In 2017, much-maligned AFC East was maybe best division in conference

One columnist in town enjoys referring to the AFC East as a “division of tomato cans.” It’s a sly way to downplay the Patriots’ regular season success, and effective, considering there’s historically been a kernel of truth to it. While Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have hoisted five Lombardi trophies since 2001, the rest of the division has cycled through dozens of head coaches and starting quarterbacks. It’s been nearly two decades of disarray.

This season, the “tomato can” moniker appropriately encapsulates the AFC as a whole. The Patriots’ slate of possible Divisional Round opponents is downright putrid, with the Chiefs posing the only legitimate threat to pull off the upset. (And given the injuries to Kansas City’s defense, that does not seem likely.)

The entire AFC was weak in 2017, primarily due to the wretched state of quarterbacking across the conference. With Andrew Luck and short-lived rookie sensation Deshaun Watson out with injuries, and Joe Flacco and Philip Rivers regressing, there was a dearth of ability at the position. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why the quarterback-starved AFC East was able to hold its own.

With two playoff teams –– the Bills clinched their first postseason berth Sunday since 1999–– the AFC East was not a laughingstock. In fact, it may have been the best division in the conference this season.

Including the Patriots, the AFC East was the only division in the conference to feature a winning record (33-31). Without the Patriots, the record drops to 20-28, which is better than the AFC North (16-32) and AFC South (17-31) when its first-place teams, the Steelers and Jaguars, are removed. It is identical to the AFC West without the Chiefs. The division took a hit this season due to the surprising struggles of the Broncos and Raiders.