New England Patriots (11-2 overall, 4-0 division)
The New England Patriots clinched their seventh-straight AFC East divisional title and trip to the postseason this week. Since 2001, the Pats have won the division 13 times and continue to be the perennial thorn in the side of the division’s three other members.
Sunday night’s game, a 27-6 win over the Houston Texans, was a bit lackluster but Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski returned after missing last week’s game with an injury and did so in record setting fashion. After catching a touchdown late in the first half, his tenth of the season, Gronkowski became just the third player in NFL history to catch 10 or more touchdowns in five of his first six seasons. He also became the only tight end in NFL history to have three seasons with over 1,000 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns. While injuries to the other Patriots’ players have been costly, none was greater than the potential loss of Gronkowski who continues to be unstoppable.
The Pats will take on the Tennessee Titans who were eliminated from playoff contention last week and appeared to mail it in late in the first half. Although every team preaches “one game at a time,” the Patriots’ focus will be on the final two weeks of the season when they take on divisional foes in the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills.
New York Jets (8-5 overall, 2-2 division)
In Sunday’s 20-8 win over the Tennessee Titans, the New York Jets avoided a potential trap game and kept them very much alive in a tightening playoff race. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick seems poised to make his first career postseason run with a three touchdown performance in a game the Jets dominated from their opening drive. The Titans had no answer for the Jets’ wide receiver duo of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, who combined for 13 catches, 199 yards and two touchdowns Sunday, and became the first pair of wide receivers in Jets’ history to each have at least nine touchdown catches in the same season. With three games left to play and the postseason in sight, this offense, and the Jets as a whole, will lean heavily on their dynamic duo of receivers.
While the win gives the Jets their third straight and doubles their win total from a season ago, there is still a lot of work to be done before they can call themselves a playoff team. With the Patriots locking up the AFC East this week, the Jets will have to battle it out with the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers for one of the two Wild Card seeds. The Jets have the hardest road to the postseason, with divisional games against the Patriots and Buffalo Bills to close out to the season, but a loss to the Dallas Cowboys (4-9) on Saturday night could all but end their plans for the postseason.
Buffalo Bills (6-7 overall, 3-2 division)
Sunday’s 23-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles was the Bills’ third loss in four games and all but ended the Bills’ postseason aspirations. Head coach Rex Ryan has shouldered the blame for his team’s recent performance, especially on the defensive side of the ball where they continue to struggle.
There are plenty of stats to look to try and understand why the Bills’ defense has struggled this season (they currently rank outside the top-10 in both passing and rushing yards allowed per game, turnover differential, and points allowed per game) but the biggest reason may be the crippling amount of penalties they have piled up this season. In 2015, they are averaging nine and a half penalties (second most in the NFL) for 83.5 yards (most in the NFL) per game.
The Bills will face another NFC East team this Sunday as they head to the nation’s capital to take on the Washington Redskins. With little hope of making the playoffs themselves, Rex Ryan and Co. can hope to ruin the Redskins playoff hopes, who are currently in a three-way tie for the division lead.
Miami Dolphins (5-8 overall, 0-5 division)
After Monday night’s 31-24 loss to the New York Giants, the Miami Dolphins have officially been eliminated from postseason contention. I’m assuming head coach Dan Campbell didn’t read last week’s installment of this article because on Monday night running back Lamar Miller only carried the ball 12 times…and the Dolphins lost. This season the Dolphins have still not won a game when Miller has carried the ball less than 13 times. The Dolphins’ decision to all but abandon the run in the second half after Miller scored twice in the first 30 minutes is a head scratcher, especially in such a close game. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill continued to look okay, further proving that we may be witnessing him hit his ceiling as an NFL quarterback.
The lowlight of the night came from wide receiver Jarvis Landry who earned an unnecessary roughness penalty with his team down a touchdown late in the fourth quarter after he inexplicably slammed a Giants’ defender to the ground following an incomplete pass. The Dolphins went three and out and punted to the Giants who eventually ran the clock out to seal the victory.
Next up for the Dolphins is a meaningless game against the San Diego Chargers who are also eliminated from this year’s postseason. On the bright side, the Dolphins will get a few days to soak up the San Diego sun.
AFC East Players of the Week
Bilal Powell, Running Back, New York Jets
Hard to overlook the spark Powell has provided the Jets’ offense recently as he continues to make the most of his opportunities. He scored for the second week in a row, this time on a catch and run from 16 yards out. The score put the Jets up 20 late in the first half and deflated the Titans defense, who hardly tried to tackle Powell as he scampered into the end zone. The combination of Powell’s pass catching and change of pace abilities are a nice compliment to running back Chris Ivory’s physical running style and give the offense good versatility.
Muhammad Wilkerson, Defensive End, New York Jets
Pay the man! Wilkerson had a field day against an inexperienced Titans’ offensive line Sunday, racking up three sacks, two tackles for losses, a pass deflected, and a forced fumble. He wreaked havoc against rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was unable to escape the athletic Wilkerson. He now has a career-high 12 sacks on the season. Good timing for a man playing out the final year of his contract.