AFC East Report: Week 14

The weekly AFC East Report breaks down 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 week's AFCE games:

Buffalo @ Cincinnati;; Seattle @ Jets; New England @ Miami

New York Jets:

The Jets lost 17-6 to Pittsburgh, though the game was much better contested than the final score indicated. In fact unlike the New England game earlier in the season, the Jets had a real shot to win this and looked like the better team for the first 3 quarters. But they killed themselves in the first half with penalties when they were outplaying the Steelers, and you're not going to outplay Pittsburgh for all 4 quarters at Heinz Field. The other thing this game showed is the Jets probably overpaid Pennington who looks incapable of hurting teams downfield and is actually a liability when the Jets have to pass and a good defense knows it.


Pennington's weak arm was on display all game including all three interceptions. We could give him the benefit of the doubt and say the shoulder injury is affecting him, but that's sloppy analysis of the situation. This game was another dot to connect in a trend that has Pennington regressing as a quarterback after a stellar first season as a starter. The league is learning how to defend him. You can go back to last year to the Philly/New England games to see the first signs of his arm strength being an issue, or you could look at numerous games this year where I've complained about the Jets inability to throw deep despite a great running game and great play action ability. I've put all the fault on the shoulders of Paul Hackett, but perhaps it's time to share some blame: the Jets always settle for taking what the defense gives them because they CAN'T take what they want. Any pass more than 15 yards has no zip on it, they're all lazy floaters. Pennington can't make the throws McNabb, Brady and Culpepper make so how can they pay him more? How much they're paying him will be a very relevant issue this offseason when they might not be able to keep Lamont Jordan and/or Kareem McKenzie

Elsewhere on offense: the Jets had a hard time running which was expected, however they went over 100 yards and realistically should have had 140 because a 30 yard run by Jordan was nullified by a bad penalty call. The line protected Pennington very well, he wasn't sacked once, and may not have even been hit despite some heavy blitzes sent his way. Justin McCareins looks so good it's shocking he still doesn't have a 100-yard passing game. Blame that and Moss's paltry stats this year on Pennington & Hackett.


Despite giving up 17, they played a lot better. Pennington's interceptions and the ridiculous number of penalties on the Jets continuously set up Pittsburgh with great field position. It won't get mentioned except here, but the Jets D was dominant for 3 quarters, and played very well for the full game. Terrell Buckley was the weak link on Sunday, and the fact they're using him in man coverage tells you how much they miss Ray Mickens, how much Donnie Abraham is slipping, and how much rookie Derrick Strait has to learn. Buckley was single handedly responsible for giving Pittsburgh a big play on each of their two second half scoring drives by trying to jump routes and getting beat badly. Give Pittsburgh credit for executing in the red zone to put the game away, but their opportunities were few and far between. With only several minutes remaining Roethlisberger was under 100 yards and the Steelers were around 200 total. David Barrett is coming on very strong and looks downright good at corner, while the other big game was registered by Bryan Thomas who looked great stopping the run and rushing the QB. Ellis, Robertson and Ferguson all played well, though it looked like Vilma had his hands full in such a physical game.

Penalties deserve some mention since they basically ruined the game. There were 2 or 3 questionable calls, but the fact is the Jets committed 12 penalties in the first half. 12! And many of them were huge, not only sticking them in 2nd and very long, but often wiping out successful plays. Two led to points being lost, and possibly a 3rd took them out of field goal range as well (3 separate drives). Others nullified a big kick off return, a turnover by Hines Ward and a big 3rd down stop. It tells you how well they matched Pittsburgh on the road that it was 3-3 after the 3rd quarter.

Looking ahead:

Playoffs are the only thing on everyone's mind. They must win against the Seahawks at home and Rams on the road to ensure 11-5, because they can't count on stopping the Patriots. I think they will match up well against the Seahawks, though Seattle will no doubt look to exploit the secondary. I have seen enough over prior weeks to feel confident the defense will hold up, and Seattle has a pudding soft defense so Pennington should not repeat his disaster and the running game should take over. I look for a 31-17 type game, though the Jets find ways to play down to their competition so it might be closer.

Analyst: Nick Romano;

Miami Dolphins:

Dolphins lose to Broncos 20-17...fall to 2-11.

The battered and bruised Miami Dolphins were beaten by the Denver Broncos 20-17 on a 50 yard Jason Elam FG with 2:50 left. Miami is now tied with San Francisco for the worst record in the NFL at 2-11. The only thing the Dolphins have to play for the next three games is the #1 overall pick in the 2005 draft. They have already seen enough of QB AJ Feeley and their young talent the past few weeks and it hasn't been promising.

Offensively the Dolphins scored first half TDs on a Feeley to Marty Booker TD pass and later on a RB Sammy Morris 11 yard run. Denver matched each of the Dolphins scoring drives and went into the half tied at 14. Feeley's passing stats were an average 17 of 35 for 175 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. The interception fortunately was not returned for another TD! In fairness to Feeley, he suffered from as many as five drops by his receivers. Overall it was an average offensive effort with WR Chris Chambers and TE Randy McMichael pacing the attack. The running game was weak (70 total yards) despite the slightly improved play of the offensive line.

Without DTs Tim Bowens and Larry Chester, compounded by the losses of MLB Zach Thomas and OLB Junior Seau also to injury and the traded DE Adawale Ogunleye, the Miami run defense looks like Swiss cheese at times. Former Dolphin RB Rueben Droughns ran strong early before being replaced by rookie Tatum Bell. Bell scorched the Dolphins for 123 yards on 17 carries and had TD runs of 7 and 11 yards. CBs Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain did not get burned deep but struggled noticeably throughout the game. Their poor play was grossly overshadowed by Denver running up 196 rushing yards and coming away with the victory.

While Miami has played tough and not quit on interim head coach Jim Bates, one thing is evident...this is a bad football team. Hit by numerous and highly publicized on and off the field issues, it is clear the Dolphins have A LOT of work to do to get the organization back to any form of respectability. Next up however, the World Champion New England Patriots on Monday Night Football. Whew!...three hours of hearing Al and John talk about how great they are...and how bad we are! Real bad! So, 2-12 is a week away...and..."The Miami Dolphins are on the clock"...not too far away either, the question looms...Matt Leinart where are you? Psst...please, nobody mention to him the offensive line...or the running game...or our new GM...or our head coach...or...well, the lack there of!

Analyst: Chris Dellapietra

Buffalo Bills:

The Bills pulverized a completely hapless Cleveland Brown squad which was emaciated with injuries. The defense rebounded from a horrific game vs. Miami allowing the Dolphins a season high offensive output, and once again led the charge in this game although this time without much assistance from the special teams. This was the second four-quarter game that the defense has played on the season.

The Browns' only score was set up by a special teams fumble recovery off of a Nate Clements fumble setting them up at the Bills' 18-yard line. Ironically, the 18-yard drive giving them seven was a yard greater than the 17 net yards that the Browns had on the game total.

This game was a catastrophe for the Browns right from the get-go. They never had anything going for them. Rookie fourth-rounder Luke McCown led an anemic Brown offense beset with injuries, with no viable rushing component, and with few viable receiving options. While utterly predictable, the game nonetheless continues the winning streak for the Bills.

The Bills had 8 sacks on the day with Sam Adams logging two, and Schobel, Kelsay, Posey, Spikes, Milloy, and Vincent each logging one apiece. Troy Vincent at free safety for the first time in his first start coming off injury along with Nate Clements each added an interception.

Special teams had a quiet day with the biggest occurrence having been Clements fumbled punt return setting up the Browns' only score on the day. Other than that the special teams neither cost the Bills anything nor assisted them in gaining any advantage.

Humpty played poorly earning himself a 51.5 QB rating. He connected on only 12 of 27 passes for 100 yards and a single TD along with a single INT.

Willis McGahee had an average game and one that should have been bigger if the recent media accolades are to assume much meaning. The Browns entered the game with the NFL's 29th ranked rushing defense and any outstanding RB would have shredded this poor Brown rush D. Some of the blame for the poor production of the rushing game goes to the offensive line which the coaching staff has insisted is fine. A veritable catch-22 for defending the play of McGahee.

Of the Bills 215 rushing yards, 90 came on a reverse by Lee Evans and by Shaud Williams on the final drive primarily. Another 18 yards came on a trick play involving Jonathon Smith and on a scramble by Losman. McGahee logged 105 with the team gratuitously pushing him over the century mark.

The mantra continues that "when McGahee rushes for 100-yards the Bills are undefeated…." This game was over long before McGahee ever got close to 100-yards and quite frankly his getting 100-yards again had very little to do with the win directly. Rather it was the D that set up multiple TD drives with ridiculous field position.

Yet, the notion is blindly asserted as if in this game, or the others in which McGahee has amassed 100-yards for that matter, that it was "his attaining to that 100-yards" which was the primary factor in getting the win. It has not been the primary factor, even offensively in a single win. As well, did the Bills really need 100-yard rushing performances to beat the Dolphins (2-11)? The Browns (3-10)? The Rams (6-7)? The Seahawks (7-6)? The Cardinals (4-9)? If so, then I might suggest that this team is not nearly as good as many seem to believe it is. If not, then why the charade? The answer: pure marketing.

The defense to a man showed up today with the secondary, linebackers, and front-four all playing the lights out! There were several very good misdirection plays that worked out well including Lee Evans' run. Several failed as well. What remains a concern is the extent to which these plays are used as a substitute for simple, solid offensive execution.

The unit MVP of this game clearly goes to the D which allowed for average starting field position of the Browns' 27-yard line for drives which resulted in TDs by the starting offensive unit.

Again, this win puts the Bills on a four-game win streak. The combined record of the teams beaten on this streak is 18-34 and include Cleveland (3-10), Miami (2-11), St. Louis (6-7), and Seattle (7-6).

This week's contest vs. the Bengals will be interesting. The Bills defense will once again face a reasonable test vs. a very well-rounded, healthy, functioning and well-rested offense. They have not fared well vs. such offenses. The progress on the season will be on display for all those wondering whether the defense will actually show up vs. a decent offense and four entire quarters. Will the defensive front-four actually be able to finally generate some pressure in the absence of frequent blitzing? Surely this is no Browns offense!

While the Bengals are no powerhouse, they are a stronger team than any that the Bills have beaten this season other than the Jets. The game is also on the road where the Bills are 2-4 and in Cincinnati where the Bengals are 4-2. So it should at least be somewhat interesting. Another point of note, the Bills are 5-2 when either the defense or special teams scores, but 2-4 when they do not. The special teams and defense have scored 50 points (4 ppg) through 13 games on the season. Most of those, 28 in the form of 4 touchdowns, were against hapless offenses Miami and Arizona. Last season they put up 27 on the entire 16 game season.

Early Prediction: Bengals 24, Bills 20

Analyst: Mark Weiler;

New England Patriots:

The Patriots clinched their third divisional title in four years Sunday with a 35-28 victory over the surging Bengals. -Their reward? -A trip to balmy Miami and a national TV audience on Monday night, where the Pats have been installed as 9 1/2 point favorites over a moribund Miami franchise. This is the first year in recent memory, the Patriots have traveled to Miami in December. Normally, the schedule makers like to add to each teams' home field advantage by forcing the Pats to play in the oppressive Miami heat of September and the snowshoe less Dolphins to travel north to Foxboro to play in the snow and/or frigid New England conditions in December

The Patriots defense played poorly last Sunday against the Bengals, allowing over 450 yards and 25 first downs, blowing several coverage assignments in the process. Rookie Free Agent Randall "Blue" Gay, gave up a big play on a blitz and got burned badly by all world WR Chad Johnson for a touchdown. Gay has been a major coup this year, starting numerous games and playing well, despite not being considered good enough to get drafted last April. His performance this week bears watching, as the Patriots continue to wait for Ty Law to get back on the field, following his broken foot suffered six weeks ago.

Richard Seymour had his most dominant game of the season forcing three Cincinnati punts after their offensive line was called for holding three separate times against his relentless pursuit of Carson Palmer. Seymour is in his 4th season and all he's done in his first three is get elected to two Pro Bowls and win two Super Bowls. After a slow start this season, Seymour has been overwhelming opponents in the last few weeks and should earn his third trip to Hawaii in the last three years. Cincinnati did everything they could to run away from Seymour, running 23 times between the center- guard gap and only once outside, which resulted in a two yard loss. This is precisely why tackle totals can be misleading as teams are obviously running away from the 6'6" 310 pound stalwart.

Along with Seymour, Rodney Harrison (11 tackles/forced fumble), Asante Samuel (Interception returned for a TD) and Tedy Bruschi (14 tackles) all played very well, with Harrison and Bruschi continuing their consistent, Pro Bowl caliber play. Former WR Troy Brown, now leads the team with three interceptions and is only the 2nd offensive player in NFL history to pick off three passes in a season, with former Cardinals WR Roy Green being the other.

Offensively, the Patriots scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions, alleviating any concerns that Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis already had his head in South Bend, where he will be coaching Notre Dame for the next six seasons, at $2M per. Weis will try to wear both hats in the interim and it will be interesting to see how he handles such an arduous task over the next 7 weeks, until after the Super Bowl, assuming the Pats get that far.

Tom Brady played his best game of the year, demonstrating a strong, accurate arm and his usual decision making prowess. Brady did this, despite not having the services of the best blocking TE in football, Daniel Graham and starting WR David Givens, who were both inactive due to injury. Fortunately, David Patten stepped up and grabbed five passes for 107 yards and a TD. Against his former mates and a stacked defense designed specifically to stop the run, Corey Dillon continued his aggressive running, rambling for 88 yards and a score.

Traditionally the Patriots respond well defensively after a poor game and I expect that trend to continue against Miami who have absolutely no offensive weapons other than their gifted WR Chris Chambers. I expect the Pats to return to the ground game, control the clock, force a turnover or two and win handily, 27-13. Let's just hope the Pats aren't looking ahead to the Jets, whom they play next week, on the road in the Meadowlands.

Analyst: Craig Natale;

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