There seems to have been more notably bad teams in the NFL than usual this year. The Lions are chasing 0-16 and a large number of other teams have been awful (Rams, Chiefs, Bengals, Seahawks), so the Raiders at 3-11 don't look as bad, but after watching the Patriots dismantle them last Sunday it became clear to me how bad the Raiders are. The franchise is in disarray with constant coaching and personnel changes, overpaid underachieving free agents and disappointing high draft choices. JeMarcus Russel has been a disappointment on par with a number of highly touted QB's that have disappointed lately or seen limited playing time (Brady Quinn, Matt Leinart, Vince Young). Darren McFadden has been impressive, but not enough to make up for the shortcomings of the Raiders.
On Sunday I had no idea what to expect from the Patriots. Nobody knew how the death of Greg Cassel, Matt Cassel's father, would effect Matt's performance, but Matt came out swinging and the Patriots jumped out to an early lead against the Raiders, seemingly scoring at will until the game went into junk time. The Patriots defense seemed sharp at first, but seemed to lose their edge with such a large cushion so early, allowing the Raiders offense to put up a respectable 19 points (the final score was 49-26, but the Raiders scored a TD on a kickoff return that can't really be credited to the offense). By the time the 4th Quarter came on I was hoping that CBS would move to the Ravens-Steelers game which was far more competitive and had important attachments to the Patriots playoff hopes.
This moves the Patriots to a 9-5 record and places them in a 3-way tie for the AFC East with the Jets and Dolphins and a 4-way tie for the second AFC Wild Card spot with the Jets, Dolphins and Ravens. The Bills had the opportunity to deal a serious blow to the Jets playoff hopes with a 3 point lead, possesion of the football and under two minutes to go in the game, but on 2nd and 5 called a pass play, JP Losman rolled out, was strip sacked and the ball was brought in for a Jets Touchdown. Buffalo would still get two possesions after the Jets defensive touchdown, but Losman was picked off on both possesions to end the game.
The NFL tie-breaking procedures do not favor the Patriots and will require some outside help in order to make the playoffs. Specific Details are listed here: (http://www.boston.com/sports/columnists/wilbur/2008/12/15/settling_the_scenarios/). The most likely scenario would seem to be the Patriots winning both of the two remaining Games and the Ravens losing one of their remaining games to allow the Pats to clinch a Wild Card Berth.