By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Picking on the AFC East has become something of a sport among sports fans and media members. It’s often a faulty venture.

That’s not to say that the AFC East has been a powerhouse over the years. Hardly. The struggles — sometimes sporadic, other times sustained — of the Bills, Jets and Dolphins has been well-documented over the past two decades. Of course.

But there’s been this idea that has devolved into accepted common knowledge that the AFC East has been the NFL’s worst division for decades. Thus, it follows that the Patriots have had the easiest road to winning 12-plus games every season. By and large, this reasoning is based on feelings rather than fact.

Really, what’s led to such a conclusion being drawn is the fact the Patriots do win the division every year. Their sustained run of dominance has not ever been seen before, and in an attempt to try to make sense of it, some folks conclude that it must be due in large part to a lack of competition within the division. But these people generally don’t put in the legwork to back up their claims.

Yet while those people have largely been wrong for years on end, they are mostly correct in 2018.

Through 12 weeks of the season, the AFC East ranks sixth out of eight in combined winning percentage and sixth out of eight in non-division win percentage. Taking the combined win percentage of the three non-division leaders, the AFC East ranks seventh out of eight overall, and seventh out of eight in non-division win percentage.

Any way you slice it, the AFC East has been awfully awful this year. AFC East truth tellers, for the time being, must stand down.

At the same time, the division that ranks last in the NFL in combined win percentage is the NFC West, which is really saying something, considering the Rams are 10-1. Removing the division-leading Rams from the picture, the other three NFC West teams are 10-23 overall and 7-16 against non-divisional opponents. That is by far the worst in the NFL … yet you won’t hear any pundits or columnists lamenting how easy the Rams’ path to a playoff bye is this year.

That’s just like last year, when the “AFC East is garbage” crowd ignored the Patriots twice beating the Bills (a playoff team) by a combined total of 41 points, or in 2016 when the Patriots twice defeated the Dolphins (a playoff team) by a combined 28 points. Really, pretty much every season, a team makes it to the postseason by virtue of being in a weak division. The difference is, the beneficiary of that situation typically changes. In the AFC East, when the division has been weak, it’s pretty much always been the Patriots who sit atop the division.

For whatever reason — well, largely because the teams’ coach/QB situations have been notably poor for some time — the AFC East tends to get the most grief for its overall weakness. Again, that’s a premise that’s largely been inaccurate over the years. But not this year.

Anyway. There’s your AFC East status report. Time to pick some football games.

(Home team in CAPS; Wednesday lines)

New Orleans (-7.5) over DALLAS
On the one hand, I recognize that the Saints probably will have to lose another football game this season. Probably. Maaaybe. Right? RIGHT?!

On the other hand, I don’t know how you can pick against them at this point. They’re just a terrifying football team to watch. Fortunately, they’ll be on in prime time for the second straight Thursday. Make sure you put the kids to bed before this one kicks off. They shouldn’t be witnessing this.

JACKSONVILLE (+5) over Indianapolis
“The Jags are back, baby!” he muttered, between bouts of tears and screams.

(Seriously though. The Jags are back.)

ATLANTA (pick ’em) over Baltimore
I can’t help but think that eventually, starting a quarterback who doesn’t really pass the football will backfire on the Ravens.

Cleveland (+6) over HOUSTON
Without a doubt, the wildest NFL development of 2018 has been our collective acceptance of the Browns. Without even putting it to a vote, we all kind of unanimously agreed that the Browns are, more or less, a legitimate operation now. Granted, 4-6-1 isn’t exactly the basis for a future 30 For 30, but they seem to have the quarterback, they got rid of the coach, and we all no longer instinctively guffaw upon hearing mention of the franchise. It’s all just happened so fast.

Denver (-4.5) over CINCINNATI
I don’t know why, I really have no idea, but I am all in on the Broncos finishing the season on a seven-game win streak to go 10-6. I stand to benefit in no way from such a stretch. I stand to suffer nothing if the streak does not happen.

But with Cincy, San Francisco, Cleveland, Oakland and the Chargers on the docket? This could happen. I’m all in!

Buffalo (+4.5) over MIAMI
Can’t believe I just took the Bills. First time all year.

Shame on the Dolphins. Truly.

Carolina (-3.5) over TAMPA BAY
Even though the Panthers are apparently intent on throwing their season away, they can probably win in Tampa.

Los Angeles Rams (-10) over DETROIT
Pretty much the same thing I said about the Saints would apply here. I don’t think the Rams are going 15-1 (despite playing in the WORST DIVISION IN FOOTBALL what a joke I can’t believe it).

Arizona (+14) over GREEN BAY
I recognize anything can happen in a football game, but typically, 14-point spreads are reserved for teams that are actually, you know, good. The 4-6-1 Packers aren’t good.

Meanwhile the Cardinals are about a 50-50 shot every week to lose by 30, no matter the opponent.

These are truly dark times for your humble pick maker.

(Pick Maker, in this instance, does not refer to Josh Rosen. Ha ha ha, good one, Mike.)

New York Jets (+8.5) over TENNESSEE
Kansas City (-15.5) over OAKLAND
Chicago (-4.5) over NEW YORK GIANTS

SEATTLE (-10.5) over San Francisco
What do you suppose keeps the Oakland Raiders going at this point? Getting out of bed can be tough for anyone. But for everyone* involved with the 2-8 Raiders? Must be even tougher.

*Mark Davis excluded. He probably pops up with a hop in his step every day. Can’t picture Mark Davis being bummed about anything. In fact, I refuse to.

Minnesota (+5.5) over NEW ENGLAND
The only reason to believe the Patriots can win comfortably over the Vikings is if you say something along the lines of “visiting teams have a really tough time in Gillette Stadium.” And it’s true!

But, assuming football (and not intangible pressures) dictates this one, it ought to be a close football game.

Los Angeles Chargers (+3.5) over PITTSBURGH
We nerds on the outside tend to make too much of public comments and things of that nature. We’re usually wrong. Sometimes when we see what looks like a circus, it’s actually just some meaningless commentary issued to reporters. Players and teams often don’t care much about the supposed “hysteria” taking place behind closed doors.

That being said …

The Steelers are off the rails. Stick a form in ’em. Done. Finito. Toast. Crash, burn, bye-bye.

OK, just kidding. But I don’t love the mentality of a team that’s getting ripped by the quarterback on a radio show after the quarterback throws a godawful interception to lose a game in Denver. Just a lot of bad vibes emanating from the locker room where players pounced upon Le’Veon Bell’s slick gear like a pack of wolves.

PHILADELPHIA (-6.5) over Washington
SPEAKING OF BAD VIBES.

Pretty sure we can’t take the Redskins this week. Out of principle. Can’t do it.

What a mess.

Last week: 8-7
Season: 90-79-7

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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