The State of the AFC East- Week 15
New England Patriots (12-2 overall, 4-0 division)-The New England Patriots defeated the Tennessee Titans 33-16 on Sunday and secured a first round bye after the Denver Broncos fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The game itself was not close as the Titans continued to struggle, especially after rookie quarterback -Marcus Mariota left the game with a knee sprain that will end his season. The Patriots, who had to overcome a number of their own injuries to key players throughout the season, added a few more to the injury report on Sunday. Wide receiver Danny Amendola, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Patrick Chung all left the game and did not return to action. With the playoffs already a lock, the first round bye will be crucial for the Patriots who are hoping to get healthy fast.
The Patriots travel to MetLife Stadium Sunday to take on the Jets, who are looking to make a playoff push of their own. While the Pats have already punched their ticket to the postseason, they certainly have something to play for over the final two weeks. If the Patriots win one of their final two games they will lock up the number one seed in the AFC and home field advantage throughout. I doubt head coach Bill Belichick will intentionally rest his starters over the next two weeks but recent injuries may force his hand a bit and leave him without some of his top players.
New York Jets (9-5 overall, 2-2 division)-While it was not the prettiest or cleanest game they have played this season, the New York Jets took care of business Saturday night and defeated the Dallas Cowboys 19-16. After cruising against the Titans a week ago, the Jets faced some adversity throughout the game as they struggled offensively at times.
Trailing 13-9 in the middle of the fourth quarter, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Jets on a nine play, 70-yard drive that gave the Jets a three-point lead. After a Cowboys’ field goal knotted the game at 16, Fitzpatrick again led the Jets on what would be the game-winning drive. Wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins set up the game-winning field goal with a 43-yard reception after he slipped behind a Cowboys’ defender and was left wide open. The reception was just Thompkins’ 13th of the season, who was recently activated after rookie Devin Smith was placed on the injured reserve list.
The defense deserves a lot of credit for the win as well as they forced four turnovers (all interceptions), recorded two sacks, and allowed the Cowboys to convert just two of their 11 third down opportunities.
The winners of four straight, their most important game of the season comes Sunday when the Patriots come to town. A win keeps the Jets in the playoff mix, who need to win out and get a little help from other AFC playoff contenders. A loss…let’s not even think about that yet. Against their banged up divisional rival, the Jets will have to play a cleaner and more complete game then they did last week, to win. If the motivation of playing for a potential playoff berth is not enough, the team will be hungry to avenge a loss to the Pats earlier in the season in a game they could have and maybe should have won.
Buffalo Bills (6-8 overall, 3-2 division)-The Buffalo Bills are currently experiencing the turmoil and disarray often associated with Rex Ryan’s coaching career. On Sunday the Bills lost the Washington Redskins 35-20, eliminating them from the playoffs and opening the floodgates for the gripes and frustrations of Ryan’s players. Defensive end Mario Williams expressed his displeasure with his role in Ryan’s defense this season and their overall performance. Linebacker Preston Brown added that defensive calls were coming in too late, putting the defense at a disadvantage. It is natural for teams to air out dirty laundry at the end of a disappointing season but not ideal for a first year head coach trying to maintain the confidence of his locker room.
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins was a bright spot for the Bills yet again, hauling in five passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Watkins has been on an absolute tear the past four weeks, with six touchdown catches and 459 yards. As injuries continue to pile up and with the postseason official out of reach, the Bills are looking forward to the offseason. They travel to Dallas on Sunday to take on the Cowboys before heading home for a matchup with the New York Jets in which they will hope to spoil their playoff chances.
Miami Dolphins (5-9 overall, 0-5 division)-For those of you who have read this article the past few weeks (pretty sure just my parents) you will be familiar with the correlation between Lamar Miller’s number of carries in a game and games that the Miami Dolphins have won. On Sunday, Miller carried the ball just nine times and, as they have in each game Miller has registered less than 12 rushes, the Dolphins lost. This, the Dolphins fell 30-14 to the San Diego Chargers.
The most interesting and perhaps perplexing thing is that while Miami ranks dead last in the NFL in rushing attempts per game (20.3), they are tied for fifth in the league in yards per carry (4.6). In other words, when they do decide to run it, they are pretty darn good. Why head coach Dan Campbell and acting offensive coordinator Zac Taylor (who replaced Bill Lazor earlier in the season) have failed to utilize one of their biggest weapons in Miller or their running game in general is a head scratcher.
Next up for the Dolphins is the Indianapolis Colts who are just a game out of the division lead and in the playoff hunt in a subpar AFC South. The Dolphins on the other hand can play nothing more than the spoiler, They will register their first losing season since 2012 in a season that began with high expectations.
AFC East Players of the Week
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Quarterback, New York Jets
Although he threw his first interception in his past five games, Fitzpatrick made plays when the team needed it most and kept their playoff hopes alive. In the first half, he seemed to struggle a bit against the pressure the Cowboys’ defensive front was able to put on him but later in the game he effectively moved the pocket and found more success. The numbers do not jump out on paper, but Fitzpatrick’s play Saturday was best when it mattered most, leading the Jets to scores on their final two drives of the game.
Jamie Collins, Outside Linebacker, New England Patriots
Collins led the Patriots in tackles on Sunday with eight, including four solo tackles. He also added an interception, a sack, a pass defended, and a quarterback hit. Collins was everywhere on Sunday and will be a key to the Patriots’ success down the stretch and into the postseason.