The State of the AFC East 12/10/15: Patriots Fall, Bills and Jets Win

New England Patriots (10-2 overall, 4-0 division)

The Patriots have lost their second game in a row, a 35-28 stunner to the Philadelphia Eagles, but it is far too soon to write off the defending Super Bowl champs. Injuries to key skill position players hurt the Patriots on Sunday.  They were plagued with drops and didn’t seem to be on the same page as quarterback Tom Brady, but a porous offensive line and declining play on the defensive side of the ball may be their ultimate undoing. The Eagles were able to effectively and consistently pressure Brady throughout the game without having to send additional rushers, allowing them to drop more players into coverage.

Next Sunday night the Pats head to Houston for their first of two games against an AFC South team. The Houston Texans who, at 6-6, are battling for a playoff spot and still have a chance of winning the division. It looks like the Patriots will again be without several of their top offensive threats. With a playoff berth all but locked up, their focus is clearly on getting healthy before the postseason.

New York Jets (7-5 overall, 2-2 division)

Despite the stadium being decorated for a Giants’ home game, The New York Jets made a case to rename MetLife Stadium JetLife Sunday in a thrilling 23-20 overtime victory over their stadium co-residents New York Giants.

The Giants jumped out to a 7-3 lead after an 80 yard punt return by Dwayne Harris in the first quarter. The Jets soon knotted things up at 10 following a 25 yard catch and run by running back Bilal Powell, who had one of his best games to date as a Jet, hauling in eight passes for 91 yards and a touchdown. Their lead didn’t last long as Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning connected with wide receiver Odell Beckham for a 72 yard touchdown just a little over a minute later. A field goal at the end of the half gave the Giants a 10 point lead, but would be their final points scored of the contest.

Once again, head coach Todd Bowles’ half time adjustments proved big for the Jets who shut out the Giants and effectively limited Beckham through the final two quarters and overtime. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick played his best game as a Jet, throwing for 390 yards and two touchdowns. Numbers aside, he looked poised and in control throughout the game, especially over the final five minutes of regulation when he lead two scoring drives to send the game to overtime.

The Jets are feeling good following Sunday’s win but the playoffs are far from a lock for Gang Green. Sunday, rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans come to town looking to spoil the Jets’ season. A loss here would be nothing short of a complete letdown and likely leave the Jets on the outside looking in when the playoffs roll around.

Buffalo Bills (6-6 overall, 3-2 division)

Sunday’s 30 – 21 win over the Houston Texans keeps the Buffalo Bills’ playoff hopes alive and gives them the tiebreaker over another playoff contender. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor and wide receiver Sammy Watkins appear to be getting hot at the right time as they connected three times for 109 yards and a touchdown. Sunday was Watkin’s second straight game with over 100 yards receiving. He had just one 100+ yard effort in all other games this season. The Bills’ rushing attack got back on track Sunday as well. Running back LeSean McCoy has rushed for over 100 yards three times this season, including Sunday’s win against the Texans. In each of those games he has rushed for exactly 112 yards and the Bills have won each game.

It looks like Christmas has come early for the Bills as they begin a stretch of three straight games against NFC East teams on Sunday with a matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. The NFC East is currently tied for the least combined wins as a division with 19. More intriguing is McCoy’s return to his former team and head coach Chip Kelly, who made it clear this offseason that McCoy was not welcome in the city of brotherly love. There will be no love lost as both teams are battling for a playoff berth.

Miami Dolphins (5-7 overall, 0-5 division)

This season, the Miami Dolphins are 5-0 when running back Lamar Miller carries the ball 13 or more times. They are 0-7 in games he does not. On Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, Miller rushed the ball 20 times for 113 yards. The Dolphins won 15-13. The Fins were also aided by Ravens’ quarterback Matt Schaub, who threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown for the third straight game.

Monday night the Dolphins welcome the New York Giants to town. While the game features two teams with losing records, it will provide a national stage for two of the league’s most exciting young players. Giants’ wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Dolphins’ wide receiver Jarvis Landry were teammates at LSU and will face each other for the first time of their careers. One can only hope for a shootout so we can watch in awe as two of the game’s most exciting players square off.

AFC East Players of the Week

Offense

Brandon Marshall, Wide Receiver, New York Jets

This season the Jets rank fourth in the NFL in both second half points scored (14.2 per game) and fewest second half points allowed (9.0 per game). A big reason for the Jets’ second half success this season is wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who notched 131 yards for the second straight week. He hauled in 12 of his 13 targets including a touchdown to tie the game with less than 30 seconds on the clock. Eight of Marshall’s 10 touchdown catches this season have come in the second half. On Sunday Marshall became the first Jets’ wide receiver to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving and the first wide receiver in NFL history to do so for four different teams.

Defense

Derrick Shelby, Defensive End, Miami Dolphins

Shelby recorded three total tackles, a half sack, and returned an interception for a touchdown in Sunday’s 15 – 13 win over the Ravens. The interception was all Shelby as he deflected a pass attempt from quarterback Matt Schaub, caught it, and then rumbled into the end zone for a 22 yard score.

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