We've reached the half-way point of the 2011 NFL regular season, and right now, the Buffalo Bills are 5-3, in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC East, and very much alive in the playoff race. That's a right sight better than where they were last year, considering the team got off to an 0-8 start in Chan Gailey's first year as head coach.
Eight games in, the Bills have played a lot of good teams - and a few so-so teams, too. I thought it'd be an interesting exercise to power rank each of Buffalo's eight opponents thus far this season, then re-visit how the Bills performed in each of those games. The idea here is to get an idea of how well the Bills have played against playoff-caliber opposition.
We'll go in reverse order, starting with the weakest opponent and ending on the strongest.
8. Washington Redskins (3-5): The Redskins team that the Bills played in Toronto was a hot mess. The offensive line was banged up and porous, the team had just made a switch at quarterback, and they were also missing key offensive skill players (such as Tim Hightower, Chris Cooley and Santana Moss). This is not a playoff-caliber team, and the Bills - fresh off of their bye week - handled their business with ease. Bills 23, Redskins 0
7. Kansas City Chiefs (4-4): When the Bills played the Chiefs, they were reeling. They were coming off of a horrid pre-season performance, and that clearly carried over into the regular season, as the Chiefs were blown away in each of their first two games. They came around and beat four .500-or-below teams to get back into the thick of things in the AFC West, but are coming off of their worst loss of the season - a blowout home loss to previously winless Miami. This team just isn't that good, and the Bills blew them out. Bills 41, Chiefs 7
6. Oakland Raiders (4-4): The Raiders team that the Bills beat in Week 2 was much better than the Raiders as they exist today. Oakland looked like a team that would easily control the West, but when Jason Campbell went down, Hue Jackson dialed up the crazy and made a franchise-altering trade for Carson Palmer. That hasn't worked out so well, the Raiders have lost two in a row convincingly, and while they still are a solid team, they're now reeling. The quality Raiders team that Buffalo faced gave the Bills all they could handle in Orchard Park. Bills 38, Raiders 35
5. Philadelphia Eagles (3-5): No one claims that the Eagles lack talent; on the contrary, they have one of the most talented rosters in professional football. They are a mess defensively behind out-of-his-element coordinator Juan Castillo, and despite a resurgence after losing to the Bills (falling to 1-4), they remain maddeningly inconsistent, making dumb mistakes and costing themselves winnable football games. This is a good team that can't get out of its own way - and that was the case in Week 5, as well. Bills 31, Eagles 24
4. Cincinnati Bengals (6-2): If the Bills have played four iffy teams, then they've also played four teams that have looked like rock-solid playoff contenders this season. The Bengals rank at the bottom of that quartet merely because of their youth. Cincinnati's defense is the best that the Bills have faced this season - yes, better than Rex Ryan's in New Jersey. They're making plays offensively. People were surprised when the Bengals handed the Bills their first loss in Week 4; now, with the benefit of hindsight, that surprise no longer exists. Bengals 23, Bills 20
3. New England Patriots (5-3): The Patriots are not playing up to their usual standards this year. The defense can most accurately be described as horrendous, and in recent weeks, opposing defenses have been able to contain an offense that still ranks among the league's best. The Pats will be good as long as Tom Brady is around, and that's what they are this year: a really good football team. They're just not a great football team. Bills 34, Patriots 31
2. New York Giants (6-2): Eli Manning is having the best year of his professional career, and as a result, the Giants are not only one of the best teams in football, but look like legitimate Super Bowl contenders, as well. Sure, they've had hiccups along the way, but there are no truly great teams in the league this year, and with Manning playing the way he has been playing, the Giants have as good a chance as any of the top half-dozen teams in the league to win it all. Manning really started hitting his stride against the Bills. Giants 27, Bills 24
1. New York Jets (5-3): The Jets are a bit unconventional, but each year under Rex Ryan, they've proven that for all of their regular season quirks, they're perfectly suited for long-term success - and get better as the season wears on. The Jets are able to match up against any offense in the league and effectively shut them down thanks to their unparalleled secondary and Ryan's creativity. They're getting better offensively now that their running game is turning around. They may not look like it now, but I firmly believe that the Jets are the best team the Bills have faced - and they handled Buffalo like no other team this year. Jets 27, Bills 11