Five weeks does not an NFL season make. With just over a quarter of the 2011 regular season in the books, the thought of a clear cut favorite has just not emerged in the playoff race, at least not in the AFC. There are no more undefeated teams in the AFC and along with the Baltimore Ravens, there are only four teams with only one loss (New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers).
The next few weeks will still not do enough to make the playoff picture any clearer, but we will certainly have a better idea of who are the contenders and who are the pretenders. The Ravens host the Houston Texans next week in Baltimore, and one of those two teams will confirm their status while the other one will raise a question mark about theirs.
If the season were to end today, the Ravens and Chargers would win the AFC North and West, respectively. By virtue of their win over the Patriots, the Bills would win the AFC East and in the AFC South, both the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans would be tied for the division lead. Since the Texans have the better division record, we'll name them champs of the AFC South over the Titans.
That means that the Ravens, Bills, Chargers and Texans would be division champs and the Wild Card battle would be led by the 4-1 Patriots, followed by a bunch of 3-2 teams (Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders and the Titans). The tie-breakers are just way too complicated at this early stage to differentiate between the Wild Card contenders
For arguments' sake, we'll just have to accept that whoever the sixth seed is will end up losing to whoever the third seed will be, although my opinion is that as the Patriots are the fifth seed, they could definitely be the fourth seed, which currently would be the Houston Texans.
That would leave the Final Four in the AFC being the Ravens, Chargers, Bills and Patriots. Without any ability to determine the top three seeds, the match-ups are impossible to predict, but if the Ravens finally get at least one home playoff game after being on the road in the post season the past three years, I definitely like their chances to not only go far, but perhaps, dare we say already....?