9 (7). Detroit Lions (6-2)
The Lions slip a couple of places simply because the NFC picture is becoming more and more muddled by the week. Dropping 2 through 8 is not a bad way to start the season, but with the bears and Falcons a single game behind, and then the Cowboys, and Buccaneers sitting on 4-4, nothing is safe. To make matters worse, the Giants and Saints both top their divisions with 6 wins. That means should they slip from pole position, they too would tumble into the mixing bowl from which the Lions are still favourites to emerge as a Wild Card, but look certain to be shaken up by the time they do.
10 (9). New York Jets (5-3)
The Jets are hitting their stride at the right time. Having recovered from a frustrating start, they are now perfectly poised to take the AFC East by the scruff of its neck, resting as they in a 3-way tie with the Pats and Bills.
There are no easy games in the National Football League, and the Jets need to play every remaining fixture as if it’s the Super Bowl.
Their defence has been very good of late, and Sanchez has managed to keep the offense on an even keel in spite of the criticism he received over the first month of the season.
The young USC product has already been to two AFC Championship games so must possess something in the way of late-season poise, but can he do it this year after greater expectation, more intense scrutiny and the lofty guarantees of his outspoken coach to live up to?
Quite probably. A Wild Card at worst for the Jets.
11 (15). Cincinnati Bengals (6-2)
Nobody, probably not even the Bengals, though that the AFC North would be a 3 horse race this year. Oddly, after 8 games the Bengals actually TOP the division, leading both Baltimore and Pittsburgh on tiebreakers.
That is likely, however, to change. This Bengals team, captained admirably by rookie QB Andy ‘Red’ Dalton have performed beyond expectations, and done so with a welcome dose of poise and verve, but they lack the season-closing skills possessed by their more mature rivals.
That said, the Bengals have benefited from having a long-term coach in place and have been working consistently to improve over the past few seasons. Maybe they are for real? We will know more after week 10, when the Bengals are scheduled to play the Steelers. A win for the Bengals will put them in control of the division and seriously dent Pittsburgh’s chances of making the playoffs due to the horrendous tiebreaker ramifications another intra-divisional loss will have.