Jerry Sullivan: Nine wins should be good enough in AFC - The Buffalo News

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Jerry Sullivan: Nine wins should be good enough in AFC

Column as I see 'em, Week Ten:

The nice thing about the Bills not playing on a Sunday is it allows you a chance to watch the rest of the NFL. You watch for both entertainment and insight, looking to spot certain players and trends around the league.

My main observation: The AFC is really bad.

I can't remember the conference so down. Quarterback injuries are a big part of it. Miami lost Ryan Tannehill in preseason; Andrew Luck has finally been shut down; Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco have regressed; then last week came the depressing news of a season-ending injury to the league's best rookie, Deshaun Watson.

So while the memory of Thursday's loss at the Jets has much of Bills Nation in a panic, fans can find comfort in knowing that the AFC playoff race is wide open, and that one bad loss doesn't change the fact that the Bills are in very good shape.

You know me, always the bearer of good news. I've examined the rest of the AFC schedule and don't agree that it will take 10 wins to make the playoffs. There's a very good chance that 9-7 will be good for at least a tie for the conference's second wild-card spot.

Call me crazy (you won't be the first), but it wouldn't shock me if the regular season ended with a logjam for the last AFC wild card at 8-8.

Look, seven AFC teams have five losses. That means any of them would have to go 7-1, or 6-1 in some cases, to reach 10 wins. What are the chances of that in this muddle of mediocrity? Every team has multiple flaws in a season of uncommon parity. The NFC is five games better in inter-conference play; there will be more games that don't go into any AFC team's win column.

The assumption early in the season was that at least one and maybe two wild cards would come from the AFC West. Now it seems only one team from that division will make it. Even the Chiefs are struggling after losing three of four. The odds of two 10-6 teams in the AFC West are remote. And remember, the Bills have the tiebreaker over Denver and the Raiders.

The Dolphins are 4-4, the only non-winning team closer than two games of the Bills in the loss column. Miami stinks. They're last in scoring and second to last in total offense. They've been outscored by 63 points. Coach Adam Gase said he's tired of his team's slovenly ways and proved it by trading Jay Ajayi.

After 17 years, I'm as skeptical as anyone about the Bills. A lack of talent might be catching up to them. They could easily go 7-9. But it would be a shame if they didn't take advantage in a year of AFC mediocrity. They should make the playoffs if they can recapture the magic and resourcefulness that got them to 5-2.

Splitting their remaining eight games should be good enough for at least a tie for a wild card. The next four (vs. New Orleans, at Chargers, at Chiefs, vs. Pats) are daunting. But if they go 2-2, they're in great shape.

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Who would have thought after the win in Atlanta – which was the Bills' biggest road win in more than 20 years – that a home game next Sunday against the Saints might turn out to be even more imposing?

New Orleans comes to Buffalo as the hottest team in the NFL, having won six games in a row by an average margin of 15 points. It's their longest winning streak since 2009, when they started 13-0 on their way to winning the Super Bowl.

Five things to know about the New Orleans Saints, the Bills' Week Ten opponent

Quarterback Drew Brees, who turns 39 in January, is still going strong. Brees, who needs 3,615 passing yards to pass Peyton Manning for first all-time, has completed 71.6 percent of his passes this season for 2,214 yards.

Brees is throwing fewer passes than he has in years because of the Saints' two-headed running back tandem of Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara. Both Ingram and Kamara have combined for more than 650 scrimmage yards. Kamara has 311 yards rushing (at 6 yards a pop) and 38 catches for 341 yards.

"I'm telling you, I see this team every day," Brees told Peter King of MMQB.com. "We’re just scratching the surface.”

Brees is right. The Saints' future is bright thanks to a terrific 2017 draft, the kind the Bills desperately need. They got cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who is being touted for rookie of the year, with the 11th overall pick (between Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson).

At 32 overall, with a pick they got from the Pats for Brandin Cooks, they took Ryan Ramczyk, who has played every snap at right tackle. At 42nd overall, they grabbed Marcus Williams, a solid backup safety. They traded with the Niners to get Kamara, perhaps the steal of the draft, at 67th.

Richie Incognito insisted that the Bills who got blown out at the Jets on national TV "wasn't us." They have a great chance to prove it at home Sunday against the hottest team in the NFL.

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The L.A. Rams have scored 263 points through eight games after pasting the Giants, 51-17. They scored a league-low 223 all of last season. That puts them on exactly the same pace as the 1999 team that won the Super Bowl with Kurt Warner. The Rams (then in St. Louis) scored 526 points in '99.

Second-year quarterback Jared Goff had his finest day as a pro, throwing for 311 yards and four touchdowns, both career highs, with no interceptions. Goff had a 146.8 QB rating, one point higher than he posted in that wild, 41-39 win at San Francisco on Thursday night in September.

Goff had completions of 67, 52, 44, 44 and 35 yards in the win. Tyrod Taylor has completed only five passes of 35 yards or more all season: 47 to Jordan Mathews, 44 and 35 to Charles Clay; 44 to Deonte Thompson and 36 to Andre Holmes.

Of course, Goff has two of Taylor's former wide receivers. Sammy Watkins had a 67-yard TD catch against the Giants and Woods caught a screen and turned it into a 52-yard touchdown -- on third-and-33.

The last time Watkins and Woods caught TD passes in the same game was in the 2015 season, when Taylor found them both in a home win over Houston.

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Is he owned? This week's featured fantasy player is Eagles running back Corey Clement, who was a virtual unknown until he scored three touchdowns on Sunday in Philly's 51-23 rout of the Broncos.

Clement, a native of Glassboro, N.J., went undrafted last spring despite rushing for 1,375 yards and 15 TDs as a senior at Wisconsin. He had played sparingly until rushing for 54 yards on 10 carries against San Francisco a week ago.

You'd have expected Clement to lose touches when the Eagles traded for Jay Ajayi last week. The Eagles also have LeGarrette Blount. But the coaches like his pass blocking and gave him the most touches against Denver. So he's worth getting if you're looking for running back depth.

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Stats Incredible: The Bills are last in the NFL in first-quarter scoring (0.8 ppq). They have no TDs and only 6 points on two field goals. They're fifth in fourth quarter scoring at 8.6. Not surprisingly, the Eagles lead the league with 7.1 points per first quarter ... Adrian Peterson had 159 yards rushing on a career-high 37 carries in a win at the Niners. Peterson went over 12,000 yards and into 14th on the all-time rushing list, passing Thurman Thomas and Franco Harris ... Carson Wentz has thrown 15 TD passes and no interceptions in the red zone this season ... None of the five teams the Bills have beaten this season is above .500 ... Seattle kicker Blair Walsh missed three field goals in Sunday's loss to Washington, which is more than former Seahawks kicker Stephen Hauschka has missed all year for the Bills.

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