AFC East Report: Week 3

The weekly AFC East Report is a new feature, which will breakdown the AFC East Division. Each week, analysts who are avid fans of each of the respective AFCE teams, will present an objective analysis of their team and summarize important developments and key updates on each team. A weekly read of this column will keep you posted on all the important developments within the division.

This weeks AFCE games:

Jets @ Miami; New England @ Buffalo

Miami Dolphins:

Steelers filet Dolphins 13-3

For the first time since 1969 the Dolphins have opened the season 0-3. Just when Dolphin fans thought things couldn't get any worse, it did get worse Sunday night with a 13-3 loss to Bill Cowher's Pittsburgh Steelers. In a year where absolutely nothing has gone right, Dave Wannstedt's 2004 squad has clearly displayed that it is in complete disarray. Now, with the AFC East Division rival New York Jets in town Sunday, followed by road trips to New England and Buffalo...0-6 is a real possibility.

The play of the non-existent Dolphin offense was embarrassing to say the least. However, there were some bright spots. For the first time this season an opposing defense did not return and interception for a touchdown and the ground game was able to finally pick up a first down but that was it. The turnovers continued as QB AJ Feeley threw two interceptions in the first quarter and was miserably off target all night long.

The Dolphins are now down to their fifth string RB Leonard Henry after RB Lamar Gordon went down with a shoulder injury after getting creamed early by a Steeler defender. Once again the Dolphins O-line failed to get off the ball and perform at an NFL caliber level. New starting LT Damion McIntosh made his presence felt on the first play of the game when he was flagged for a penalty. The rest was history for the Dolphin sputtering offense as they produced a mere field goal in four quarters. Their 23 points in three games is undoubtedly the worst start for any NFL team this season and here is no good news or progress in sight.

Defensively, the Dolphins held their own through the game despite a monsoon-type rain storm that made footing treacherous. Starting DTs Larry Chester (out for the year) and Tim Bowens both did not play, however CB Patrick Surtain was back and had an early pick. In the end Pittsburgh made just enough plays, especially to key Ben Roethlisberger passes to Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress and the strong running of Duce Staley, to rack up 13 points and win the game.

The tough New York Jets are on tap next for the Dolphins and the bitter rivalry should be a real slugfest. It is do or die for the Dolphins and an 0-4 start for the Dolphins would be curtains. Expect the Jets to pound the ball on the ground with RB Curtis Martin while QB Chad Pennington exploits the secondary with play action passes. Defensively the Jets should shut down the lame Dolphin running game and apply pressure with ease all afternoon.

One other intangible favors the Jets since this is almost a home game for them due to the many transplanted New Yorkers who will be in the house. Folks, this one could get out of hand early based on what I've seen from both teams this young season. There is no reason to believe the Dolphins can turn things around and hang in with the Jets for four quarters. The Jets should seal Dave Wannstedt's fate and easily roll by past the Dolphins by 14 or more.

Analyst: Chris Dellapietra

New England Patriots:

The Patriots need little motivation going into Buffalo for their annual rendezvous with the Bills this Sunday. Last year, just four days after releasing Co-Captain Lawyer Milloy and watching him sign with their division rival, the Patriots played an emotionless game and got pummeled 31-0. It was then that long-time ESPN analyst Tom Jackson claimed that "The Patriots hate their coach". We all know what happened last year but don't think for a second that Bill Belichick hasn't been drilling the score into the minds of his players, in preparation for this Sunday's game.

On paper this looks like a mismatch. The 0-2 Bills, reeling after two performances featuring an inept and predictable offense, going against the World Champs and their 17 game winning streak. Both teams are coming off a bye, though since the patriots are almost impossible to game plan for, it will be interesting to see if the Bills coaching staff has been able to identify areas where they can attack the Patriots both offensively and defensively.

Logic would say that since Drew Bledsoe has an extraordinarily difficult time beating a Belichick coached team, it might behoove the Bills to hand the ball off to underappreciated Travis Henry and hope he fares well against an aging Pats linebacking corps. Thus far Buffalo's offensive line has been, well offensive. While blaming the decaying Bills on Bledsoe or the offensive line is easy, one has to seriously question the logic behind GM Tom Donahoe's last few draft classes.

History tells us a running back is only as good as the big men up front allow him to be. When Donahoe chose Willis McGahee in the first round of the 2003 draft, he gaffed. With so many needs, drafting a severely injured running back in the first round, when you already have an excellent, young back in Henry is an abomination. Now McGahee is whining about playing time and upsetting team chemistry, which you can't blame on a coach, or Bledsoe for Donahoe's poor judgment.

Conversely, the Patriots have no off the field issues, a clear understanding of their individual roles on the team and leaders in Belichick and V.P. of Player Personnel Scott Pioli who have a well thought out plan, that they stick to, regardless of who's on the draft board in the 1st or 7th round. Witness some of these draft gems in the past few years;

2002- Deion Branch 2nd round; Tom Brady 6th round; David Givens 7th Round; Tom Ashworth undrafted Free Agent

2003- Eugene Wilson 2nd round; Asante Samuel 4th Round; Dan Koppen 5th Round

-When you can grab 8 starters AFTER the first round in two drafts, that's exceptional, especially when one considers that they were competing for playing time on a championship caliber team. Ironically, Robert Kraft actually interviewed Donahoe, before ultimately deciding to give Belichick the ultimate authority with all football related operations. As a devout Patriots fan I can only say one thing, "whew, that was a close one!"

The Bills do present problems defensively, have an excellent front seven and could wreck havoc on Corey Dillon and the Patriots running game this Sunday. But all world QB Tom Brady and his potpourri of receivers should present an abundance of mismatches with the Bills secondary so look for the Patriots to come out in a spread formation and try to confuse and exploit the Bills pass defense.

I see this as a low scoring game with Champs picking up their 18th (and NFL record tying) consecutive win, 24-13.

The Patriots came off a bye week and travel to Buffalo in an attempt for their league tying 18th straight win. This game features Bill Belichick vs. Mike Mularkey and Romeo Crennel vs. Tom Clements. Hmmm….

In Bill we trust.

Analyst: Craig Natale; natalysis@yahoo.com

New York Jets:

The Jets fly to Miami after a week off to face the war-weary, weather-beaten, and offensively challenged Dolphins.

Analyst: Nick Romano

Buffalo Bills:

The Bills host New England at the Ralph this week with the Pats seeking their league-tying 18th straight win in what can be called a "second home opener" of sorts for the Bills. After a week of statements denying and downplaying issues, backslapping in support of quarterback issue Drew Bledsoe, coupled with the revelation of a "new attitude", the Bills prepare to host the Patriots also coming off a bye week. The Bills promise to come out of the gates with a renewed vigor insisting that they are not as bad as their 0-2 record.

This approach is not without its share of risks given that the Bills travel to the Meadowlands to face the Jets and then host Miami in a string of three road games before traveling to Baltimore to face the Ravens in Ray Lewis' house. If this "new attitude" falls short this week vs. New England then the Bills will simply have compounded their problems.

Side note: Other than in last season's anomalous loss to the disarrayed and disoriented Patriots in the opening week of the season prior to the Pats running fifteen straight to a Super Bowl title, the Patriots have averaged 32 points per game vs. the Bills during the Bledsoe era in Buffalo.

For further details on the Bills, Bledsoe, or other items impacting the Bills, view my other pieces at BillsReport.com or tune into the "2004 Bills Report" on Thursday evenings from 7 to 9 p.m. at www.broadcastmonsters.com.

Analyst: Mark Weiler; mweiler.billsreport@cox..net


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