AFC East Overview

The big AFC East showdown between the Patriots and Jets at the Meadowlands is tonight, and the Bills play a key game against the Cowboys in the early timeslot. Those games were previewed Friday as part of the Notebook’s regular weekly breakdown of the games. This post will focus on the AFC East teams with a broader view in mind…

New England (5-3): When the Patriots were riding high early I was down on them. Now that they’ve lost two straight, I’m seeing some signs of hope, mainly because the run defense has improved. They still need better play at safety and Andre Carter has to show he can provide a pass rush all year. Offensively, the Pats are hurt by the fact they have no receiver he can stretch the field. Secondaries can come up tight. Tom Brady has targets he can spread it around too, with Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Deion Branch, but being a championship team while only being able to throw the ball short is a tough road to take and only the presence of Brady even makes it thinkable.

NY Jets (5-3): I like the way the Jets are developing their identity as a team. They got a little too cute offensively early on, trying to be pass-first and all facets of the offense suffered. Now they’re back to running the ball with Shonn Greene, and Mark Sanchez’ play has improved along with it. The next step will be to really get Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes rolling in an offense built on a run-first premise.

Buffalo (5-3): The Bills have got to get some consistency from the passing game. Their ability to run the ball with Fred Jackson has been a big boost to the offense, but Ryan Fitzpatrick throws too many interceptions and has too few reliable targets. Steven Johnson is really the only one defenses have to worry about, and this is where the failure of 2010’s first-round draft pick. C.J. Spiller, really hurt. Spiller could’ve been a big-play receiver out of the backfield and a change of pace in the running game. As it is, Buffalo’s playing a little too one-dimensional to beat good teams consistently.

Miami (1-7): Miami is respectable in defending the run and running it themselves, but they still have serious problems at quarterback and are an underachiever on defense. No team with linebackers like Cameron Wake and Karlos Dansby, both of whom can rush the passer, and a corner like Vontae Davis, should be as poor against the pass as the Fish are. Miami’s season is down to playing spoiler—they get a Thanksgiving Day trip to Dallas and then close the season with three straight games against their division rivals.

After this week the schedule really favors both the Patriots and Jets at the expense of the Bills. New England and New York’s toughest remaining road game is a matchup with Philadelphia—say what you will about the Eagles’ explosiveness, but when you’re toughest trip is to a 2-5 team that’s a schedule set up for a late-season run. Buffalo still has to play both rivals on the road and go to San Diego, although that latter trip looks less frightening with each passing week. Ultimately though, the schedule says tonight’s game in the Meadowlands is every bit as big as you probably thought it was.