Of all the memorable quotes Bill Parcells has delivered, this is one of the most repeated: “You are what your record says you are.” What exactly, then, is the AFC East? The Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and New York Jets are 3-3, the first time since the last NFL realignment in 2002 an entire division was tied entering Week Seven or beyond.
“Obviously,” Parcells said Saturday by phone, “it looks peculiar.”
The future Hall of Fame coach has witnessed a lot of strange scenarios in his time. Parcells has won two Super Bowls and has been in charge of three-quarters of the teams in the AFC East at various points. He’s a former Patriots head coach, was general manager and head coach of the Jets and most recently ran football operations for the Dolphins.
When he looks at the current AFC East standings, he sees a legitimate free-for-all.
“The fact that everyone’s 3-3 means you’re ready to hit the reset button,” Parcells said.
Jets coach Rex Ryan joked this week he didn’t know what to make of the unprecedented logjam.
“It’s good news, bad news,” Ryan said. “Let’s face it: We’re tied for first in our division, so that’s great.
“We’re also tied for last. It’s a little depressing.”
With the Dolphins on their bye week and the Jets and Patriots playing each other this afternoon, at most there will be two AFC East teams with a 4-3 record by Sunday evening; the Bills can be one of them.
Parity isn’t limited to the AFC East. There has been little separation in the entire conference. Five other clubs have three losses, and only two – the 5-1 Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens – have winning records.
“I do think the majority of the conference is pretty average right now,” NFL Network analyst and former Washington Redskins and Houston Texans GM Charley Casserly said by phone from Los Angeles. “I don’t think that’ll change this year. It just seems that’s what the conference is.
“But it means nobody is out of it. It’s something a coach can use to motivate his team. The players and the coaches know they have a shot. The reality is, ‘We are 3-3 and anything can happen.’ It’s a motivating tool, and I think the players buy into it.”
While the four AFC-East teams have identical records, they have differing opinions about being there.
The Bills are not the same as the Jets are not the same as the Dolphins are not the same as the Patriots.
“Whoever plays the best from here out — no matter how anybody feels right now — will be the ones that make the playoffs,” Parcells said while on his way to Belmont Park to watch his horse, Saratoga Snacks, run in the Empire Classic.
“Every team has a different set of problems and certain things cause you to get into a situation you’d rather not be in, but you’re in it. They’re not cancelling the rest of the games. You’ve got to play them.”
The Bills are excited to be on equal footing. Their three defeats have been by a combined score of 145-59, and two of those were against the Jets and Patriots. The Bills posted two of their three worst defensive performances in team history and set some NFL records for defensive incompetence.
Yet here they are, with the same record as the Patriots.
“The three games that we’ve lost have felt like we’re a much worse team than 3-3,” Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said.
“To be here and also to have the other teams be 3-3 in the AFC East and everybody kind of knotted up, all of a sudden you start looking at it as we’ve got 10 games left to go, and we’ve got a real shot at this thing.”
Bills receiver Stevie Johnson grinned when asked about the AFC East standings.
“It’s open for everybody,” Johnson said. “There’s a change going on. It’s not the same as years past where you have that one team at the top. Things are getting different with teams like us moving up.
“We’ve got to be able to make that move and not just stay the same. We’ve got to take advantage of it, seize the moment.”
The Patriots are frustrated by their 3-3 record. They’re perennial Super Bowl contenders who lost back-to-back games for the first time in a decade.
It’s enough to give Patriots quarterback Tom Brady an identity crisis when considering there are seven AFC teams at 3-3 and only two teams with better records. The Ravens kicked a late field goal to beat the Patriots by a point in Week Three. The Texans are coming off a 42-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
“So, you know, who are you?” Brady asked. “It’s week to week. It all depends on how well you play. … So you can’t sit here and say, ‘We’re the greatest team ever,’ or, ‘We’re the worst team of all-time,’ or compare this year to last year.
“We’re 3-3. We haven’t earned a better record than that. We haven’t played well enough and consistently enough to be better than that.”
Ryan declared the road to the AFC East crown still goes through Foxborough. The Patriots have won the division eight of the last nine years.
“New England’s had a stranglehold on this division for several years,” Ryan said. “The three years I’ve been [Jets] head coach, obviously, they’ve won our division and, to be quite honest, pretty handily.
“So they’re the ones to beat. It goes through New England, without question.”
The Jets and the Dolphins have been the AFC East’s biggest surprises so far.
Although the Jets were expected to be competitive, they’ve lost two of their best players for the season: cornerback Darrelle Revis and receiver Santonio Holmes. Quarterback Mark Sanchez has been uninspiring. They have no Pro Bowl talent at any of their offensive skill positions.
The Dolphins entered the season in rebuilding mode, but rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been stupendous.
He seems to get better every week, leading many observers to consider the Dolphins a strong candidate to challenge for a playoff berth ahead of the Bills and Jets.
“I’m excited,” Tannehill said. “I think that we’re in a good spot. I think that it’s in our hands now.
“It’s all on us if we want to go out make a run at this thing. … At the end of the day we have no one else to look at but ourselves, and it’s on us to get it done.”