Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Around-the-Web AFC East power rankings - Week 9

Here's where the four AFC East teams stand in the major media outlets' NFL power rankings entering Week 9:
            NE     NYJ     BUF     MIA
ESPN       8(8)  25(24)  28(27)  12(16)
NFL.com    8(9)  25(18)  27(27)  13(16)
CBSSports  7(8)  24(23)  26(26)  10(14)
FoxSports  8(9)  22(15)  28(27)  14(21)
NBC (PFT)  7(7)  26(18)  29(27)  12(21)
SI.com     7(8)  24(15)  28(26)  10(14)
PFF        5(6)  25(22)  29(25)  12(14)
AVERAGE:   7.1    24.4    27.9    11.9

Mario preparing a statement for return to Houston

BY DAN BENOCHE

If Mario Williams gets a open shot at Matt Schaub on Sunday in Houston, he's not going to pull any punches. Just ask him.

OK, maybe Williams was joking Wednesday when speaking specifically about getting his licks in on his former teammate, but make no mistake, Williams has plenty to be angry about when it comes to his time with the Texans, especially with how things ended.

“Fans that saw me said ‘Do not leave.’ I said ‘I do not want to leave.’ That is just how it is,” Williams told reporters Wednesday. “. . . there was never an offer made.

"At the end of the day, it is something people do not realize or understand. They just think ‘Oh well he just up and left and that is the type of guy he is.’ That never happened.”

Blitz was difference-maker for Dolphins' D vs. Jets

BY NICK ST. DENIS

Two weeks ago against the New England Patriots, New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez connected on 68.3 percent of his passes and amassed 328 yards in a tight overtime loss. He was dropping in perfectly-placed footballs to receivers and was almost always on time.

Last week, Sanchez completed just 51.9 percent of his attempts and threw for 283 yards, most of which came when the game was out of reach due to stagnant offensive play early in the game.

If you didn't see either game, Chaz Schilens pretty much summed it up and essentially gave the formula to completely dismantling the Jets' already struggling passing game.

"The team (Patriots) we played last week barely blitzed at all," Schilens said, according to NewYorkJets.com. "New England plays what they're going to play and they stay back in zone coverage. Miami had about 20 or 30 different blitzes coming from everywhere. That's a lot to pick up.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Bills trying to figure out Watt to do vs. Texans' D

BY DAN BEGNOCHE

While the Buffalo Bills' defensive squad is figuring out how to quell the league's ninth-ranked offense, the offense will be equally busy with the Houston Texans' third-ranked defense.

Run by defensive guru Wade Phillips, Houston's squad is touting some of the best stats in the league, namely against the run (83 yards per game), in points per game (18) and in turnover differential (+7). And a big part of that success is due to the play of defensive end J.J. Watt, who's put up ridiculous numbers in his seven games.

“J.J. (Watt) is playing out of his mind right now,” Buffalo running back Fred Jackson told reporters Monday. “It will be a good challenge for us, but for us to get to where we want to be, we know we have to play teams like this.”

Watt leads the league with 9.5 sacks, leads all defensive lineman with 10 pass deflections and has recovered two fumbles, as well. Watt shrugged off his accomplishments Tuesday when speaking with buffalobills.com, saying the Texans' defense has much more in store for the second half of the season.

Lloyd: Patriots' record legit, we deserved tight losses

BY NICK ST. DENIS

The New England Patriots are coming off a blowout victory over the St. Louis Rams -- a 45-7 romping more indicative of the team's talent than what it had shown through its first seven games.

New England (5-3) started the season 3-3, getting outscored by a combined measly four points in the three losses before squeaking by the New York Jets in a Week 7 overtime bout.

“I don’t know," Lloyd told The Fan 590 in Toronto Monday when asked if the Patriots' record was deceiving. "We deserved that. We lost those games fair and square, and if we sit here and say that we didn’t, that would be taking a lot away from our opponents. We lost those games fair and square and we’re doing our best to not do that again.”

The Arizona Cardinals upset New England in Week 2 by a 20-18 margin before the Baltimore Ravens handed the Patriots their first losing record in nearly a decade with a 31-30 victory. The Patriots couldn't put the Seattle Seahawks away in Week 6, squandering a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter to lose by a point.

Moore's efficiency stepping in no shock to Dolphins

BY SEAN DONOVAN

The good news for the Miami Dolphins is they solidified their second place position in the division and silenced a barrage of trash talk from multiple New York Jets players with a big time 30-9 win Sunday.

The bad news is that Miami saw its budding rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill go down with a leg injury early in the first quarter.

Though the Dolphins played perhaps their most complete game of the season on defense and special teams, the win would not have been possible without the efficient passing and game-readiness of backup quarterback Matt Moore.

"I’m not surprised that he played well," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin told reporters on Monday, according to the team's media department. "I think it’s a credit to him and [quarterbacks coach] Zac [Taylor] and [offensive coordinator] Mike [Sherman] to have him ready to go.”

Monday, October 29, 2012

Break over for Bills' underachieving rush defense

BY DAN BEGNOCHE

After a week's vacation from a season's worth of criticism, the Buffalo Bills' rush defense is back under the microscope. And for good reason.

The squad headed back to work on Monday following its bye week, preparing for one of the league's most explosive runners, Houston Texans' running back Arian Foster, along with a very potent backup Ben Tate. And they're expecting them in bunches.

“I would imagine we'll see a lot of them,” linebacker Kyle Williams told reporters Monday. “Whatever you seem to be having trouble with as a team you seem to find. You're gonna always seem to find it until you can stop it.”

Stopping it has been the No. 1 problem. Buffalo's defense is allowing a league-worst 177 yards per game on the ground, along with the most rushing touchdowns (13) and the most 20-plus-yard rushes (12). Conversely, Foster is fifth in the league in rushing yards with 659, and he leads the league in rushing touchdowns with nine.

Jets players think Sanchez receives undue criticism

BY NICK ST. DENIS

Mark Sanchez was far from spectacular in the New York Jets' demoralizing 30-9 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

OK, far is an understatement. While the fourth-year quarterback threw for 283 yards and a meaningless touchdown, he threw a red-zone interception and lost a crucial fumble. He didn't get any help from anyone else, either.

Sanchez, according to his teammates, has taken the brunt of lots of unnecessary and undeserved criticism through Gang Green's 3-5 start to the season. Despite awful special teams work, mediocre defense, sieve-like offensive line play and a lack of playmakers, Sanchez is the one who gets booed, ridiculed by the media and called on by much of the human population to be replaced by Tim Tebow.

“I think he does receive a lot of bullets that’s not necessarily for him,” receiver Jeremy Kerley told The Star-Ledger Sunday. “I had drops, we could talk about that. There’s a lot of things that we could talk about and Mark gets the heat for it. It falls under other categories.”

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tannehill 'optimistic' he'll be ready for next game

SEAN DONOVAN

Very little went wrong for the Miami Dolphins Sunday, as they ran away with a 30-9 road victory over the New York Jets, but their bright-futured rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill exited the game with a leg injury.

Early in the first quarter, Tannehill was injured on a Calvin Pace sack. He limped off the field and was tended to by the Dolphins' trainers. He was replaced by Matt Moore.

The game was well in hand after the first stanza, and Tannehill did not return.

“We were up big and Matt was doing a good job,” Tannehill said after the game, according to ESPN's James Walker. "I just couldn’t get it all the way warmed up all the way. I could bend it. But I didn’t want to hurt our team basically."

Patriots' offense very Patriot-like vs. Rams in London

BY SEAN DONOVAN

In the latest installment of the NFL's "International Series," the league's English fans were treated to a spectacular fireworks display from quarterback Tom Brady and the New England offense, as the Patriots bolted out of the gate en route to a 45-7 drubbing of the hapless St. Louis Rams.

"I know it got out of hand there, but that's how the Patriots like it," Brady said, according to the team's website. "So it was a fun game for us."

Touché, Tom. Touché.

Brady was spectacular on the day, completing 23-of-35 attempts for 304 yards and four touchdown scores. His 131.1 passer rating was the veteran's best output of the season.

Jets' special teams has historically awful afternoon

BY NICK ST. DENIS

The New York Jets' special teams squad has been a major strong point for the team since Mike Westhoff took over the group in 2001. Sunday, it was the team's weakest link.

Gang Green had a punt blocked for a touchdown, fell asleep on an onside kick, had a field goal blocked and saw a would-be return for a touchdown stopped because of a teammate essentially tackling his own returner.

All of that added up to an embarrassing 30-9 loss to the division-rival Miami Dolphins. That, and an awful performance from the offense and defense. Miami played pretty well, too.

"You have to give Miami a lot of credit. I know they were obviously confident coming in here," Jets coach Rex Ryan said after the game, according to the team's website. "They played much better than we did, especially earlier in the game."

Gameday Deciding Factors: Dolphins at Jets

BY SEAN DONOVAN

The New York Jets (3-4) and Miami Dolphins (3-3) rivalry has always been a spirited one. And while still early in the season, this matchup will weigh heavily as both teams try to jostle for position in the division race and the AFC playoff picture.

To add to the intrigue, both sides have fired insults back and forth all week and have provided an entire bulletin board of extra motivation for one another.

DECIDING FACTORS:

Ball Security. The weather forecast predicts a rainy and windy affair at MetLife Stadium, so minimizing giveaways will be crucial for both teams. Mark Sanchez and Ryan Tannehill have had their share of turnover problems so far this season, and keeping the opponent from benefiting from short fields should be a point of emphasis for both coaching staffs.

Running game. With rain in the forecast, both teams will rely on the running game to move the ball. Miami started the season as one of the best rushing teams in the league but have cooled off in recent weeks. Jets running back Shonn Greene has improved as of late. The team that is the most efficient on the ground will likely win. (Photo: photo-gator, flickr)

Secondary play. Though the running game will be the headline act, both teams must be wary of the others' sneaky passing attacks. Sanchez has Dustin Keller back and has a newfound reliable target in Jeremy Kerley. Tannehill will rely on sure-handed targets Davone Bess and Anthony Fasano to gain yards in the stormy conditions.

Special teams. The forgotten phase will factor heavily in this game, with good field goals and punts being at a premium in the conditions. As both offenses tend to struggle, field position may very well decide this game. A shanked punt, muffed punt return, or missed field goal opportunity that turns into points for the other team may turn the tide to one team.

Gameday Deciding Factors: Patriots at (vs.) Rams

BY NICK ST. DENIS

The New England Patriots and St. Louis Rams are hurricane-free this weekend, facing off at Wembley Stadium in London in the NFL's annual "International Series" game in Europe.

The Patriots are coming off a high-intensity AFC East victory over the New York Jets that took extra time to accomplish. The Rams, on the other hand, look to end a two-game losing streak that followed a 3-2 start.

DECIDING FACTORS:

One dimension off the bat. The Patriots are holding opposing rushing offenses to 3.3 yards a carry, tied for lowest in the league. That, coupled with the Rams' struggling run game will make St. Louis one-dimensional offensively. That's not necessarily a bad thing for the Rams, as they're up against a porous New England secondary.

Centerfield focus. The Rams boast a formidable secondary, particularly at cornerback. Also, St. Louis is young and hungry up front, and its defensive line will be after Tom Brady on a regular basis. The Patriots will neutralize that combination with middle-of-the-field passes to Rob Gronkowski.

Familiar trip. New England made the England trip in 2009, so it is familiar with the feel of this game. According to the team's website, the Patriots went with their usual travel schedule. St. Louis, on the other hand, hasn't played overseas and spend the whole week in Europe to get acclimated in preparation for the international game. Advantage Patriots.

Schotty playcalling. Former Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is now calling plays for Sam Bradford's Rams, so you can bet Bill Belichick will look to exploit all of Schotty's tendencies. Belichick ran the Patriots' defense through the entirety of Schottenheimer's tenure in New York. (Photo:  Kris Robinson)

Week 8 AFC East game picks: Dolphins at Jets

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

Nick's take:
The Jets are coming off an emotional but maybe inspiring overtime loss to the Patriots, while the Dolphins are riding a two-game winning streak and are well-rested after a bye. Regardless of their opposite situations, both teams are equally up for this divisional bout. It'll be a wet one, so expect plenty of ground and pound. Gang Green's pissed-off defense shuts down Reggie Bush, and New York heads into the bye with a .500 record and 3-1 in the AFC East.
Prediction: Jets 20, Dolphins 17

Sean's take:
After a fiery war of words during the week, these two rivals will finally settle the score on the gridiron. The Dolphins will be motivated by not only the incendiary talk from a number of Jets players, but also by a chance to avenge their agonizing overtime loss to this same Jets team just five weeks ago. Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill continues his steady progress, and Miami's healthier and overall superior roster scores a huge division road victory.
Prediction: Dolphins 27, Jets 17

Week 8 AFC East game picks: Patriots at (vs.) Rams

Lead writer Nick St. Denis and AFC East Daily contributors Dan Begnoche, Sean Donovan and Sam Hollingsworth pick the New England Patriots' meeting in England with the St. Louis Rams.

Nick's take:
The Rams are the latest team to get the shaft in the NFL's "International Series," as they'll lose a home game in traveling to England to face the Patriots and their top-ranked offense. St. Louis is decent at cornerback and hungry on the defensive front, and the Patriots haven't been overly impressive at wideout. However, Brady still has tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to tear up the middle of the field, and New England's opportunistic defense will neutralize Sam Bradford. Plus, Steven Jackson has struggled at tailback, and the Patriots' run defense is among the best in the league.
Prediction: Patriots 24, Rams 10

Dan's take:
While questions have arose about the effectiveness of New England's passing defense of late, the Rams' defense may be under a bigger microscope in this overseas match. St. Louis will have its hands full with Tom Brady and a Patriots' offense that's tallied more than 350 yards in 16 consecutive games and is averaging 31 points a game, especially given their own troubles accumulating yards and points on the board. For this game to be close, Jackson, who has been invisible so far this season, will need to step up to keep his team from being one-dimensional against a Patriots squad that feeds off of turnovers.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Rams 17

Friday, October 26, 2012

Sanchez on Keller: 'He's been my guy for 4 years'

BY NICK ST. DENIS

Santonio Holmes may have been the New York Jets' best offensive playmaker, but tight end Dustin Keller is the quarterback's favorite target.

Keller missed four and a half of Gang Green's first five games due to injury, but he returned to work Week 6 and was full-go Week 7. His presence was felt last Sunday, and Mark Sanchez was elated to get him back.

"Dustin, he’s one of my best friends off the field, one of the best guys to play with, a great teammate," Sanchez said Wednesday. "He studies his butt off and he makes big catches for us always. He’s been my guy for four years and we just have to keep feeding him."

Keller caught seven passes for 93 yards and a touchdown in the Jets' 29-26 overtime loss to the New England Patriots.

Bradford well aware of Patriots' turnover abilities

BY DAN BEGNOCHE

After finishing next-to-last in 2011 in yards allowed, the New England Patriots made some adjustments in the offseason to stop the bleeding on the defensive side of the ball. One thing that didn't need tweaking, however, is their ability to get the ball back into Tom Brady's hands.

The Pats have lead the AFC the past two years in turnover differential, and with a rating of +11 thus far, St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford knows better than to test their ability in handing the ball back to their electric offense.

“When you give them extra possessions or short fields, you’re really putting yourself behind the eight ball,” Bradford told reporters via conference call on Wednesday. “I think we’re very aware of their ability to get the ball out, both [by] causing fumbles and interceptions. We have to do a really good job of taking care of the football and not giving their offense anything extra this week.”

New England's defense has recorded seven interceptions and recovered 11 fumbles this year. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich have been at the forefront of that effort, combining for seven fumbles and with eight sacks.

England trip a family affair for some Patriots

BY DAN BEGNOCHE

For most involved in Sunday's Patriots-Rams match-up in London, it's a trip across the pond away from friends and loved ones. For others, however, it's a family reunion.

A few New England players will be taking the opportunity to meet up with relatives from across Europe, who will now have the rare opportunity to travel just a short distance to see a live game and do some visiting.

“I have an uncle who married an English woman, and I think they live there part of the year, go back and forth,” Patriots right guard Dan Connolly told the media Thursday. “I also have some relatives in France that are making the trip over.”

Punter Zoltan Mesko, born in Romania, has family still in Europe as well, and he was looking forward to showing his relatives the ins and outs of America's football.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Around-the-Web AFC East power rankings - Week 8

Here's where the four AFC East teams stand in the major media outlets' NFL power rankings entering Week 8:
            NE      NYJ     BUF     MIA
ESPN        8(7)  24(23)  27(25)  16(17)
NFL.com     9(9)  18(17)  27(24)  16(18)
CBSSports   7(8)  23(23)  26(21)  14(15)
FoxSports   9(9)  15(18)  27(25)  21(21)
NBC (PFT)   7(8)  18(17)  27(27)  21(20)
SI.com      8(9)  15(17)  26(20)  14(14)
PFF         6(5)  22(25)  25(24)  14(14)
AVERAGE:    7.7    19.3    26.4    16.6

Tannehill faces new challenge in first career rematch

BY SEAN DONOVAN

So far in his rookie season, Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has responded well to adversity and improved steadily through his first six games.

But Sunday, he faces a different test. For the first time, Tannehill will play against a team he's already seen once when the Dolphins travel to East Rutherford, NJ to battle their division rival New York Jets.

The Jets defeated the Dolphins in Week 3, 23-20, capitalizing on a number of critical turnovers by Miami's offense to narrowly win in overtime. Tannehill played statistically his second-worst game of the year to date, completing just 16-of-36 passes for 196 yards and an interception.

This week is an opportunity for the rookie signal-caller to improve on play against a single opponent and make adjustments to a defense he has already seen, and one that has seen him.

Homer Guide: Week 8 AFC East fantasy glance

BY SAM HOLLINGSWORTH

A look at fantasy starts and in the AFC East for Week 8.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Film Review: The Sanchez-to-Kerley connection

BY SEAN DONOVAN

Last Sunday, the New York Jets stood toe-to-toe with the perennial AFC East powerhouse New England Patriots, battling to the very end and eventually falling in overtime, 29-26.

Many of the storylines after the game were centered around the normally-dominant Patriots seemingly losing their touch. But mostly lost in the discussion was a new spark in the New York offense, one that was a major factor in the Jets' near-upset -- the connection between quarterback Mark Sanchez and emerging wide receiver Jeremy Kerley.

So far this season, the Jets have seen their No. 1 wideout Santonio Holmes go down with a foot injury, their running game flounder and their quarterback play inconsistently in working with a hodgepodge cast of targets. But after career games from Sanchez and Kerley at Gillette Stadium this past week, the New York faithful have hope their offense can keep the team in playoff contention.

Sanchez completed nearly 70 percent of his passes on the day for 328 yards and recorded a 90.3 passer rating. Kerley hauled in seven passes for a career-high 120 yards.

Bills to use bye to assess 'Jekyll and Hyde' defense

BY DAN BEGNOCHE

It took seven weeks, but frustrations surrounding the production of the Buffalo Bills' “new and improved” defense have finally spilled out of the locker room.

While coach Chan Gailey called the defensive effort a “Jekyll and Hyde situation” in an appearance on WGR 550 radio on Monday, defensive end Chris Kelsay leaned more toward the Jekyll side, calling out the group and claiming some were just straight slacking.

“You watch the film and not everybody was playing hard every snap and that’s unacceptable,” Kelsay told reporters Monday after the team's debilitating loss to the Titans. “Maybe as leaders some of us have let some things slide and we can’t do that. We’re not going to allow it.”

Starting with the 385-yard, 48-point egg the Bills' defense laid against the Jets on opening day (partial thanks to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and the special teams), the group has been bad. Buffalo is currently last in the league in rushing defense and third-down defense. It is next-to-last in points allowed (32). It has by far given up the most 20-plus yard plays, and it is currently allowing teams a 76 percent success rate in the red zone.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Rex on Jets' Kerley: 'This is the guy we expected'

BY NICK ST. DENIS

Jeremy Kerley was in Rex Ryan's doghouse over the summer, as he missed most of training camp and preseason with a hamstring injury, and Ryan reportedly questioned Kerley's commitment both on and off the field.

Well, look at him now.

Through seven weeks, Kerley leads the Jets with 25 receptions for 435 yards. He's also hauled in two touchdowns while returning a punt for another, and he's coming off a career day against the New England Patriots Sunday that saw the second-year wideout catch seven passes for 120 yards.

"I was down on Kerley because he wasn’t out there. I expected more," Ryan told reporters Monday. "This is what I expected from Kerley."

Monday, October 22, 2012

Compact road-happy schedule stretch ahead for Fins

BY NICK ST. DENIS

The Miami Dolphins were on a bye last week, and a well-timed one at that.

Miami returns to the field Sunday to face the Jets in New York (yes, I know, New Jersey). After that, the Dolphins travel to take on the Indianapolis Colts on the road before hosting the Tennessee Titans. Then, following a short week, they're back on the road for another division bout, this time in Buffalo to face the Bills.

“When we kick off at 1 p.m. on Sunday we’re going to have four games in eighteen days so we told the team we’ve got to be smart about it,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said Monday, according to the team's website. “This is an important stretch and they’ve got to take care of their bodies. That’s their livelihood so they do have to be smart.

"You’ve got to be careful not to do too much and sometimes there is a desire to get too much in with that extra practice, so we’ve been keeping a lid on it.”

Pats knew Ninkovich would come through vs. Jets

BY NICK ST. DENIS

Making game-deciding plays against the New York Jets is business as usual for New England Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich.

Ninkovich, who grabbed two interceptions and scored a touchdown vs. Gang Green in a 2011 game, sealed New England's 29-26 victory over the the Jets Sunday, forcing and recovering a fumble on a sack of Mark Sanchez.

"It was just an edge rush. Jermaine Cunningham did a great job of getting inside on the guard, so it kind of shortened that corner for me and I was able to get around the guy," Ninkovich said. "I saw Jermaine on his legs trying to get [Mark Sanchez] down and he tried to throw it, so I just got the ball, knocked him down and picked up the ball."

Ninkovich's teammates sensed he'd have a big impact this week.

Belichick: Jets will be there at the end of the year

BY NICK ST. DENIS

There's no question the New England Patriots are extremely relieved to have snatched up the lone spot atop the AFC East standings, especially via a hard-fought Week 7 29-26 overtime victory over the New York Jets.

However, Patriots coach Bill Belichick doesn't expect Gang Green, who gave New England all it could handle Sunday, to go away any time soon.

"It’s good to be 2-0 in the division. Those are huge games for us," Belichick told reporters after the game. "We know the Jets are going to be there all the way through, they’ll be there at the end. There’s a lot of football left to be played. I don’t think anybody clinched anything today, I don’t think anybody got eliminated today."

The Jets and Patriots square off again in four weeks, this time at MetLife Stadium.

Fitz sums up decisive pick: 'It was a dumb throw'

BY NICK ST. DENIS

The Buffalo Bills held possession of the ball and a six-point lead over the Tennessee Titans Sunday with under three minutes to go.

Buffalo was looking to convert on a third-and-6 inside its own 40-yard line. At worst, the Bills would've taken a punt to reverse field position and try to hold off one last drive. Instead, Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick stared down Donald Jones on the right sideline in signature-Fitz fashion and was picked off by Jason McCourty.

Tennessee took advantage of the favorable field position and completed a seven-play game-winning drive to edge Buffalo, 35-34.

"I just got greedy in a situation that I did not have any business being greedy in," Fitzpatrick told reporters after the game, according to the team's website. "It was a dumb throw, dumb decision by me. Third down at the end of the game, game on the line, Chan (Gailey) put the ball in my hands essentially and I threw an interception. So that one hurts."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ninkovich sack seals Pats' OT thriller win over Jets

BY SEAN DONOVAN

After struggling most of the day, it was the New England Patriots' defense that created the big play that sealed a 29-26 overtime victory over the division rival New York Jets.

After a highly-contentious, back-and-forth 60 minutes of regulation, Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich forced and recovered a fumble from Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez to stymie the Jets' final chance to win the game.

The game-clinching takeaway came as the Jets were driving down to either tie or win the game after New England took the lead on a Stephen Gostkowski field goal.

"You never play a perfect football game," Patriots' defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said after the game, according to the team's website. "At the end of the day, we made more plays to win the ballgame."

Run D hurts Bills early, turnover late in loss to Titans

BY SEAN DONOVAN

After absorbing an early scoring barrage from the Tennessee Titans, the Buffalo Bills played themselves into a position to win the game and keep pace in the heated AFC East race. But a poorly timed fourth-quarter turnover and Tennessee touchdown left Buffalo with a 35-34 loss.

Chris Johnson led the Titans to their fast start, taking advantage of a league-worst Buffalo rushing defense to break out of his season-long slump. He scored first quarter touchdowns from 16- and 83-yards out, on his way to a 195-yard performance on the ground.

The Bills allowed the star running back to average 10.8 yards per carry, the second-best performance of Johnson's career.

Despite another terrible outing by the defense, Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills' offense was able to keep pace with the Titans, eventually building a 34-28 lead going into the fourth quarter. Fitzpatrick threw two of his three touchdown passes in the third quarter to pull ahead.

Gameday Deciding Factors: Jets at Patriots

BY NICK ST. DENIS

The New York Jets and New England Patriots' rivalry has been a bit closer the last few years than people might give it credit for. After the teams split regular season meetings in 2008, 2009 and 2010, New England swept the Jets in 2011. However, the Jets ousted the Patriots in Foxborough in the 2010 playoffs.

While players and coaches from each team have been pouring compliments on the opposition through the media all week, they'll surely be out for blood Sunday in a game that is always saturated in emotion.

Red light, Greene light. The Patriots' run defense is one of the NFL's best kept secrets, as it is giving up just 3.4 yards a carry to opposing running backs. That's a far cry from the 5 yards a carry the Indianapolis Cots are surrendering, though Jets running back Shonn Greene's 161-yard, three touchdown day against Indy last week was still impressive. With Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight riding the pine due to injuries, Greene will get a hefty load of carries against New England as Gang Green tries to control the clock and keep the Patriots' No. 1-ranked offense off the field.

Third is the word. The Jets' defense is allowing the opposition to move the chains on 46 percent of third downs. Meanwhile, the Patriots' offense is converting third downs at a 47 percent rate. That discrepancy could show up in a big way in this one if the Jets allow New England to run the ball successfully on first down. (Photo: Karen Cardoza, Flickr)

Patriots' still-weak secondary. New England's weakest link, as it has been for years now, is its pass defense. Through six games, the Patriots have given up 33 passing plays of 20 yards or more, which is seven more than the next-worst team in that category. Also, no team has surrendered more passing touchdowns than New England. The Jets will likely be playing from behind for the majority of this one, so the onus will be on quarterback Mark Sanchez to exploit the Patriots' weak secondary.

Mismatch at tight end. Darrelle Revis isn't around for the Jets to put him on New England's hot receiver, whether he's outside, in the slot or even at tight end. That means New York's top two cornerbacks in Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson will strictly play outside, leaving the safeties and linebackers to deal with tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. That could spell trouble for a defense that has preached increased speed at linebacker but has yet to show it. Safeties Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry need to come up big.

Gameday Deciding Factors: Titans at Bills

BY DAN BEGNOCHE

The Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans each had statement games last week against tough defensive opponents, and both will look to keep the momentum going Sunday while also keeping divisional hopes alive. Tennessee will need to string together a few wins to catch up to the Houston Texans, last year's divisional champs, while Buffalo is locked in a four-way tie (excluding tiebreakers) in the AFC East.

A win for the Bills would give them a winning record going into the bye week, a task that seemed impossible two weeks ago. To do that, they'll need to keep up their defensive efforts from last week. Buffalo is still giving up more than 400 yards a game and is third-worst in the league in turning the ball over.

Run for it. Buffalo's rushing duo seems to be back in full swing, and that couldn't be better news for an offense that's lacked consistency of late. Tennessee's defense is giving up nearly 130 yards per game on the ground, including seven touchdowns. It's also allowed 26 rushes of 20 yards or more, sixth-most in league. Enter C.J. Spiller, who's second among all running backs with seven rushes of 20 yards or more. Look for Spiller to grab the big yardage and Fred Jackson to grab the scores as the two continue to keep their two-series system in play.

Defensive shake-up. The Bills' beat up defense has seen an old face re-emerge this week in Shawne Merriman, a likely starter this weekend with Mark Anderson still nursing a knee injury. Merriman's presence could keep the morale high for a squad coming off its best game this season, tallying five sacks and two interceptions against the Arizona Cardinals. They'll certainly have their shots against the Titans, who are currently carrying a -6 turnover ratio and have allowed 11 sacks thus far.

Hassel-back? With Jack Locker still out with a shoulder injury, Matt Hasselbeck is slated to make his third straight start, as he looked much more promising last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers than in week's past. Hasselbeck seemed to connect better with his receivers at home en route to their win, leading two late drives that led to scores. Despite the improvement, Hasselbeck's completion rate was only around 57 percent, and he did throw a pick in the fourth quarter after his team lost the lead. Expect the Buffalo defense to blitz early and often against the 14-year pro, who prefers to stay in the pocket.

Rocky road. The Titans are 0-3 on the road this year, and they have been outscored more than three to one in those losses. Turnovers have been the main culprit for Tennessee's woes, with six of 11 coming on the road and many resulting in scores. The Titans have won their last two games in Buffalo and their last four overall against the Bills. In those four wins, the offense has averaged 30 points a game, with Chris Johnson tallying four touchdowns in their last two meetings. (Photo: PDA Photo, Flickr)

Week 7 AFC East game picks: Jets at Patriots

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

Nick's take:
With the Patriots coming off a disappointing loss to the Seattle Seahawks and the Jets probably feeling a little too good after beating a mediocre Indianapolis Colts team, this one has blowout written all over it. However, Jets vs. Patriots games never go as expected. Gang Green will hang around for three quarters, but New England's No. 1-ranked offense is too much at home.
Prediction: Patriots 30, Jets 24

Sean's take:
The Patriots have dominated the AFC East lately, but not the Jets. The teams have split the last eight overall meetings, with New York taking the only playoff matchup. But the Jets aren't the same team offensively or defensively as in recent years, and still have to contend with a loaded Patriots offense. Tom Brady out-duels Mark Sanchez to return the division lead to New England.
Prediction: Patriots 40, Jets 17

Week 7 AFC East game picks: Titans 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 Tennessee Titans.

Nick's take:
For most of the week, instinct said the Bills would win here. Then logic took over. The Bills' run defense is awful, and even Chris Johnson's half-hearted effort should be enough to help quarterback Matt Hasselback guide the Titans to a win. C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are major weapons in the Bills' offense, but quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick negates their work with drive-killing incompletions and interceptions.
Prediction: Titans 23, Bills 20

Dan's take:
This could come down to the run game, with both teams struggling to stop it and one struggling to get it going. Johnson has only averaged 60 yards per game for the Titans, but with the Bills giving up nearly 174 yards rushing per game, he's poised to break out. Also, keep an eye on Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd to make an impact in the turnover department, as he's coming off a two-pick day and was named last week's AFC Defensive Player of the Week.
Prediction: Bills 24, Titans 17

Friday, October 19, 2012

Wilfork says Mangold is the best center in the NFL

BY NICK ST. DENIS

Let the love fest continue.

New England Patriots and New York Jets coaches and players have spent the entire week trying to out-compliment the other's team, and after Jets coach Rex Ryan and quarterback Mark Sanchez talked up Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork Wednesday, Wilfork returned the favor Thursday.

The four-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman said he believes four-time Pro Bowler Nick Mangold of the Jets is the best center in the NFL. The pair will square off Sunday in Foxborough.

"I’ve been saying this ever since the guy’s been a rookie," Wilfork said, according to Patriots.com. "He’s been pretty steady for them. And it hasn’t changed. Everything it seems like goes through him: the run game, he calls the plays on the line slides, he’s the guy in charge. That’s how it should be, because that’s their bread and butter.

Dolphins expect lots of blitzing with Tannehill at helm

BY NICK ST. DENIS

When Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin announced before the regular season that rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill would be the opening-day starter, running back Reggie Bush knew one thing was inevitable: the blitz.

“Obviously, you already know right off the back, you’re just going to get a lot of blitzes," Bush said Tuesday, according to the team's media site. "D-coordinators are going to want to pressure the quarterback because they want to see if he can handle the pressure. That’s something you kind of already know.

"It’s just built in for rookie quarterbacks and you know they’re probably going to stack the box if you’ve got a pretty solid running game. Those are all things that we’ve been seeing, but, at the same time, I think Ryan has handled it amazing and he’s done a great job with it."

Tannehill's completion percentage goes up nearly five percent when he's blitzed compared to when he's not, according to Pro Football Focus.

Fitzpatrick doesn't blame inaccuracy on mechanics

BY NICK ST. DENIS

Ryan Fitzpatrick spent countless hours with Buffalo Bills quarterbacks coach David Lee this offseason working on his mechanics, which Fitzpatrick admits aren't pretty.

But despite Buffalo's quick-strike offense that doesn't require a lot of route development and downfield throwing, Fitzpatrick's completion percentage is a mediocre 57.9. Also, he has connected on just five of 20 attempts of 20 yards or more, according to Pro Football Focus.

Wednesday, Fitzpatrick said he doesn't think his accuracy issues can be attributed to bad habits or poor mechanics.

"A lot of being a quarterback is about decision making and timing," Fitzpatrick told reporters. "Those are the biggest things in being effective as a quarterback. In terms of the flaws, my mechanics and those types of things, those are something that is always going to be there especially with my throwing motion.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ryan, Sanchez wary of Patriots' big man Wilfork

BY NICK ST. DENIS

Rex Ryan doesn't want to call Vince Wilfork "huge" for fear that the New England Patriots' 325-pound (listed) defensive tackle will take a field trip to the New York Jets' sideline for a reply.

But Ryan had plenty to say about Wilfork when assessing the Patriots' defensive front-seven, which will give the Jets' offensive line all it can handle when the squads face off in Foxborough Sunday.

"You start with the huge, I'm sorry, the large man in the middle, Vince Wilfork," Ryan told reporters Wednesday. "I don't want to say anything, I don't want Vince coming after me that's for sure. But he's a great player, he is a tremendous player. You have to block him with two guys because if not, you're not budging him and he's going to make play after play inside there. He's a terrific player, a Pro Bowl player. "

Wilfork's main role in the Patriots' defense is to disrupt the opposing blockers by demanding a double-team, opening up opportunities for other defensive linemen and linebackers. But Wilfork finds his way on the stat sheet as well, having recording 14 tackles, three passes defensed and a fumble recovery through six games this season.

Around-the-Web AFC East power rankings - Week 7

Here's where the four AFC East teams stand in the major media outlets' NFL power rankings entering Week 7:
             NE     NYJ     BUF     MIA
ESPN        7(5)  23(25)  25(27)  17(19)
NFL.com     9(6)  17(21)  24(25)  18(22)
CBSSports   8(5)  23(24)  21(21)  15(23)
FoxSports   9(5)  18(27)  25(28)  21(22)
NBC (PFT)   8(4)  17(21)  27(29)  20(23)
SI.com      9(5)  17(22)  20(24)  14(20)
PFF         5(4)  25(25)  24(25)  14(20)
AVERAGE:    7.9    20.0    23.7    17.0

Homer Guide: Week 7 AFC East fantasy glance

BY SAM HOLLINGSWORTH

A look at fantasy starts, sits and sleepers in the AFC East for Week 7. (Spoiler Alert: Don't play any Dolphins).

Brady, Belichick assess Jets' Revis-less secondary

BY NICK ST. DENIS

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady echoes what pretty much every other quarterback, receiver and coach has said about going up against the New York Jets' defense without All-World cornerback Darrelle Revis: They're still pretty good in the secondary.

"He's a great player – one of the best I've ever gone against," Brady told reporters Wednesday of the injured Revis. "At the same time, I think they've moved on from that situation and played really well last week against Indianapolis without him.

". . . [Antonio] Cromartie is a heck of a player in his own right and he's had a great season, so he's really assumed the role of matching to the opponent's No. 1 receiver – or perceived No. 1 receiver. They seem like they're still doing what they've always done and playing very well."

Brady is right. Cromartie has been stellar in taking over Revis' No. 1 cornerback job, shutting down Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans and keeping Reggie Wayne of the Indianpolis Colts in check in consecutive weeks.

Gailey on Titans tailback Johnson: 'He scares you'

BY DAN BEGNOCHE

The Buffalo Bills' last-ranked run defense took a step in the right direction last week against a banged-up Arizona Cardinals rushing attack. It'll need more than one of those forward steps to dig itself out of the cellar, however, a task made just a bit more ominous with Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson coming into town.

“He scares you,” Bills' coach Chan Gailey told reporters Wednesday. “Every time he touches the ball he scares you. You can still see that electric speed and electric quickness that he has. Yes, he has not had as many yards and the statistics are down, but I am telling you defensive coaches hold their breath every time he touches it.”

The Pro Bowl back has seen his carries and yardage decline ever since his ridiculous 2,000-yard season in 2009, and he has barely tallied 300 yards in the Titans' first six games. With an average of only 15 carries a game this year, Johnson has failed to punch one in for six and hasn't even had a 20-yard run.

If he was going to have a breakout game, however, now is the time. The Bills' porous run defense is giving up 5.8 yards a carry and has allowed nine rushing touchdowns in six games.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Philbin: Fins won't try to reinvent wheel during bye

BY NICK ST. DENIS

The Miami Dolphins' bye week comes at a pretty good spot. The team is 3-3, tied for the division lead, coming off of back-to-back wins and has a big divisional bout with the New York Jets in two weeks.

For Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, the formula for the break is pretty simple: "Improve and get healthy."

"Every week with this team is a new hurdle for us, because now we have to go on the road and we have to win a division game," Philbin told reporters Monday. "That’s going to be a huge challenge. That’s really all that matters right now.”

Miami is carrying with it a bit of momentum with the win streak despite a pretty lukewarm performance in its victory over the St. Louis Rams Sunday. Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill has improved each week and is taking care of the football, and the defense is bending for a lot of yardage through the air but not breaking for many touchdowns.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bills will continue to rotate 'two starters' at tailback

BY DAN BEGNOCHE

The Buffalo Bills finally have their star running back tandem back in action, and it's abundantly clear that two is better than one.

On Sunday, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller came the closest yet to equally splitting time en route to their victory in Arizona, a plan the backs had a hand in. Since Jackson's return, the two have worked out a two-series system with coaches, one that allows both backs to get a fair amount of playing time and also get into a groove and make something happen.

“The first game that Fred came back, we tried to do a one-series rotation,” Spiller told reporters Monday. “Fred and I both thought that was tough. The good thing about our coaching staff and our running backs coach is he leaves that up to us. I went to Fred and I told him ‘let’s do two series.’ It is kind of hard when you are out there for one series, you get into a flow and you come out. We thought it would be best if we did two series so that is what we have done these last two games. We will continue to do that.”

Both ran well against the Cardinals, each tallying a touchdown in the 19-16 win. More importantly, both are aware of how much each one can feed off the other. After Spiller broke out for 33-yard gain late in the third quarter, he came out of the game in lieu of Jackson. And after a Wildcat scramble by Brad Smith, there was Jackson to punch in the 1-yard score.

Patriots seek improvement in red zone offense

BY SEAN DONOVAN

While the dynamic play of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and lax late-game coverage schemes were major contributors to the New England Patriots' upset loss in Seattle, just as much blame can be placed on the offense's failure to seal the game when it had the chance.

New England converted just one of its six red zone opportunities into a touchdown. Just one additional score in these situations would have likely put the game out of the reach of Wilson's heroics.

"If we get the opportunity with six chances down there to score touchdowns and only come away with one, certainly that's not good enough," Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels told reporters Monday, according to the team's website."That's obviously an area that we can do better in and we have to do better in and get better in quickly."

New England effectively moved the ball down the field most of the game but was often stymied in short-yardage situations in the scoring zone. Another chance for points came and went after a blatant intentional grounding foul by quarterback Tom Brady, which resulted in a 10-second clock runoff and ended the first half.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Gailey, Jackson explain value of staying out West

BY NICK ST. DENIS

The Buffalo Bills knew staying out West between their Week 5 game against the San Francisco 49ers and Week 6 bout with the Arizona Cardinals would be beneficial for jet lag and practice routine purposes.

It might've been even more valuable than they thought.

After getting blown out 45-3 in San Francisco following a 52-28 stinker against the New England Patriots, Buffalo camped out in Arizona in preparation for the overachieving Cards. The Bills left the desert with a 19-16 overtime victory and a share of the AFC East lead, tiebreakers aside, at 3-3.

“Guys had to lean on each other while we were out here and we had to lean on each other during the game," Bills running back Fred Jackson told reporters after the game. "Defense, special teams, and offense played well. I think guys are growing up and coming together.”

Rout of Colts allowed Jets to 'save a ton of calls'

BY NICK ST. DENIS

The New York Jets' offense got a much-needed boost Sunday with the return of rookie receiver Stephen Hill and veteran tight end Dustin Keller from injury.

But while the re-addition of quarterback Mark Sanchez's top two targets -- minus Santonio Holmes -- expanded New York's playbook, Gang Green wasn't forced to dig too deep into the reservoir.

In rolling to a 35-9 win, Gang Green ran the ball 44 times, taking everything the Indianapolis Colts gave them and more while throwing only when they needed to. Sanchez did connect with Hill and fellow receiver Jason Hill in the end zone, but the offense didn't give too many looks in the passing game.

"It’s nice we got to save a lot of calls. We got to save a ton of calls," Sanchez told the media after the game. "We’ll hopefully have some carryover, we’ll get plenty of time on task, as (offensive coordinator Tony Sparano) always likes to say. The more time on task you have on specific plays, the better you feel about them."

3-3 AFC East deadlock 1st since new divisions in '02

BY SEAN DONOVAN

If you're a fan of any of the four AFC East teams, chances are you're pretty happy with the first six weeks of the season.

Why? Because your team is in first place.

Through six games, the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots have all registered a 3-3 record. This is an occurrence that has not happened in any division since the NFL established its current alignment in 2002, according to the Elias Sports Bureau via ESPN.

Going into Sunday, New England held a single game lead over the rest of its rivals, all sitting at 2-3. All, except the Patriots, would win their games on the day, pulling the quartet into the rare four-way tie atop the division.

Bills ride waves of emotion in 'gut check' victory

BY NICK ST. DENIS

The Buffalo Bills rode waves of emotion in the final minutes of their road bout with the Arizona Cardinals Sunday, but they ultimately left feeling pretty good after a 19-16 overtime victory.

Over the course of the final seven minutes of regulation and overtime, Buffalo got two crucial interceptions from defensive back Jairus Byrd and saw opposing kicker Jay Feely make a 61-yard field goal but have a 38-yarder tipped and hit the left upright.

"There are highs and lows," Bills coach Chan Gailey told reporters after the game. "As football teams, you have to handle highs and lows not only in a game but in a season. You just keep fighting. That was impressive by our football team."

Byrd picked off Kevin Kolb with just over six minutes left in the fourth quarter as the Bills were nursing a 3-point lead. Buffalo, however, was unable to extend the margin, and Feely was good on the crazy-long kick with just over a minute to go. The Cardinals, however, couldn't put the game away on the shorter kick as time expired.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pats squander 2-TD lead in 4th quarter vs. Seahawks

BY SEAN DONOVAN

After letting a 13-point fourth quarter lead slip away in their heartbreaking 24-23 defeat at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, the New England Patriots were focused on the instances when they left points on the field.

Brady and the Patriots' offense blew a number of chances throughout the game to score a field goal or touchdown, when just one of either would have likely put the game out of reach.

"I thought we squandered quite a few opportunities today," quarterback Tom Brady said after the game, according to ESPNBoston.com. "Certainly we have to do a better job, and it starts with me."

The Seahawks picked off Brady twice, once early in the fourth quarter in their own end zone when the Patriots had a chance to increase their lead by 17 points. Brady missed Wes Welker badly on a crossing route and safety Earl Thomas intercepted the pass and ended the scoring threat.

Dolphins beat Rams on scoreboard, not stat sheet

BY SEAN DONOVAN

Typically, if a team is out-gained in yards by a 2-to-1 ratio, loses the time-of-possession battle by nearly seven minutes and manages only 1.1 yards per carry themselves, that team does not win the game.

But that's exactly what the Miami Dolphins managed to do on Sunday, edging out the St. Louis Rams by a 17-14 margin.

The steady play of rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill paced Miami to the victory and allowed the team to overcome an uncharacteristically abysmal performance by the defense.

For the first time since the 2011 season opener against the New England Patriots, the Dolphins allowed an opponent to gain 300 yards passing and 100 yards rushing in the same game. The 137 yards gained by St. Louis rushers is the highest total allowed by Miami in 15 contests.

Jets ground and pound Colts into submission

BY NICK ST. DENIS

The New York Jets went old school Sunday, rushing the ball 44 times in a 35-9 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

Running back Shonn Greene recorded a career-high 161 yards on the ground and scored three times. The Jets totaled 252 yards rushing, including a 61-yard scamper by Joe McKnight.

Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez threw a pair of touchdown passes to Stephen Hill and Jason Hill, but other than that, he wasn't forced to put the offense on his shoulders, which was probably a bit of a relief, considering he had little to no help from the running game as the Jets went 2-3 through the first part of the season.

"When you're running the ball that well, you never want to stop," Sanchez said, according to the Associated Press.

Gameday Deciding Factors: Patriots at Seahawks

BY NICK ST. DENIS

How about a battle between the NFL's No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense? Tom Brady takes his always high-powered New England Patriots offense out West to face an extremely tough Seattle Seahawks defense that is giving up just 258.6 yards a game. The Patriots fell to the Seahawks' division foe Arizona Cardinals three weeks ago but have bounced back with a pair of decisive wins.

Size vs. size. The Patriots' top wideouts are 5-foot-9, 5-9 and 6-0. The Seahawks' starting cornerbacks are 6-4 and 6-3. New England's wideouts look to use their size (or lack thereof) to their advantage by getting the Seahawk defenders in motion and making quick shifts and stops to get into space. With that, Brady should be able to eat away at the middle of the field.

Return of the tandem. Tight end Aaron Hernandez is expected to return to the lineup this week, so he'll reestablish himself opposite Rob Gronkowski and give the Patriots a look they've lacked since Week 2. (Photo: Jeffrey Beall, Flickr)

Pats' communication vs. Seattle crowd. New England is running a fast-paced, communication-based no-huddle offense as of late, and it's been highly successful, as the Patriots boast the No. 1 overall offense in the NFL. However, the Patriots will be up against Seattle's infamous 12th man, an extremely loud crowd that helped the Seahawks throw off the Packers last week.

Trench battle. Seattle's defense tallied eight sacks against the Packers in just one half, so it is plenty capable of making plays in the offensive backfield in addition to its efficiency in the defensive backfield. Teams rarely beat the Patriots without disrupting Brady on a consistent basis. New England now boasts a formidable run game, but that too will be tested against a top-ranked Seattle defense.

Gameday Deciding Factors: Colts at Jets

BY NICK ST. DENIS

The New York Jets are in borderline desperation mode, sitting at 2-3 and decimated with injuries. Meanwhile, the Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis Colts, who are coming off a big-time upset victory over the Green Bay Packers last week, have nothing to lose. Gang Green looks to stay relevant in the conference and the division when it hosts the Colts for an early-afternoon showdown between two teams that are still trying to find out who they are.

DECIDING FACTORS:

Keller factor. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez has been missing his favorite target in tight end Dustin Keller since Week 1. Keller is expected to return Sunday from an injury hiatus, which should give New York's offense a much-needed boost. Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano will try to get him involved early, not only to get Keller warm, but to help get Sanchez into some sort of rhythm.

Go Greene. New York's offensive line hasn't performed up to par in the run game, but most of the blame is falling on running back Shonn Greene, who has been incredibly underwhelming the past two years. The Colts are giving up 4.7 yards a carry this year, so there's no better time than now for Greene to pick up some steam. If he doesn't, Bilal Powell could find himself in a starting role by the bye week.

Cro. vs. Wayne. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie has filled in admirably for the injured Darrelle Revis, who will not be returning to the field this season. Cromartie will be up against veteran wideout Reggie Wayne this week. Wayne has gotten a bunch of work in the slot this year, so if the Jets plan on sticking Cromartie on Wayne all game, he'll be moving around plenty before the snap.

Rattle the rook. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has solid command of his offense, but he is still a rookie. Rex Ryan has been known to dial up clever stuff against fresh-meat signal-callers, so we'll see if Gang Green's defense throws some exotic looks and blitzes at Luck. Luck has been hit 26 times this season but sacked only nine, meaning he stands tough in the pocket and gets the ball off in the face of the rush.

Gameday Deciding Factors: Bills at Cardinals

BY DAN BEGNOCHE

The Buffalo Bills camped out in Arizona this week to avoid another dose of West Coast jet lag, but what they’re really looking to avoid is another embarrassing loss and a three-game losing streak. The Bills will face the Cardinals, who were knocked down a peg from their unbeaten record last week at the hands of a stout defensive attack from the St. Louis Rams. While Buffalo has struggled on both sides of the ball in recent weeks, Sunday could be a turnaround game against a team banged up on the offensive side of the ball and struggling to accumulate yardage.

DECIDING FACTORS:

Under “D” microscope. Let’s face it: the Bills’ defense has been atrocious the past two weeks, and it didn’t get any better this week with the loss of defensive tackle Mark Anderson. The team’s change in formation and roster in the offseason is starting to raise questions about its effectiveness, but Sunday’s game in Phoenix could change that. Cards quarterback Kevin Kolb has been sacked 17 times in two games, and with their top two running backs out of the picture, Buffalo’s defense has a chance to show that they can stand up to the preseason hype and accumulate more than two sacks a game.

Still kicking around. Flying under the radar this year for Buffalo has been its special teams squad, which has been performing above and beyond any other aspect of the Bills' game. The punt return squad, led by Leodis McKelvin, is tops in the league, and the kick return group isn’t too shabby either. McKelvin is averaging around 30 yards per return in both situations, including two for more than 40 yards and one touchdown. That could play in the Bills’ favor Sunday, as the Cardinals have struggled to defend on special teams.

Young vs. old. If the Cardinals are going to make an offensive splash on Sunday, it’s going to be in the passing game, and only one name comes to mind when talking about Cardinals playmakers: Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is primed for another big season, tallying strong stats thus far, and it will be a true coverage test for Bills’ rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore this week against the future Hall of Famer. The Bills will likely try to play a bunch of press coverage on Fitzgerald to lean toward Gilmore’s strengths, but they better be sure to play a safety over the top or Fitzgerald could be the one showing his strengths. (Photo: Broderick Delaney, Flickr)

Home again. Arizona has been a force at home, touting an eight-game winning streak at University of Phoenix Stadium. In those eight games, however, the Cardinals’ margin of victory has only been an average of 6 points, with two tight victories already this season against the Seattle Seahawks and Miami Dolphins. If the Cards win, it would be a 10-2 record at home with Ken Whisenhunt at the helm; with that many close games, however, it only takes one big play to turn the tables. Keep an eye on Buffalo’s speedsters in that regard, specifically running back C.J. Spiller and wide receiver T.J. Graham.

Gameday Deciding Factors: Rams at Dolphins

BY SEAN DONOVAN

After being spurned by Jeff Fisher in the offseason, the Miami Dolphins hired Joe Philbin as head coach and later drafted Ryan Tannehill to be their quarterback. While the Philbin-Tannehill tandem has sparked some measure of renewed hope in South Beach after five games, Fisher has led his own resurgence in St. Louis. Sunday, Fisher's Rams (3-2) travel to face the Dolphins (2-3) in a battle between young quarterbacks and strong defenses.

DECIDING FACTORS:

Establish the run. With premier cornerbacks and defensive ends, the Rams' defense is geared to stop the pass. Miami's offense must set the tone early on the ground, and attack the relatively soft defensive tackles, linebackers and safeties that make up the core of the St. Louis defense. And they will need to do it with a banged-up Reggie Bush and without second-string back Daniel Thomas.

Stop St. Louis' tailbacks. The Dolphins' defense, by limiting opposing rushers to a paltry 2.7 yards per carry, has often made it's opponents one dimensional. The Rams are a little bit different, in that they don't have the perimeter weapons to be able to afford to abandon the run. Look for St. Louis to be persistent on the ground with running backs Steven Jackson, Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead, and the Dolphins' front to respond. (Photo: Kris Robinson, Flickr)

Attack Sam Bradford. When Bradford drops back to pass, he will be protected by Barry Richardson at right tackle and Wayne Hunter at left tackle. Most AFC East fans know Hunter to be, to put it gently, very ineffective. Historically, Richardson has shown the ability to be just as bad. Strong coverage on the outside should allow Cameron Wake and the Dolphins' pass rushers to pressure Bradford and force mistakes.

Turnovers. In Miami's two victories, Tannehill has committed zero turnovers. In three losses, he has given the ball away seven times. The formula for Miami's success is fairly simple: take care of the ball and allow the defense and running game to control the pace of the game. Tannehill has made much progress in this area but will need to continue the turnover-free play to win in Week 6.

Week 6 AFC East game picks: Patriots at Seahawks

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

Nick's take:
New England's No. 1-ranked offense won't get off to a quick start against the Seahawks' top-tier defense. However, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and quarterback Tom Brady adjust accordingly and roll in the second half. Plus, I think the Patriots' opportunistic defense makes up for any shortcomings the offense faces early on.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Seahawks 16

Sean's take:
The Patriots travel to the Great Northwest to face the Seahawks in front of a boisterous crowd that has a legitimate reason to be excited about its team. Seattle's defense excels in all areas, but particularly in the pass rush led by defensive ends Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin. In the upset, the Seahawks use a tried and true method of beating New England; rattling Brady.
Prediction: Seahawks 19, Patriots 16

Week 6 AFC East game picks: Bills at Cardinals

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 Arizona Cardinals.

Nick's take:
Bills center Eric Wood said it best this week: Enough is enough. The Bills have been bullied in three of five games, giving up an average of 48.3 points a game in their losses. Buffalo needs to put its foot down in Arizona, and it starts with generating penetration on defense against the Cardinals' mediocre offensive line. Offensively, Buffalo, has to focus on ball security, something it has neglected thus far. The Bills do enough Sunday to win this one.
Prediction: Bills 20, Cardinals 17.

Dan's take:
Victims of two crushing losses the past two weeks, expect Buffalo to come out throwing haymakers on both sides of the ball against a Cardinals team down two running backs and coming off a wake-up call beating in St. Louis. Against a weak rushing attack, the Bills can get back to the business of rushing the passer, a task that will be made a bit more difficult without defensive tackle Mark Anderson. Keep an eye on the speedsters on the Buffalo side in this game, particularly running back C.J. Spiller and rookie receiver T.J. Graham.
Prediction: Bills 21, Cardinals 17

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Week 6 AFC East game picks: Colts at Jets

Lead writer Nick St. Denis and AFC East Daily contributors Dan Begnoche, Sean Donovan and Sam Hollingsworth pick the New York Jets' AFC battle with the Indianapolis Colts.

Nick's take:
The Jets sort of made a statement by keeping it close Monday night against the Houston Texans in a game they were supposed to get blown out in. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez looked pretty good despite a pair of picks off of tipped passes, and he'll get back his favorite target in tight end Dustin Keller and maybe rookie receiver Stephen Hill from their respective injuries this week.
Prediction: Jets 17, Colts 13

Sean's take:
After a hard fought loss on Monday night, the 2-3 Jets look to stabilize their season. Indianapolis is still very much an unknown quantity at this point, but it has a very talented rookie quarterback under center and an underrated defense. Just as it did in Miami Week 3, New York uses determination and experience to edge out a young team.
Prediction: Jets 20, Colts 17

Week 6 AFC East game picks: Rams at Dolphins

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

Nick's take:
The Rams' defense has eight interceptions and 15 sacks already this season. But that's just fine with the Dolphins, who will be more focused on running the ball against a St. Louis unit that allows first downs on 28 percent of its opponents' rushing attempts. Defensively, the Dolphins get the best of former Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's offense.
Prediction: Dolphins 14, Rams 10

Sean's take:
In a battle between two very good defenses, this matchup will boil down to which offense is better equipped to move the ball on the opponent. Miami will force St. Louis to be one-dimensional on offense, while the Rams' aggressive secondary and pass rush will be neutralized by the Dolphins' effective rushing attack. Reggie Bush and Lamar Miller pace Miami to the victory.
Prediction: Dolphins 13, Rams 9

Friday, October 12, 2012

Bills' Jackson: We haven't done anything to help 'D'

BY NICK ST. DENIS

The Buffalo Bills are giving up a league-most 35.2 points per game, which isn't a good look for a defense that was highly-touted before the season.

But the Bills' offense hasn't been much help, as Buffalo has a minus-4 turnover ratio. The Bills are also coming off a blowout loss the the San Francisco 49ers that saw them score just three points and convert just two third downs.

"That is just it. Our defense has taken a lot of heat, but we have not done anything to help them as an offensive unit," Fred Jackson told reporters Thursday, according to the Bills' website. "... We have not made big plays consistently in our offense for the last two weeks and that is hurting us. We have to be able to establish the running game with myself and C.J. (Spiller). We have to get that going early. If we do that it is going to take some pressure off of myself and everybody else in the offense."

"We have turned the ball over and teams have taken advantage of that and gotten points off of them. We have to eliminate that and we have to convert third downs. ... To get points and sustain drives, you have to be able to convert third downs and that is going to be a big part of what we do. If we can get that done, eliminate the turnovers, then we can be a pretty dangerous offense."

Fisher: Dolphins' run defense is No. 1 for a reason

BY NICK ST. DENIS

The Miami Dolphins are holding opposing running backs to just 2.7 yards a carry, the lowest mark in the league and half a yard better than the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Sunday, Miami's tough defensive front will be up against the only team the NFL that has yet to score a rushing touchdown this season in the St. Louis Rams.

Needless to say, "... it's going to be a challenge for us to run the football," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said of his Steven Jackson-led running corps.

“Just what they’ve done to some really good running games here early in the season," Fisher told the Miami media this week, according to the Dolphins' website. "How well they played not only against Houston, but what they’re doing average per carry, it’s clear that they’re number one in the league for a reason in rushing yards per game, because they tackle very well and they’re very stout up front and they understand run schemes and they attack them."