Sunday, September 30, 2012

Rex on Sunday debacle: "We got our asses kicked"

BY NICK ST. DENIS

Rex Ryan wasn't very happy after the New York Jets' 34-0 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, and with good reason. It was a stinker in every way possible.

Ryan put it bluntly when addressing the media after the game: "We got our ass kicked."

"... Here's the recipe for getting your ass kicked, all right: 2-for-13 on third down. That's 15 percent. Four turnovers. A blocked punt when they rush one guy. And giving up 245 yards rushing. How's that for a recipe? It's unacceptable."

That pretty much summed it up, but there's more. The Jets' pain extended well beyond the stat sheet.

A week after losing their best defensive player in cornerback Darrelle Revis for the season, Gang Green suffered a potentially huge blow when receiver Santonio Holmes, New York's best offensive skill player, went down to a foot injury. Holmes will have an MRI done Monday.

Gameday Deciding Factors: 49ers at Jets

BY NICK ST. DENIS

Rex Ryan had nothing but praise this week for the New York Jets' Week 4 opponent in the San Francisco 49ers, and with good reason. San Francisco boasts arguably the best defense in the NFL and maybe the league's most balanced team across the board.

The Jets, on the other hand, aren't quite as easy to explain. Gang Green blew up the scoreboard in Week 1 but were brought down to earth in Week 2 before squeezing out a victory last week. New York lost the best cornerback in the league in Darrelle Revis to a season-ending injury ACL injury in Week 3, so his team will have to make some major adjustments on defense to compensate for the absence of the epicenter of what it does.

Deciding Factors:

Wilson Island. Kyle Wilson hasn't played the role of a first-round cornerback since being taken as Jets' top pick in the 2010 draft, but that's because he hasn't had to with Revis and Antonio Cromartie hogging up the depth chart. Now, Wilson gets his chance. He hasn't been great covering opposing pass-catchers in the slot, but maybe he finds his stride in more of a perimeter role. We'll find out in the next few weeks, starting with a stout San Fran receiving corps led by Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss and tight end Vernon Davis. (Photo: Marianne O'Leary, Flickr)

Run defense. The Jets' defense has been incredibly solid in run stoppage over the past three seasons under Ryan, but it's stunk so far in 2012. New York is giving up 148.7 yards a game on the ground, and it'll need to put an end to that, going up against Frank Gore. On the flip side, the Jets' struggling offensive backfield needs to establish some ground and pound of its own, and that won't be easy against a top-tier front seven.

Tight ends. Davis will be a headache for the Jets' defense, but Jets tight end Dustin Keller has the ability to return the favor. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez will get back his favorite target in Keller this week, and Keller's return could be what restarts Gang Green's idling offense. With Stephen Hill out and Santonio Holmes likely to draw a lot of attention after a breakout game last week, Keller will get plenty of opportunities. As for Davis... Ryan admitted earlier this week that he's still trying to find an answer for how to attack who he considered the best tight end in the league.

Gameday Deciding Factors: Patriots at Bills

BY DAN BEGNOCHE

This Sunday's matchup between the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots is one of polar opposites, just not the type we're accustomed to seeing. As the Bills look to carry momentum from their last two decisive victories into Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday, the Pats will be aiming to reverse their fortunes and avoid starting 1-3 for the first time since 2001.

Though the Buffalo offense has been clicking, the fate of its running back squad is still murky, with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson still not 100 percent. New England's offense has struggled relative to its usual production, particularly in the passing game, with quarterback Tom Brady's touchdown numbers surprisingly low. The Bills hope to duplicate its performance of a year ago when it snapped a 15-game losing streak against the Pats, while New England will try to right the ship and stay competitive in a tight division.

Deciding Factors:

Don't rush into it. Despite having the most successful rushing attack in the league, the Bills are in an awkward position this week, as both Jackson and Spiller are trying to return from injury. That raises questions for both teams in terms of preparation, and it still leaves open the possibility of seeing Tashard Choice, who had a stellar game last week, on a fair share snaps. Jackson was feeling very confident about his ankle Friday, so don't be surprised if he takes the lion's share of the playing time Sunday and the Bills revert back to using Spiller as a screen and Wildcat back.

Special, so far. Thanks to the explosive performance of Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo's specials teams is tops in the league. He is averaging more than 25 yards per kick return and nearly 30 yards per punt return, including a touchdown. Buffalo's kicking crew will have their work cut out for them this week, however, as New England's special teams squad has historically shut down big plays in the return game. It will be interesting to see whether the Pats decide to kick around McKelvin or right at him, and if the Bills can sneak a special teams score in somewhere, it would be a game-changer.

Gronk a ghost? Though it may be some last-minute mind games by coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots have officially listed tight end Rob Gronkowski as questionable for Sunday's matchup. With Aaron Hernandez already on the bench with a high ankle sprain, Gronkowski's absence would be a big hit to the Patriots' offense, but not dressing seems very unlikely. Regardless, New England relied heavily on Gronk's production last year, and he hasn't quite hit his stride this season. In 2011, Gronkowski averaged 83 yards receiving per game and 14 yards per reception. This year, he's averaging just over 50 yards a game, and his average per catch is down to 11.

On the line. The Patriots have seen some changes in their offensive line this season, and with them, some rare inconsistencies. Quarterback Tom Brady has been on his back more frequently than the team would like thus far, and it won't get any easier for him and the line this week against the Bills' defensive front. Buffalo has tallied nine sacks in their last two games, while New England has allowed six in its previous two games. With Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins officially listed as questionable for Sunday's game, The Pats will need big games from their less experienced guys on the line, namely Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer.

Gameday Deciding Factors: Dolphins at Cardinals

BY SEAN DONOVAN

When the schedule was released back in April, the Miami Dolphins' Week 4 game in Arizona looked like one of the most winnable matchups of the early season. But after victories over contenders New England and Philadelphia, the 3-0 Cardinals are playing the role of a juggernaut.

With a strong defense and some steady play from the much-maligned Kevin Kolb, the Cardinals are now sizable favorites on Sunday. Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins will have their hands full but will have their say in the outcome with a surprisingly-good defense and offensive playmakers of their own.

Deciding Factors:

Limit Larry Fitzgerald. Poor quarterback play has kept Fitzgerald somewhat under the radar of late, but make no mistake; the guy is a top-3 receiving weapon in this league. The Dolphins will have to do everything in their power to keep him from beating them deep and gaining yards after the catch. Possibly losing starting cornerback Richard Marshall to injury will hamper this effort, so it will be up to coordinator Kevin Coyle to put together a gameplan that can slow down Fitzgerald (Photo: Broderick Delaney, Flickr).

Rattle Kevin Kolb. If Kolb has proven anything since signing a massive free agent deal with Arizona last season, it's that he's prone to committing turnovers. His play has been relatively clean through three games, but if the Dolphins can disrupt the pocket, it should force Kolb into mistakes. Outside of Cameron Wake, Miami's defensive front has not yet generated consistent pressure this season. Arizona's atrocious offensive line should provide opportunities for that.

Utilize the West Coast offense. The Cardinals' front seven is big and strong, and it pursues laterally very well. It'll be tough for Miami to have the same success on the ground that it's had so far this season, so it'll be up to Tannehill to move the ball some more through the air. Problem is, Arizona's secondary is just as difficult to beat. The Dolphins need to use their West Coast principles and get their players out in space with the short passing game. Tannehill will need to be decisive and concise with his throws for it to work.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Week 4 AFC East game picks: Patriots at Bills

Lead writer Nick St. Denis and AFC East Daily contributors Dan Begnoche, Sean Donovan and Sam Hollingsworth pick the Buffalo Bills' home divisional bout with the New England Patriots.

Nick's take:
The Patriots are due for a win after losing their last two to the Baltimore Ravens and Arizona Cardinals -- two teams that boast elite-level defenses. The Bills strung together a couple wins against so-so opponents, and I expect Buffalo's defense to look more like it did against the Jets in Week 1. Tom Brady will get the ball out quickly, and Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski have big games. Also, the Patriots' multiple defense gets the best of Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who will need to carry the offense with his running backs corps decimated with injuries.
Prediction: Patriots 30, Bills 20

Dan's take:
Buffalo's September win against the Pats last year was its first since 2003, but a lot has changed since then. Buffalo's defensive front has shown great improvement from a season ago, though the Pats' defense, particularly their run defense, isn't too shabby, either. The key to beating the Pats, as the Cardinals and Ravens have showed, is keeping Tom Brady out of sync, and expect the Bills to throw a lot of blitzes Brady's way coupled with press coverage on the outside. If Buffalo can tally four or more sacks they'll have this one in the bag.
Prediction: Bills 24, Patriots 20

Week 4 AFC East game picks: 49ers at Jets


Lead writer Nick St. Denis and AFC East Daily contributors Dan Begnoche, Sean Donovan and Sam Hollingsworth pick the New York Jets' matchup with the visiting San Francisco 49ers.

Nick's take:
The Jets haven't been very good at covering tight ends over the last few years, and they haven't been able to stop the run this season. So the 49ers' offensive attack, led by Vernon Davis and Frank Gore, isn't a very good matchup for Gang Green. San Francisco also has a revamped receiving corps that should take advantage of the absence of Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. The fact that New York's lukewarm offense will be up against arguably the best defense in the league doesn't help, either.
Prediction: 49ers 26, Jets 20

Sean's take:
The Jets' offense may have caught the Bills off guard and outlasted the Dolphins in recent weeks, but the 49ers' defense is an entirely different animal. The speed and versatility of San Francisco's front seven will suffocate New York's marginal skill players, and confound the ever-erratic Mark Sanchez as well. Alex Smith and the steady 49ers' offense will be able to take advantage of short fields and the absence of Revis en route to a lop-sided road victory.
Prediction: 49ers 30, Jets 3

Week 4 AFC East game picks: Dolphins at Cardinals

Lead writer Nick St. Denis and AFC East Daily contributors Dan Begnoche, Sean Donovan and Sam Hollingsworth pick the Miami Dolphins' road bout with the Arizona Cardinals.

Nick's take:
The Cardinals' 31st-ranked offense, which has gained just 262.3 yards a game through three weeks, has been good enough for an undefeated record. That's probably because Arizona's defense has sacked opposing quarterbacks a combined 12 times while forcing four fumbles -- all if which it recovered -- including one for a touchdown. The Cards' top-tier defensive unit will overpower Miami's developing offense and make enough plays to compensate for its not-very-good offense against a stout Dolphins defense.
Prediction: Cardinals 24, Dolphins 17

Sean's take:
The Cardinals are the biggest surprise of the young season, not just because they're 3-0 but because they've beaten favorites New England and Philadelphia to get there. But after three weeks, their team is decimated by injuries while relying on quarterback Kevin Kolb to sustain the success. In a matchup between two teams with under-the-radar defenses and inconsistent offenses, the Dolphins take a step forward and eek out the upset on the road.
Prediction: Dolphins 23, Cardinals 20

Friday, September 28, 2012

Homer Guide: AFC East Week 4 fantasy glance

BY SAM HOLLINGSWORTH

It all really can change in a flash.

While a couple of AFC East running backs remain in the top tier of the fantasy rankings at the end of Week 3, bigger concerns have come up regarding their health.

Buffalo Bills breakout star C.J. Spiller went down late in the second quarter vs. the Browns with a shoulder injury, while Miami Dolphins playmaker Reggie Bush missed the second half (and overtime) of his team's OT-decided affair with a minor knee injury.

Undoubtedly, other running backs in the league are catching up with Spiller and Bush (Spiller remains the top-ranked NFL fantasy player; Bush dropped down to No. 5), and will continue to do so if each misses time moving forward. But, remember: as players go down, new ones step up. Keep a keen eye out for those backups to step into primary roles.

Mario: Rattling No. 12 key to beating Patriots

BY DAN BEGNOCHE

The Buffalo Bills have lost 16 of their last 17 meetings with the New England Patriots, but the game plan remains the same when the two face off Sunday: Get to Tom Brady.

That was the consensus among the Bills' defensive players Wednesday, with defensive end Mario Williams wording it best while talking with reporters.

“It’s a huge task to go against the Patriots. The only way to beat them is to rattle No. 12," Williams said, according to the team's website. "It is a collective effort up front. All four of us are going to have to get after it and make it happen.”

With a somewhat unfamiliar offensive line in front of him, Brady has taken a total of six sacks in the Pats' last two games, both losses. He's been getting hit 19 percent of the time he drops back to pass, up from last season, so far.

But perhaps the biggest indication is that Brady's numbers throwing downfield have dropped, as well. While he led the league last year in completions of 20 yards or more, he currently ranks 12th in that department, and he's only completed one pass of 40 yards or more.

Around-the-Web AFC East power rankings - Week 4

Here's where the four AFC East teams stand in the major media outlets' NFL power rankings entering Week 4:
              NE     NYJ     BUF      MIA
ESPN         8(5)  17(18)  19(22)   29(25)
NFL.com      8(6)  15(14)  20(24)   28(28)
CBSSports   10(10) 15(19)  17(20)   30(26)
FoxSports   12(8)  19(17)  14(21)   31(29)
NBC (PFT)    8(5)  15(19)  18(20)   31(26)
SI.com       8(5)  18(22)  19(24)   30(27)
PFF          5(3)  19(18)  15(19)   27(29)
AVERAGE:     8     16.7    17.4     29.4

Thursday, September 27, 2012

No sacks, no problem: Dolphins' Wake still dominant

BY SEAN DONOVAN

The Miami Dolphins' front office drew much criticism this offseason. But there was one move no one questioned -- the contract extension of star pass rusher Cameron Wake.

Wake has been playing like a man possessed so far under his new contract. He has yet to record a sack in 2012, but his 21 total QB pressures is most of any player in the league, via Pro Football Focus.

“I think the kid is playing his tail off," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said, according to the team's media department. "If you watch the tape, he’s playing his tail off. He’s playing the run very well, he’s knocking the quarterback down a bunch; we’d love him to get more sacks and I’m sure he would. But boy he is playing hard and playing fast."

Miami's most consistent defender was rewarded with a four-year, $49 million extension in May and is proving that he was worth every penny. The Dolphins now have one of the game's most feared pass rushers locked up through 2016.

In last Sunday's loss, Wake terrorized New York Jets' tackle Austin Howard, recording an astounding 11 combined QB hits and hurries in the game. He also drew a holding penalty for the third time this season.

Rex: 49ers have 7 Pro-Bowl caliber starters on D

BY NICK ST. DENIS

Rex Ryan didn't waste much time in his Wednesday press conference to cut to the chase on the New York Jets' Sunday opponent in the San Francisco 49ers.

"...quite honestly this football team right here is loaded," Ryan said.

Ryan went on to explain that the Jets' pro personnel department grades all their opponents on a blue, red and white scale, with blue meaning a player is Pro Bowl or All-Pro level.

The Jets ranked seven players on the 49ers defense alone in the blue.

"I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that many," Ryan said. "When you look at them, they certainly are deserving of that. Both of their inside linebackers are tremendous athletes, run/hit guys. They fly around and never come off the field, except [Patrick] Willis came off obviously in that last game with a little bit of an ankle. I understand he’ll play. I was going to call Harbs [Jim Harbaugh] up and make sure that he doesn’t play, but I don’t think he’s going for that, so you start with those two.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Gailey: McKelvin underrated in Bills' return game

BY DAN BEGNOCHE

With all the twists and turns surrounding the Buffalo Bills' rushing personnel, not much has been said about the team's special teams play. Enter Leodis McKelvin.

McKelvin, now in his fifth year with the Bills, started out as the team's main kick returner his rookie season. And though some fumbling issues early on in his career saw him lose that job to the likes of Roscoe Parrish and C.J. Spiller, McKelvin has regained his role as return specialist, and he is making an immediate impact on Buffalo's offensive attack.

“He is probably another guy that is underrated in his area,” coach Chan Gailey told reporters Monday. “I think he is an extremely talented returner and he has a chance to take every ball, whether it is a kickoff or a punt, he has a chance to take it all the way as we saw two weeks ago. Our guys will keep working because when they know he is back there, they are working extremely hard to block and to do their assignments.”

McKelvin's numbers have been steadily increasing over the past few years, and his efforts have put the Bills' special teams, particularly their punt return squad, near the top of the league the past couple seasons. Buffalo ranked third in punt return average last season, and returners tallied 20 yards or more six times including a touchdown, an 80-yard return by McKelvin.

This season, McKelvin has handled all the punt returns, and he's averaging nearly 30 yards a return, thanks in part to an 88-yard score against the Chiefs in Week 2. His returns have gone for 20 or more yards five times in six tries, giving the Bills the strongest punt return in the league thus far.

Branch falling back into place in Patriots' offense

BY NICK ST. DENIS

The New England Patriots entered the regular season relatively thin at receiver, parting ways with a plethora of training camp wideouts in favor of a tight end-heavy offense.

But with all-purpose offensive weapon Aaron Hernandez out for a handful of weeks to injury, the Patriots needed to bolster its pass-catching corps. So in comes Deion Branch, a former Patriot Super Bowl MVP who was cut before the season, early last week.

Branch caught just two passes for 11 yards but was in on 44 plays (26 pass, 18 run) in New England's loss to Baltimore Ravens Sunday, according to ProFootballFocus.

"It’s interesting because Deion during the course of the game played multiple positions and I think his ability to do that was really a plus for us the other night," Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels told the media Tuesday.

"He made a couple adjustments in plays at the line of scrimmage, or right after the ball was snapped, that really helped our situation there. One in the two-minute situation where they blitzed the weak corner and he and Tom [Brady] were on the same page and there were two other adjustments that he made as well."

Fins' run game going through a renaissance of sorts

BY SEAN DONOVAN

The Miami Dolphins dodged a bullet this week, as an MRI revealed no structural damage to running back Reggie Bush's left knee on Monday. He sustained the injury in the second quarter of Miami's loss to the New York Jets and was not able to return to the game.

The league's fifth-leading rusher is expected to be ready to play in Week 4 at Arizona. Bush hopes to not miss a beat when he returns, as he has led a renaissance of sorts for the Dolphins' rushing game.

The Dolphins hired former Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin as head coach this offseason, and he brought with him his West Coast offense, which relied on short passes to set up the deep passes, as opposed to rushing the ball. The expectation was that the ground game would be a tertiary weapon in Miami, as Philbin's Green Bay offense ranked no higher than 20th in the NFL in either rushing attempts or yards in the previous two seasons.

But Bush and the Dolphins' tailbacks have been the driving force of the offense, and Miami has the third most rushing attempts in the league through three games.

In fact, all of the Dolphins' early season rushing statistics are impressive:

Bush says Jets had it coming with Revis injury

BY NICK ST. DENIS

Reggie Bush doesn't sympathize with the New York Jets regarding their loss of cornerback Darrelle Revis for the season to an ACL injury.

In fact, Bush thinks the Jets had it coming.

"It's like the old saying, 'What goes around comes around,'" the Miami Dolphins tailback told The Paul and Young Ron Show in South Florida Tuesday, according to the Palm Beach Post.

"They talked about all week about putting hot sauce and this and that, and they ended up losing their best player for the rest of the season. So, it's sad that it happened because of that, but I'm going to be back."

Bush was referring to Jets coach Rex Ryan's comment last week about the Jets' defense needing to put some "hot sauce" on Bush before Gang Green's overtime win over the Dolphins. Ryan was jokingly referencing when linebacker Bart Scott made a similar "hot sauce" comment while facing Bush during Scott's time in Baltimore.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Film Review: Sanchez vs. zone in 4th quarter, OT

BY SEAN DONOVAN

The New York Jets trailed the Miami Dolphins for much of their 23-20 overtime victory Sunday, but some changes in the Dolphins' defense allowed Mark Sanchez, who wasn't good for most of the game, throw the ball with success late in the fourth quarter and overtime.

The Jets were down 17-13 with 5:34 left in regulation needing a touchdown. The defense had just forced the Dolphins into a three-and-out, and they took over at their own 47-yard line after a punt.

Despite good field position, it would be no easy task to get into the end zone on the Miami defense. Mark Sanchez was baffled by the Dolphins' coverage most of the afternoon, completing just 13 of his 32 passes up to that point. His team had been able to convert only 3-of-12 third downs, as well.

Sanchez immediately went back to work through the air and found the Dolphins in zone coverage. This change in gameplan was possibly an attempt to mix up the looks for Sanchez, but was more likely due to the exhausted Miami defensive players. The Dolphins' offense had failed to gain a first down in each of their previous two drives, and the unit had little time to seek refuge from the humidity.

Jackson's response to Moorman release: "WTF???"

BY NICK ST. DENIS

According to Tim Graham of the Buffalo News, the Buffalo Bills plan to release longtime punter Brian Moorman Tuesday.

"WTF??? Released Mooreman??? For what??," Bills running back Fred Jackson, a not-so-young veteran himself, tweeted Tuesday afternoon.

Surely, Jackson meant Moorman, without the "e." Spelling aside, the Moorman move, which was reportedly in favor of rookie punter Shawn Powell, is already resonating among the Bills faithful and players.

Week 4 Poll: Who should be Bills' true primary RB?

BY NICK ST. DENIS

Fred Jackson was the Buffalo Bills' best player last season before going down to a season-ending injury. C.J. Spiller filled in admirably for the remainder of the year.

Jackson was injured again in Week 1 of 2012, opening the door for Spiller, who led the NFL in rushing after two weeks. Spiller again looked good in Week 3 but acquired an injury of his own.

With Spiller possibly out for at least a week and Jackson possibly returning in Week 4, the Bills' running back situation is easier to decide, for now. But how about when Spiller and Jackson finally return to action at the same time, both healthy?

Is Spiller's work through two and a half weeks enough to give him the outright primary job, or does Jackson's overall workload during the last few years, and maybe a decent game in the coming weeks, make Jackson the default No. 1 like he was at the start of the season?

Vote at the top right of the page.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Loss of Revis has look, feel of Jenkins injury in 2009

BY NICK ST. DENIS

The loss of cornerback Darrelle Revis to a season-ending ACL injury changes the way the New York Jets' defense operates, and in a big way.

Revis' best-in-league lockdown cover skills on the NFL's top receivers allows (or allowed) the Jets to roll safety coverage in a different direction or send extra attackers into the offensive backfield, among other schematic variables.

But despite the obvious positional disparity, the loss of Revis has the look and feel of the Jets' situation in 2009, when it lost then seemingly-irreplacable defensive tackle Kris Jenkins to a season-ending ACL injury in Week 6.

At the time, a lot of what the Jets did defensively was based around Jenkins' ability to take up two, and often three, offensive blockers, making room for other front-seven defenders to get to the quarterback or ball-carrier.

The Jets, however, went on to lead the league in defense.

"We have a history of stepping up," Jets coach Rex Ryan told the media Monday, referring to the Jenkins situation.

Belichick's official explanation on ref-grabbing-gate



BY NICK ST. DENIS

Bill Belichick began his Monday press conference with a 738-word opening statement. 562 of those words were about the postgame "situation" that saw Belichick make physical contact with a ref as the ref was jogging of the field.

The Patriots' coach was seeking an explanation on if the Baltimore Ravens' game-winning kick over New England would be reviewed, but he was unable to get the ref's undivided attention.

Here's that chunk of his presser transcript, according to the team's website:

Pats finish Week 3 with 1st losing record since 2003

BY NICK ST. DENIS

The New England Patriots entered their AFC bout with the Baltimore Ravens Sunday on a 145-game streak without a losing record.

Reset the counter.

New England fell victim to the Ravens' 12th straight home victory, this time a 31-30 final that was decided by a 27-yard Justin Tucker field goal as time expired.

The last time the Patriots had a sub-.500 record was following a Week 1 loss in 2003. New England now sits a game behind the New York Jets, who beat the Miami Dolphins in a sloppy 23-20 Week 3 contest, and the Buffalo Bills, who have won two in a row after getting routed by the Jets in Week 1.

Bills' offensive line still tops in victory over Browns

BY DAN BEGNOCHE

The Buffalo Bills' offensive line marched into Cleveland as the best squad on paper: it had yet to give up a sack and boasted the league's No. 1 rusher. It pretty much finished the game right where it started.

For the third straight week, Buffalo's front four kept quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on his feet, allowing him to throw for more than 200 yards and three touchdowns en route to a 24-14 victory against the Browns.

The line allowed only one sack on Fitzpatrick Sunday, an impressive feat given Cleveland came into the game as one the top five sack leaders in the league. And even more impressively, the Bills were able to rush for more than 100 yards in their sixth straight regular season game, even after losing their second elite running back to injury.

Coach Chan Gailey was sure to tout the squad's effort while speaking with reporters after the game.

“Great job by the offensive line,” Gailey said. “They are so physical. We've been able to block the team's we've played so far pretty good. That's a credit to them and the job they're doing.”

Fins' crunch-time decisions critical in loss to Jets

BY SEAN DONOVAN

The story of the the Miami Dolphins' 23-20 overtime loss to the New York Jets Sunday was missed opportunities, most notably two missed late-game field goals.

The entire afternoon was a messy affair, with both quarterbacks playing inefficiently and key players from each side going down with injuries. Despite drops, penalties and ugly interceptions, the Jets found a way to walk away with a win. In games like these, the outcome is usually decided by leadership and coaching decisions.

Which is exactly why the Dolphins fell short.

Mark Sanchez followed up his anomalous Week 1 light-show with his second consecutive lousy performance but was able to make the key plays down the stretch in the fourth quarter and overtime that the Dolphins couldn't.

During that same timespan, Joe Philbin and the Dolphins' coaching staff made a number of questionable decisions. Specifically, on their final drive of regulation down 20-17, they chose to fire two deep balls to the end zone rather than trying to push closer for a more realistic game-winning touchdown.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Philbin: Jets' run game varies more than people think

BY NICK ST. DENIS

Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin thinks there's a "misconception" that the New York Jets are one-dimensional in the run game.

"... everybody says they’re just a gap-blocking team," Philbin told the media Friday. "... Again, I think that's a misconception."

"I think they have a good balanced attack in the running game. They run the ball inside well. They have a good perimeter attack. They have some good runners individually, but their scheme’s more varied than everybody paints it out to be. They do a good job."

Philbin will get his first taste of AFC East action when Miami hosts the Jets Sunday. With that, he'll experience a hard-nosed battle in the trenches, something these teams have grown accustomed to in facing each other twice a year.

The first-year head coach expects multiple looks from Gang Green's rushing offense.

Williams expects Weeden to try to get ball out quick

BY NICK ST. DENIS

The Cleveland Browns' 28-year-old rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden had a rough start to his NFL career, tossing four interceptions and no touchdowns in a season-opening loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Weeden, however, bounced back in Week 2, completing over 70 percent of his passes en route to a two-touchdown, no-interception showing against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Bills defensive end Mario Williams thinks the key to bringing out the worst of Weeden is not only pressure, but making sure the football doesn't make it past the line when Weeden does get it out of his hand.

"... [They're doing] three-to-five step drops and get the ball out so we have to get to them as quick as we can," Williams told the media this week, according to the team's media site. "We are expecting for him to get the ball out fast for that simple reason.

Revis: Hartline Tannehill's go-to, Bess on 3rd down

BY NICK ST. DENIS

The New York Jets get star cornerback Darrelle Revis back this week, and it couldn't come at a more "meh" time, at least in terms of matchups.

Gang Green faces one of the league's least-decorated and lukewarm receiving corps Sunday in the Miami Dolphins, but Revis isn't taking his opposition lightly.

"They still have two great receivers in [Brian] Hartline and [Davone] Bess," Revis told the media Friday.

Apparently the word "great" is easily thrown around in the Revis household, but we see where he's going with it. Revis went on to explain each receiver's role in Miami's rookie-led offense.

"[Ryan] Tannehill, his go-to-guy is Hartline," Revis said. "He looks for him a lot. On third downs, he looks for Davone Bess.

Pats' newfound run game faces tough test in Ravens

BY NICK ST. DENIS

Since 2006, the Baltimore Ravens have finished each season ranked in the top five in run defense.

The New England Patriots are well-aware of it.

New England has been taking advantage of some newfound success on the ground thanks to the emergence of second-year tailback Stevan Ridley. But the Patriots don't expect it to get any easier when they travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens Sunday.

"They’re a very good technique team," Patriots coach Bill Belichick told the media Friday of the Ravens. "... they play well with their hands, they recognize blocks well, linebackers are, it’s hard to fool them, especially [Ray] Lewis, but all of them are disciplined, they don’t give up a lot of easy plays.

"You have to block them, they don’t run themselves out of a lot of plays, they make you block them and you have to do a good job. You have to have good pad level, good technique; you have to finish your blocks, they’re a good tackling team."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Deciding Factors: Jets at Dolphins

BY SEAN DONOVAN

The Dolphins and Jets have each split their first two games of this season, with both suffering one blowout road loss and putting together one dominating home victory.

Despite the two games in the books, both teams have unsettled questions and hope to develop consistency in Week 3. To do so, Mark Sanchez and the Jets' offense will need to bounce back from a putrid performance in Pittsburgh, while Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins hope to keep it rolling after a 35-point outburst against the Raiders.

With a victory, either team can seize control of the early AFC East division lead.

Deciding Factors:

Revis Island Vacation over. Will he be limited? Like perhaps no other defensive player in the league, Darrelle Revis' presence greatly improves his team, as evidenced in last week's loss. With him on the field, a primary receiving option, and sometimes an entire portion of the field, can be eliminated, often crippling offenses. Miami is depleted at receiver as it is; Revis will only compound that problem. Reports are that he's ready to go; but if his concussion issues recur, it could affect the outcome of this game.

Sanchez vs. Fins' secondary. The Dolphins aren't strong in pass defense. The Jets will need to exploit this, especially because Miami has bottled up opposing rushers so far this season to the tune of 2.2 yards per carry, lowest in the NFL. And with a subpar stable of running backs, the pressure will be on Sanchez to get it done through the air with a marginal receiving corps.

Tannehill's efficiency. After a turnover-riddled debut in Houston, Tannehill had an efficient game last week against Oakland. This week, he faces a vastly superior opponent, one known for solid man-to-man coverage and aggressive blitz calls. If he can manage the game and avoid turnovers, Miami should have a decent chance at winning.

Bush's impact. Reggie Bush is proving that he can be an every down back for the Dolphins, and is now second in the NFL in rushing. The Jets are strong against the run, but if Bush can get into open spaces, he can do damage against any defense. An ideal scenario for New York is to limit Bush early, and force Tannehill to beat them. Former Dolphin and current Jets' safety Yeremiah Bell will play an instrumental role in run support on Bush.

Deciding Factors: Patriots at Ravens

BY SAM HOLLINGSWORTH

It’s fair to assume the New England Patriots (1-1) didn’t expect to have a two-game losing streak dangling over their heads heading into Baltimore to face the Ravens (1-1) in a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game.

We all remember it: the Ravens lost on a 32-yard field goal attempt that could have sent the game into overtime, but instead propelled the Patriots into a Super Bowl rematch vs. the Giants.

Baltimore, which looks for a big win against a vulnerable Patriots squad, couldn’t contain Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles last week, giving up a rushing TD to Vick that sent the Ravens home with a loss.

Deciding Factors:

Turnovers. You can’t stress this one enough. The Patriots are susceptible after a dismal effort last week vs. the Cardinals in their home opener. The Ravens are the Ravens — stacked, hard-nosed and vicious on defense. Don’t turn the ball over … or at least limit the takeways by Baltimore, which had two interceptions and two fumble recoveries last week vs. the Eagles. Despite the four turnovers, the Eagles still won. That's not the norm.

Stopping the run. Two words: Ray Rice. Dude can run the ball, especially against New England. Remember his 83-yard run on the first play of Baltimore's playoff win over the Patriots in 2009? Rice (Photo: lswiecicki, Flickr) opened it up last week for just under 100 yards off of 16 carries. Giving up anything more than that this week is going to put the Patriots’ backs against a wall.

Establishing passing options. … Other than Gronk! The Patriots need to move the ball around more. The loss of tight end Aaron Hernandez does not help that. The addition of recently-released receiver Deion Branch, however, does. Might as well get Wes Welker the ball more, too, since he's pretty good.

Special teams. The Patriots' special teams group is known to break one out every once in a while, but it had a rough outing last week with a blocked punt and a missed field goal late. Don’t expect the unit's woes to last, though. In a battle between two highly-touted AFC squads, special teams plays a big part in this one.

Deciding Factors: Bills at Browns

BY DAN BEGNOCHE

After a definitive rout of the Kansas City Chiefs last week in their home opener, the Buffalo Bills (1-1) will try to carry that momentum into Cleveland. Buffalo has lost its last eight games on the road, but that could change against the Browns (0-2), who despite their turnover numbers, have struggled to keep teams from the end zone.

The last two meetings against these teams have been grueling ground battles, and the Bills hope to continue that theme with the league's current leading rusher, C.J. Spiller, coming out on top.

Deciding Factors:

Top of the Line. The Bills' offensive line has been top-notch the first two games, not allowing a single sack on Ryan Fitzpatrick while also providing solid running lanes for Spiller. They may be tested this week, however, with a Cleveland defensive front that's tallied eight sacks thus far and forced six turnovers, though the loss of cornerback Joe Haden may be key to the Browns' turnover numbers on Sunday. Buffalo's line has shown great communication skills in adapting to different schemes, an impressive feat given the little time they've had to meld as a group.

In the zone. These two teams are at the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to red-zone efficiency, with Buffalo boasting a perfect conversion percentage and Cleveland yet to convert. Look for Fitzpatrick to target tight end Scott Chandler (photo: Doug Kerr, Flickr) inside the 20, who at 6-foot 7 has a 9-inch height advantage over safety T.J. Ward, the Browns' likely coverage option. Spiller has also been an option for the Bills, averaging more than 8 yards a carry inside the red zone with two scores.

Super Mario. Defensive end Mario Williams hasn't yet shown the fury the Bills were looking for when they signed him this past offseason, mostly due to a consistent double-team effort sent his way so far. He may have a chance to break out this week, as he will be paired against rookie lineman Mitchell Schwartz. Schwartz has shown promise early on but hasn't gone up against the likes of Williams yet in his early career. If the Browns choose to double Williams like other teams have, expect big things from the inside front of the defensive corps, and don't be surprised if Williams tallies a sack or two of his own.

Rookie watch. At 28, Browns' quarterback Brandon Weeden isn't your typical rookie, and the first-round pick has had two very different games thus far, showing both his strengths and his inconsistencies. Browns' running back Trent Richardson has shown the same in his first two starts. These two will need to be in sync if they hope to foil a Buffalo defense looking to make up for its lackluster performance against rookie Andy Dalton last year. Both had strong showings last week despite the loss and may need to be patient and pick their spots, as the Bills are likely to throw everything they have at the young duo to try to force early mistakes.

Week 3 AFC East game picks: Jets at Dolphins

Lead writer Nick St. Denis and AFC East Daily contributors Dan Begnoche, Sean Donovan and Sam Hollingsworth pick the New York Jets' AFC East bout with the Miami Dolphins in South Beach.

Nick's take:
Jets coach Rex Ryan will release the dogs on Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill with disguises, confusion and aggressiveness. Reggie Bush will certainly get his, but Gang Green should be able to stack the box regularly and still get better-than-average coverage on the outside with All-World cornerback Darrelle Revis returning opposite Antonio Cromartie. The Dolphins are tough defensively, but Mark Sanchez easily beats out Tannehill on the scoreboard.
Prediction: Jets 21, Dolphins 10

Sean's take:
The Dolphins' stout defensive front can force New York out of the run early and put the onus on Sanchez to beat them through the air, which is generally a good strategy to beat the Jets. Bush is exactly the type of dynamic athlete that can cause problems for the Jets' elite defense. But the crux of this equation is Tannehill versus a deceptive and aggressive Rex Ryan gameplan. It'll be invaluable experience for the rookie, but it'll also be a loss.
Prediction: Jets 23, Dolphins 14

Friday, September 21, 2012

Week 3 AFC East game picks: Patriots at Ravens

Lead writer Nick St. Denis and AFC East Daily contributors Dan Begnoche, Sean Donovan and Sam Hollingsworth pick the New England Patriots' road matchup with the Baltimore Ravens.

Nick's pick:
Tom Brady's oft-targeted hybrid player in Aaron Hernandez is out to injury, and his leading receiver from a season ago was demoted last week at the hands of Julian Edelman. Fortunately, the defense is much-improved. However, the Ravens' balanced attack coupled with a high-energy home environment sends New England packing at 1-2.
Prediction: Ravens 24, Patriots 21

Sam's take:
After the game the Patriots had against the Cardinals last week, it appears they have their hands full going into Baltimore. The Ravens are one of the most badass teams, too. Vegas knows that; it has the Ravens listed as three-point favorites. Doesn't mean I have to agree.
Prediction: Patriots 32, Ravens 28

Week 3 AFC East game picks: Bills at Browns

Lead writer Nick St. Denis and AFC East Daily contributors Dan Begnoche, Sean Donovan and Sam Hollingsworth pick the Buffalo Bills' road matchup with the Cleveland Browns.

Nick's take:
Even the Bills' eight-game road losing streak and questionable secondary shouldn't be enough to remedy the Browns' anemic passing game, which sits at a league-worst 57.6 quarterback rating. If Buffalo loses to Cleveland, it is in serious trouble. I still think the Bills aren't on their way to a winning season, but they'll win here.
Nick's pick: Bills 13, Browns 10

Dan's take:
Buffalo has lost eight straight road games, but streaks have to end somewhere. Cleveland has struggled to slow offenses down thus far, and Buffalo's offense is running on all cylinders behind the league's leading rusher, C.J. Spiller. The low-scoring bouts these two teams are used to having will come to an end behind another strong Spiller performance.
Dan's pick: Bills 27, Browns 17

Homer Guide: AFC East Week 3 fantasy glance

BY SAM HOLLINGSWORTH

The NFL's current top two rushing leaders play out the AFC East. Buffalo Bills breakout star C.J. Spiller and former Heisman Trophy-winner Reggie Bush of the Miami Dolphins are getting it done.

Here's a look at some fantasy football activity in the division entering Week 3:

Thumbs up

C.J. Spiller — 292 yds, 3 TD, 5 rec for 72 yds, 1 Lost Fumble (RB, Bills)
No secret here. Spiller is the best player in most, if not all, fantasy football leagues as they head into Week 3. After Fred Jackson went down, Spiller has done nothing but respond.

Reggie Bush — 241 yds, 2 TD, 9 rec for 71 yds, (RB, Dolphins)
Bush is a revitalized version of his college self, and it’s scary. We wondered if his numbers last season were a one-time fluke, and I think we’ve already got our answer on that subject. This guy is an animal, and he made a big splash last week.

Stevan Ridley — 196 yds, 1 TD, 5 rec for 51 yds (RB, Patriots)
He’s not a No. 1 or 2 (like Spiller and Bush, respectively), but he’s still a top 15-ranked fantasy player. He’ll keep guiding the Patriots running game with Danny Woodhead until Shane Vereen is ready to return and take some of the work off Ridley’s shoulders.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Dolphins' Philbin getting 1st taste of AFC East rivalry

BY NICK ST. DENIS

Joe Philbin has been an NFC guy his entire professional coaching career.

At least until now.

Philbin, who was hired as the Miami Dolphins' offense coordinator following the 2011 regular season, spent the last nine years with the Green Bay Packers. Sunday, Philbin will get a taste of his first AFC East rival bout.

Is he feeling it yet? "Starting to," Philbin told the New York media via conference call.

"Again I’m new to the AFC, new to the AFC East, but walking into the team meeting this morning, some of the guys were a little more lively than maybe they would be on a typical Wednesday morning, knowing that it’s a division rival, it’s a home game, it’s a September game, and it’s the New York Jets, an excellent football team.

Sherman talks pluses/minuses of Tannehill's mobility

BY NICK ST. DENIS

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill began his college career as a wide receiver. So while he was drafted by Miami eighth overall to be the team's franchise signal-caller, Tannehill still has some of that wideout in him.

"Well the advantage is that he’s a heck of an athlete and he’s able to escape and make plays with his feet," Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said Monday. "It was evident in the first drive (against the Raiders) when I made a third down call, I think it was a third down call, and he ended up getting some yardage with his feet.

"The fact that he’s a good athlete as well as an excellent quarterback I think plays to our advantage. The fact that we can move him out a little bit, and his target point isn’t always the same, his launch point I should say isn’t always the same."

Sherman said another advantage of Tannehill's athleticism is that it makes the Dolphins' offense more versatile, as teams "have to scheme up for him to be on the edge," and it also enables Sherman to pinpoint protection.

Fitz on road losing streak: 'That is not a good stat'

BY DAN BEGNOCHE

Seventeen regular-season weeks and a bye. That's how long it's been since the Buffalo Bills have won away from home.

The Bills look to snap an eight-game road streak when they face the Browns Sunday. And despite the offensive momentum the team's carrying from its home opener, the Bills will have to hunker down if they would like to keep that momentum going through Cleveland.

“I have no reason,” Gailey told the media Wednesday. “If I knew a reason I would solve the problem. I do not. We have not played well on the road. I do not have an answer to that one.”

One obvious issue has been the defensive effort they've put forth while away from Ralph Wilson Stadium. In the combined eight losses, the defense has given up an average of 36 points per game, including three over 40. Buffalo's offense wasn't much better, averaging half that amount during the losses.

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick told reporters he didn't realize it had been that long since a road win and didn't pinpoint a specific reason for their troubles, either.

“That is not a good stat," he said. "I think it is obviously too long, too many games in there that we have lost on the road. I do not know if you can pin it on one thing. It is always easier playing at home, tougher going to play an opponent at their place having to handle the crowd noise, the distractions and everything that goes with it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Where Winslow and Branch fit into Patriots' offense

BY NICK ST. DENIS

Multiple media outlets reported the New England Patriots added free agent tight end Kellen Winslow Tuesday. They're also bringing back receiver Deion Branch, according to the Boston Globe.

In a questionable move, the Patriots released Branch before the season. But no harm, no foul. He's back.

New England recently, or at least temporarily, promoted receiver Julian Edelman to the detriment of Wes Welker. If Edelman is lining up across Brandon Lloyd in two-receiver sets, the Patriots probably needed a guy like Branch.

Branch will help bolster a receiving corps that, while already kind of thin, was hit with an Aaron Hernandez injury last Sunday. Hernandez will be out at least "a few" weeks, according to ESPN.

That's also where Winslow comes in.

Bills' offensive line answering the call so far

BY DAN BEGNOCHE

The question coming into this season for the Buffalo Bills' offensive line was whether they'd be able to duplicate their success of a year ago despite the loss of left tackle Demetress Bell and the injury to right tackle Erik Pears.

The answer: Yes.

In 2011, Buffalo's line allowed only 23 sacks, a league best. The Bills' squad has kept its protection stout in its first two games this year as well, and against two strong defensive fronts in the Jets and the Chiefs.

Buffalo boasts the only offensive line that has yet to allow a sack, and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick expressed his appreciation Monday while addressing the media.

“They were nasty out there,” Fitzpatrick said. “They did a great job. It is really nice to see them getting some credit. The way C.J. (Spiller) is running the ball right now, no sacks in two games—the things you can look at stats-wise for an offensive line. They have done a pretty outstanding job the first two games.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Week 3 Poll: Patriots' loss a fluke or an indication?

BY NICK ST. DENIS

Find me a non-Cardinals fan with a pre-game prognostication that Arizona would beat the New England Patriots last Sunday. I won't hold my breath.

The Cardinals stunned New England, in Foxborough, handing the Patriots their first-ever loss at Gillette Stadium in a home-opener.

New England scored on just one of three red zone trips, was 5-for-15 on third down and saw quarterback Tom Brady throw an interception on the offense's first play from scrimmage before tossing just a single touchdown pass in a 20-18 loss.

Every team gets upset from time-to-time. Even the Patriots. But not in this fashion, at home as two-touchdown favorites. At least not until now.

Was the Patriots' Week 2 stumble a fluke, or is it an indication that the Patriots aren't as good as we all thought?

Vote: Poll at the top-right of the page.

Film Review: Wallace's big TD catch vs. Cromartie

BY SEAN DONOVAN

In a game between two slug-it-out, defensive minded teams, the outcome of the New York Jets' Week 2 27-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was very much in balance midway through the third quarter.

New York had an opportunity to stem the Steelers' momentum and take the ball back down just one score.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers were driving into Jets territory nursing a 13-10 lead, with 9:10 left in the period. Earlier on the drive, they had been aided by a LaRon Landry personal foul but now faced a third-and-16 situation after a 6-yard loss on a running play.

Stop the Steelers here, and the Jets get the ball with a chance to re-take the lead.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Belichick's Beli-esque account of Welker/Edelman

BY NICK ST. DENIS

The NFL's leader in receptions from a season ago was healthy Sunday. That doesn't mean he got to start.

Wes Welker (pictured) didn't see the field until the end of the first quarter, watching his likely successor Julian Edelman start in his place. Welker's entrance to the 20-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals was prompted by tight end Aaron Hernandez getting taken out to injury.

In fact, Edelman was on the field opposite Brandon Lloyd in nearly all of the Patriots' two-receiver sets.

"We have different combinations of personnel groups out there in every game, all the time, pretty much every week," Patriots coach Bill Belichick told the media Monday. "That’s pretty much the way we run our offense and we have for quite awhile.

"The players that we have out there are the ones that we feel are best for that particular play, situation, however you want to look at it. That’s the way we set up the plays, the offense, when they’re called then we put that group out there. Whatever is out there is what we feel is best for our team for that time, for that play, for that situation. "

Spiller on Bills' win: 'This is not a one-man show'

BY NICK ST. DENIS

Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller rushed for two first-quarter touchdowns and amassed 123 yards on just 15 carries Sunday to lead the Bills to a 35-17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Spiller and the Bills badly needed the win after getting routed by the New York Jets last weekend.

"We have great character on this team," Spiller said after the game, according to the team's media site. "This not a one-man show. It is going to take all 53 guys. Everybody did that today. I was very pleasing to get the home-opener win."

Well, it sort of was a one-man show, as Spiller also led the team in receptions with three. He gained 47 yards through the air.

Spiller has stepped up in a major way, as he leads the league in rushing with 292 yards through two weeks. The third-year tailback already has four rushes of 20 or more yards.

Dolphins' D bends for yards, doesn't break for points

BY SEAN DONOVAN

If bend-but-don't-break was a defensive scheme, the Miami Dolphins ran a clinic in their 35-13 victory over the Oakland Raiders.

The Raiders were able to gain yards in chunks, particularly on medium-range throws. Quarterback Carson Palmer completed 16 passes for 10 or more yards to nine different receivers. Much of Palmer's 373 total passing yards were gained after the catch as Miami's secondary also struggled in tackling.

Miami generated little pass rush and did not record a sack, despite the fact that coordinator Kevin Coyle dialed up considerably more blitzes than in Week 1. Nor were they able to force a turnover, save for a late fourth-quarter interception by safety Reshad Jones well after the outcome had been decided.

Still, the Dolphins gave up only 13 points and one touchdown, on a short screen pass that running back Mike Goodson took down the sidelines for 65 yards.

Force-fed Sanchez-Holmes connection falters in loss

BY NICK ST. DENIS

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and receiver Santonio Holmes hooked up for a 14-yard touchdown strike in the first quarter to cap off a 90-yard first-possession drive that saw Sanchez go 4-for-5.

So much for that.

Gang Green's offense couldn't have started the game hotter, and it couldn't have finished colder in a 27-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers as the Jets fell to 1-1.

"We weren't our best," Sanchez said. "The throws weren't there at times. The catches weren't there at times. We came up short."

Sanchez targeted Holmes, the former Steeler, 11 times in the game. But Holmes only caught three of them.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Pats' first home-opener loss at Gillette a sloppy one

BY NICK ST. DENIS

Numbers didn't lie in the New England Patriots' 20-18 upset loss to the Arizona Cardinals Sunday.

There's no way around it -- the Patriots' Week 2 casualty was an absolute stunner. Prior to Sunday, the Patriots had never lost in 10 straight home-openers at Gillette Stadium.

“Yeah. We didn’t play very good," Patriots guard Logan Mankins said, according to the team's website. "Not scoring a touchdown until the fourth quarter, kicking field goals, penalties, pressures, negative runs – the offense, we didn’t bring our best game and it really showed.”

Quarterback Tom Brady was sacked four times, his offense was five-for-15 on third down, and he tossed just one touchdown to one interception.

New England also converted on only one of four red zone trips.

And to cap it off, the Patriots had a punt blocked, which set up an Arizona touchdown, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed a 42-yard field goal at the end of the game to seal the loss.

Fins' offense wakes up in 2nd half en route to win

BY SEAN DONOVAN

The Miami Dolphins didn't start their home-opener quite the way they wanted to. But they were definitely able to finish it, coasting to a 35-13 win against the Oakland Raiders.

After 30 minutes of football, the Dolphins' offense looked like it did in Houston Week 1. In other words, not very effective.

After a strong game-opening drive in which Miami scored it first offensive touchdown of the season on a Ryan Tannehill keeper, the Dolphins' offense was visited by the same second-quarter demons that haunted it in the season-opener. There were drops by receivers, Tannehill was inaccurate in the face of constant pressure, and the offense did not convert any of its four third-down opportunities.

Joe Philbin must have given quite the halftime speech.

Down 10-7 after the break, Miami's offense exploded in the second half. Reggie Bush scored rushing touchdowns from 23 and 65 yards out, and Tannehill completed the first passing touchdown of his career on a 14-yard catch-and-run by Anthony Fasano. Rookie Lamar Miller added a late score on a 15-yard scamper that put the game away for good.

Deciding Factors: Jets at Steelers

BY NICK ST. DENIS

The New York Jets shocked everyone who bought into the "circus" hype last week, but they didn't shock themselves. Gang Green made anyone who took their preseason offensive woes seriously look foolish, tallying the most points of any team in Week 1 in a rout of the division-rival Buffalo Bills.

New York (1-0), however, faces a much stiffer task this week in the always-stout Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers (0-1) are coming off a road loss to Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos, so they're not about to lay down in their home-opener. The teams split their last two meetings -- the Jets won in Pittsburgh in the 2010 regular season, and the Steelers returned the favor at home in the AFC Championship the same year.

Deciding Factors:

Revis Island Vacation. Darrelle Revis is out for this one with a mild concussion he sustained in Week 1. That's a big deal. The Jets base a lot of what they do defensively on Revis being out on an island guarding the opposing team's top receiver in zero coverage. Rex Ryan will now need to find a way to give fill-in cornerback Kyle Wilson help, which takes away a body from the Jets' multiple looks and disguises.

Polamalu/Harrison effect. The Steelers are dealing with some important injuries on defense, as well, as safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker James Harrison are not expected to play. The absence of the all-purpose defender Polamalu (photo: wstera2, Flickr) certainly helped Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez sleep last night, as his pre-snap movement and unpredictable assignments can be a headache. The Jets' offensive line will be happy not to have to deal with Harrison, too.

Tebow Time? The Jets didn't use Tim Tebow a whole lot in the opener despite all the talk surrounding his role in the Jets' Sanchez-led offense. But maybe we see a little more Tebow in a game that has the look of a defensive, ground-and-pound bout. Plus, Tebow has Pittsburgh's number... Playoffs?

Keller out, but Sanchez still has options. Jets tight end Dustin Keller, who was Sanchez's most reliable target last season, will not be playing in this one. There was some worry before the season that Sanchez didn't have any weapons around him, but rookie Stephen Hill alleviated some of that with a two-touchdown, 89-yard receiving game last week. There's this guy named Santonio Holmes, too. Sanchez needs the best from his wideouts in this one, as stalled drives to dropped passes or bad routes could be extremely costly.

Deciding Factors: Chiefs at Bills

BY DAN BEGNOCHE

The Buffalo Bills (0-1) are looking for a stronger showing in their home-opener Sunday after an embarrassing performance against the New York Jets in Week 1. Buffalo takes on the Kansas City Chiefs (0-1), a team that has a bit to prove themselves after a thrashing in their home-opener at the hands of Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons.

As both teams will look to hunker down their porous secondaries, Buffalo will also be shuffling its offense as best it can to account for two big losses this season, starters Fred Jackson and David Nelson. The Bills' coaching staff has assured their fans and the media that nobody is panicking yet, but another big loss could be cause for early concern in Buffalo.

Deciding Factors:

Spiller time. The high point in last week's routing was the job C.J. Spiller did filling in for the loss of Jackson, coming out with nearly 170 yards on only 14 carries. That will be tough to duplicate, especially given the re-additions on defense the Chiefs will have in Week 2, namely linebacker Tamba Hali (photo: oplotni, Flickr) and defensive back Brandon Flowers.

Gut-check for Bills' defense. On top of their dismal performance last week, the Bills sadly had to cope with the sudden death of Marcell Dareus's brother, who was shot and killed in a robbery in Alabama this week. Dareus was excused from practice for a majority of the week but intends to play Sunday. This tragedy could act as a bonding agent among a squad in desperate need of a turnaround. Either way, the defense will be looking to increase its turnover ratio and sacks against the Chiefs, who allowed three of each last week.

Return of the K.C. D: The Chiefs' defensive squad will have a chance to redeem itself from a year ago, when quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick lit up the crew for four touchdowns. They will be looking more to match their turnover numbers, finishing the year second in the AFC in interceptions behind New England.

Getting in for six. The Chiefs scored only 212 total points last season and only 18 offensive touchdowns. The Packers, by comparison, got in for six 63 times with their offense. While nobody expects Kansas City to tally that many TDs, the pressure will be on the offense to produce much more this season, namely Dwayne Bowe, their leading scorer from last year, and Peyton Hillis, the ground-and-pound addition to their rushing attack. A good place to start will be their red-zone efficiency, which was a league-worst last year is but 100 percent thus far.

Deciding Factors: Raiders at Dolphins

BY SEAN DONOVAN

The Miami Dolphins have lost six consecutive home-openers, giving up an average of 28.2 points per game in the process. They hope to snap that cold streak when they host quarterback Carson Palmer and the Oakland Raiders Sunday.

It will be a rematch of Week 13 of last season, which was also in Miami. The Dolphins had their most dominant performance of 2011 in that game, jumping out to a 34-0 third quarter lead. But much has changed in Miami, as well as in Oakland. This will be a battle between two teams still trying to establish their identities and see what 2012 will have in store. (Photo: photo-gator, Flickr)

Deciding Factors:

Turnovers. Just like last week, Miami will need to focus on protecting the ball on offense and generating a big play or two on defense. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins will need a marked improvement in this area, as they kicked off the season with four giveaways and no takeaways in Houston. The Dolphins' defense should have some opportunities going up against the notoriously turnover-prone Palmer.

Containing the star running backs. Without question, the centerpiece for each of these offenses is their tailbacks. For Oakland, their offense will go only as far as Darren McFadden will take them. Likewise for Miami and Reggie Bush. It will need to be the prime objective of each defense to contain these dynamic talents, as the team that gets better production from its tailback will likely win.

Receivers vs. Cornerbacks. The Dolphins' secondary held up reasonably well against a powerful Houston passing attack, though they weren't heavily tested due to the Texans jumping out to a big lead. Denarius Moore, Oakland's most dynamic pass catcher, returns from injury and will help Oakland stretch the field, something it was unable to do in Week 1. Palmer was just 1-of-5 for 21 yards on throws that traveled 20 or more yards in the air in the opener against San Diego, per Pro Football Focus.

Conditioning. In the early afternoon on a September day in South Florida, heat and humidity will be a factor. If the game is close, conditioning and hydration will be instrumental in either team taking the victory. For two teams that lack depth at multiple positions, players missing time due to cramps or exhaustion could be costly. For what it's worth, Miami will be wearing all white uniforms and Oakland will be wearing its black tops.

Deciding Factors: Cardinals at Patriots

BY SAM HOLLINGSWORTH

The New England Patriots (1-0) will host the Arizona Cardinals (1-0), who they haven't struggled with in more than 20 years, Sunday. The last time Arizona beat New England was Sept. 29, 1991, and the Pats won the last five meetings decisively, including a 47-7 blowout in 2008 via a Tom Brady-less New England squad in a snow storm.

Luckily for the Cardinals, it's not nearly cold enough for snow in Foxborough for the teams' third meeting in 12 years, and the Cardinals are in a groove after winning eight of their last 10 games. That includes last week's 20-16 victory that saw quarterback John Skelton go down with an ankle injury and the guy he beat out for the starting job, Kevin Kolb, come in and lead his team to victory with 6-for-8 passing and a TD.

The Patriots are in a groove of their own, though. And let's not forget: the Patriots have never lost a home-opener at Gillette Stadium.

Deciding Factors:

Consistency on defense. After struggling last season, the Patriots' defense came up big in Week 1, especially young players such as Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones, who were acquired via this year’s NFL draft. They also restricted running back Chris Johnson to just four yards on 11 carries last week and the Titans as a whole to 20 yards on 16 carries.

Spreading out the ball. Brady tossed touchdowns to tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez last week, but he needs to spread out the ball a bit more and get key guys like Wes Welker involved. Brandon Lloyd struggled early in the game, but he improve steadily throughout, and there’s no doubt Brady needs to be able to rely on him more for the Pats to be what they want to be.

Patrick Peterson. Dude is lethal. He only needs one more punt return for a TD of 80-plus yards (will be five total) and he’ll tie the record set by Devin Hester and Eric Metcalf (Photo: Broderick Delaney, Flickr).

Red-zone scoring. The Cardinals have one of the stingiest defenses in the red zone; the Patriots will need to make sure that's not the case on Sunday. Considering the high-octane offense the Patriots consistently have, this shouldn’t be a problem for New England. But it’s a vital asset to the game.

Rattle Kolb. Sure, he was a starter last year, but he's a backup this year. And there's a reason why. Pressure him and force him to make plays and we'll find out what kind of player he really is.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Week 2 AFC East game picks: Jets at Steelers

Lead writer Nick St. Denis and AFC East Daily contributors Dan Begnoche, Sean Donovan and Sam Hollingsworth pick the New York Jets' road matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Nick's take:
This game will be all about defense, which is why Darrelle Revis' absence from the Jets and James Harrison and Troy Polamalu's sitting out for the Steelers are big stories. I think Revis' absence will have a bigger impact because of how the Jets base a lot of what they do defensively on their ability to put Revis in zero coverage on one side of the field. However, I'm going homer on this one. The AFC East team grinds one out with help from a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
Prediction: Jets 17, Steelers 14.

Sean's take:
The Jets are riding high after dominating the Bills. They now get a chance to make an even louder statement with a road test against the mighty Steelers. Though Pittsburgh lost to the Broncos and the Jets had their highest scoring output of the Rex Ryan era, Week 2 will go a long way to show the true mettle of each team. The Jets come back to earth facing an all-around better opponent, and Pittsburgh's still-great defense handles all the looks that are thrown at them.
Prediction: Steelers 20, Jets 13

Week 2 AFC East game picks: Chiefs at Bills

Lead writer Nick St. Denis and AFC East Daily contributors Dan Begnoche, Sean Donovan and Sam Hollingsworth pick the Buffalo Bills' home matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Nick's take:
This is the toughest game to predict, because both teams are equally-unpredictable. The Bills were expected to take the next step toward competing in the top-half of the AFC this season, but instead, Buffalo took a step backward last week, getting drubbed by the Jets. The Bills aren't very good, but I feel like they can't be that bad. I think Spiller has another big game and the Bills' defense disrupts an overrated Matt Cassel. At home, the desperate team wins.
Prediction: Bills 17, Chiefs 14.

Dan's take:
These two teams are pretty evenly-matched but showed their obvious weaknesses in their respective secondaries last week. With the loss of key offensive players for Buffalo (David Nelson, Fred Jackson) and apparent additions in the defense for Kansas City (Tamba Hali, Brandon Flowers), the Chiefs look to have the slight edge on Sunday. Buffalo playing its first game at home will certainly keep the game close, though.
Prediction: Chiefs 24, Bills 17

Friday, September 14, 2012

Rex rules out Revis vs. Steelers, Wilson to get nod

BY NICK ST. DENIS

Kyle Wilson, you're up, kid.

New York Jets All-World cornerback Darrelle Revis (pictured right), who sustained a mild concussion last week against the Buffalo Bills, is a no-go for the Jets' road bout with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Jets coach Rex Ryan announced the news during his Friday press conference.

Kyle Wilson, the Jets' third cornerback, will step in opposite Antonio Cromartie to guard either Mike Wallace or Antonio Brown.

It's a tall task for Wilson and a huge blow to a defense that is able to do a lot because of the zero-coverage assignments Revis can take on.

Week 2 AFC East game picks: Raiders at Dolphins

Lead writer Nick St. Denis and AFC East Daily contributors Dan Begnoche, Sean Donovan and Sam Hollingsworth pick the Miami Dolphins' home matchup with the Oakland Raiders.

Nick's take:
This game will be based around one player -- Raiders running back Darren McFadden. Oakland will look to get McFadden in space in all kinds of different ways, and that alone will likely lift the Raiders to a win. The Raiders' defense isn't as good as the Texans', but it's still an annually-tough unit. Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill will be tested by a strong defensive front once again, and I'm not sure this has the makings of a bounce-back game for him.
Prediction: Raiders 17, Dolphins 10

Sean's take:
Hosting the injury-riddled Raiders in the hot Florida sun may just be their best opportunity for a win in the early part of the season. Oakland is limited offensively beyond McFadden, and Miami should fare better against a depleted Raiders' secondary. Still, they must eliminate the turnovers, generate some big plays on defense and do better than 2-for-10 on third down. Might be too much for these young Dolphins.
Prediction: Raiders 16, Dolphins 13