both teams is promising. Both organizations have demonstrated their ability to assemble the right talent for competitive football.
The million-dollar question, however, is, now that they’ve acquired these talents, how do they learn the art of winning?
Both teams have been plagued by close losses this season, which has kept them in their current predicament.
In the upcoming games, both Miami (this Sunday) and Buffalo (on December 28th) have the opportunity to claim a single-game victory against the Patriots before the season’s end. But does that alone provide a sense of satisfaction? In my experience, not quite.
If you’re a part of the Bills or Dolphins organization, gaining league-wide respect and possibly winning a playoff berth might offer some relief. However, it still doesn’t shield you from the unyielding dominance coming from the north.