Wild-card berths are up for grabs


Published: Sunday, January 2, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 2, 2005 at 12:53 a.m.
For five AFC teams hopefuls, the season has boiled down to one weekend.
The New York Jets (10-5), Denver (9-6), Buffalo (9-6), Jacksonville (8-7) and Baltimore (8-7) all are hoping to claim one of the two wild card slots available and each has various scenarios that will put them in the postseason.
But really, who really deserves to go? Using an unscientific formula that evaluates wins against teams who will at worst finish .500 and losses against opponents that enter the week below .500, the conclusion is the team most worthy of inclusion is the Jets and the team most deserving of exclusion is the Broncos. Interestingly, those are the only two teams with win-and-you-are-in scenarios this weekend.
Awarding one point for a quality win at home and 1.5 for one on the road and losing one point for a bad road loss and 1.5 for a bad home loss, here are the results with today's opponent in parenthesis.
Jets (at 7-8 St. Louis) - New York scored a 2.5 and was the only one of the five hopefuls without a bad loss. The Jets picked up quality wins in Week 2 (at San Diego) and Week 5 (home against Buffalo). Other than that, New York, winners of 5-of-its-last-7, basically has beaten who it should and suffered losses against teams either in the postseason or competing for a wild card berth.
Jaguars (at 5-10 Oakland) - The biggest enigma of the bunch, Jacksonville scored a 1.5. Three quality road wins (Buffalo, Indianapolis and Green Bay) combined with a home victory against Denver gave Jacksonville a 5.5 on the good wins side, easily the best of all wild card contenders. However, home losses to Tennessee and Houston combined with a road loss against the Texans dropped four points from the Jags' score. Interestingly, all but one of the quality wins came for Jacksonville in the first half of the season and all of the bad losses occurred from Week 8 on. So, it should come as no surprise the Jags have lost 4-of-6 entering the weekend.
Bills (hosting 14-1 Pittsburgh) - The hottest contender, Buffalo has won six straight and 8-of-9 with the only loss, 29-6, against defending Super Bowl champ New England in Week 10. That said, only two of those victories are against quality foes. The Bills scored a 1.5 based on a loss at Oakland in Week 2 and wins at home against the Jets (Week 9) and in Seattle (Week 12).
Ravens (hosting 4-11 Miami) - Baltimore has stumbled late in the season, losing 4-of-5, and saw a virtual split in the quality wins/bad losses differential, scoring a negative-0.5. Home losses to Kansas City and Cincinnati and a loss at Cleveland a little more than offset home victories against Pittsburgh (making the Ravens the only team to beat the Steelers this year) and Buffalo and a road win against the Jets.
Broncos (hosting 12-3 Indianapolis) - Losers of 5-of-its-last-9, Denver has beaten up the little guys and has just one quality win (Week 3 at home against San Diego). Putting the Broncos' grade at negative-2.5 are losses at Cincinnati and Kansas City, as well as a home loss to the Raiders.
None of this actually matters when determining who will reach the playoffs, but when trying to figure out who might have the best shot at knocking off one of the AFC's top four seeds (Pittsburgh, New England, Indianapolis and San Diego), don't count on one team (Denver), question the consistency of two others (Baltimore and Jacksonville), the schedule of a fourth (Buffalo) and wonder why the fifth (New York) hasn't won a quality game since Week 5.
The best bets to pull playoff upsets probably are the Jets (based on season-long consistency), Jags (most quality wins) and the streaking Bills.
You can reach John Patton by calling 374-5074 or by e-mail at pattonj@gvillesun.com.

NFL on Page 9C

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Jets are team to fear in playoffs

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