Once the NFL went to 32 teams and the new formula for determining the schedule, differences within divisions became minor. Division teams now play a similar schedule with the exception of two games no matter where they finish. But in the AFC this year--and very likely next year--this difference has been--and will be--significant.
This year the Chiefs played Cleveland and Buffalo while we played Pittsburgh and Miami. The difference is significant and probably made the difference in the division. That is, without changing the outcome in Arizona or Jacksonville, if we'd simply swapped those games with the Chiefs, we'd have likely finished with the same record and won the tiebreakers.
And next year? Next year the difference is going to almost certainly be huge, despite how much teams tend to change from year to year. By virtue of San Diego beating Denver today (a big win for us in terms of the schedule), here's how things shape up in 2011:
Oakland gets Cleveland and Houston
San Diego gets Baltimore and Jacksonville
Kansas City gets Pittsburgh and Indianapolis
That strikes me as very, very big, given that all the other games will be the same for the three teams. If the Raiders take care of business in the division (4-2), they will be in great shape next year.