When you look at the AFC East so far in 2014, the usual team at the top; New England Patriots (7-2), find themselves sitting alone at the thrown once again, with their other division members lingering around without much threat to the divisional crown.
So lets start with the current leaders shall we?
New England Patriots (7-2)
Overall Grade: A-
Offense: The leader of the Pats offense for over a decade now has been quarterback Tom Brady. After an awful performance in a week four 41-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the 15-year veteran was questioned by everyone in the sports world who thought he was at the end of his reign. “Tom Terrific” responded with five consecutive wins, with the Patriots averaging 43 points per game in that span. In those five games, Brady has tossed 18 touchdowns to just one interception. The passing game has been highlighted by pro-bowl tight end Rob Gronkowksi, who has been lethal all season, catching a team-high eight touchdowns and averaging 13.5 yards per reception.
The running game has been average with injuries all-around. Stevan Ridley when healthy has been effective, with two 100 yard games (101 @ MIN, 113 vs. CIN) and backup Shane Vereen has filled in nicely with Ridley sidelined by injuries, averaging 4.5 yard per carry as well as being a threat catching the ball, totaling three or more receptions in 7 of 9 games this season and three touchdown snags.
The defense was re-amped in the off-season with the signings of defensive backs Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. The defense has multiple sacks in five games this season and is averaging two takeaways per game while scoring three defensive/special team touchdowns. In their last game, they were able to pressure Peyton Manning and force two interceptions in a convincing 43-21 win over the Denver Broncos.
The Patriots will be tested after their week 10 bye week, as they have five straight games against teams with winning records and three of them on the road. They will start with a tough matchup this week, traveling to Indianapolis to face the red-hot Colts, a team whose season was ended at the hands of the Patriots last year in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Buffalo Bills (5-4)
Overall Grade: B-
Offense: Veteran quarterback Kyle Orton has been the saving grace to an offense that struggled early in the year with EJ Manuel under center. Signed during the preseason, Orton has gone 3-2 as a starter, averaging 277 yards per game and throwing 10 touchdowns to just three interceptions. The Bills receiving corps has been lead by rookie wide-out Sammy Watkins, who leads the team in receptions (42), yards (617), and touchdowns (5).
A once lethal rushing attack has been decimated by injuries. CJ Spiller, who suffered a broken collarbone in week 7, is out for the season but is still the Bills leading rusher with 287 yards on the ground. His fellow teammate Fred Jackson has also missed time this season with a knee injury, but has still played a limited role, only rushing for only 249 yards but is the Bills fourth leading receiver with 300 yards through the air. The Bills will hope to get more production on the ground from Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon while Jackson gets back to 100 percent.
Defense: So far in 2014, the defense has been great (ranked no. 6 in the NFL) as they have continuously gotten pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The defensive line has been the strong suit for the Bills, DT Marcell Dareus leads the way with 10 sacks, and defensive ends Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes each have seven sacks on the season. Buffalo’s 34 sacks total this season is the most in the NFL.
Looking ahead, the Bills will have to prove themselves if they are serious about playoff contention. Out of their final seven games, five of them are against teams with winning records and three of them will be on the road. It will be a near must-win game on Thursday when the Bills travel to Miami for a huge divisional away game against the 5-4 Miami Dolphins on the bright lights of primetime, a team they beat 29-10 back in week two.
Miami Dolphins (5-4)
Overall Grade: B-
Offense: At times this year, the Dolphins have praised the play of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. At other times, Tannehill has been booed, even by his hometown fans. Overall, the Texas A&M grads 15 touchdown- 7 interception line doesn’t look too bad, but the 20 sacks he’s suffered this year has taken a toll as he is banged up and his status for Thursday Night’s game against Buffalo is questionable, although he has stated he will play. Miami has been led by Mike Wallace. In his second year with the Dolphins, Wallace leads the team with 40 receptions, 519 yards and six touchdowns.
The Dolphins upgraded their running attack by adding free agent Knowshon Moreno in the off-season. However, Moreno has only played in three games this season and is out for the year after suffering a torn ACL in a week six loss to the Green Bay Packers. Fellow runner LaMar Miller has been great for the Dolphins after his status as a starter was threatened with the signing of Moreno. Miller is averaging nearly five yards per carry as the Dolphins leading rusher, and has five of the six rushing touchdowns this season for Miami.
Defense: Easily the most underrated defense in the entire NFL. Ranked fourth in the NFL and first in the AFC, the defense as gotten after the quarterback (28 sacks) and forced turnovers (19 takeaways) while scoring three defensive touchdowns. If you’re not sold on the Dolphins defense, remember this is a team that shutout the San Diego Chargers 37-0 in week nine.
So far this season, it has been a frustrating ride for the Dolphins. They lost two games on game winning drives by Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford. They sit at 5-4, but could easily be 7-2. They have already tallied a win against divisional rival New England back in week one, and will have a huge game Thursday when they host the Bills on primetime. It’s a must-win game for each team but only one can walk away 6-4.
New York Jets (2-8)
Overall Grade: D
Offense: It has been a roller coaster of a season for the Jets offense. Quarterback Geno Smith’s turnover problems continued through his first eight games, throwing 10 interceptions to just seven touchdowns. Smith threw three interceptions over eight pass attempts in his last start against the Buffalo Bills before being benched in favor of Michael Vick. Vick has given the offense a bit of a boost, he led the Jets to just their second win of the season last Sunday with a 20-13 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, throwing for a pair of touchdowns and becoming the first quarterback to rush for over 6,000 yards in an NFL career.
The ground game has been the only constant besides turnovers in the Jets offense. Chris Ivory leads the way with 548 yards rushing and five touchdowns. Veteran Chris Johnson has been an up-and-down back this season, often complaining about lack of touches. Johnson averages around eight carries per game and five times this season has had seven or less touches.
First year Jet Eric Decker leads the team with a 43-450-4 line thus far. The Jets turned heads trading for Seattle Wide Receiver Percy Harvin mid-way through the season. Harvin is averaging seven catches for 65 yards per game in his three games with the Jets this season.
Defense has been the strong point to the team, ranking fifth in the NFL is rush defense. But a good defense doesn’t mean much when the offense can’t put points on the board.
Looking ahead for the Jets, the schedule looks favorable for the team win maybe a few more and finish the season in the 4-12, 5-11 mark. Their best bet is to play spoiler later in the season against division rival Miami and New England who they finish the season against.
Without question, the Rex Ryan era looks to be over in New York.
AFC EAST AWARDS
Offensive MVP: NE, QB Tom Brady
Really a no-brainer here. Brady has been on a tear since the Patriots 41-14 loss in week four, leading the team to five straight wins and currently the no. 1 seed in the AFC. Brady maybe the NFL MVP by season’s end.
Defensive MVP: MIA, DB Brent Grimes
Grimes has been the leader of a strong Miami secondary. He is second on the team with 33 tackles, and is 2nd in the NFL with five interceptions and has one pick-six this season.
Comeback Player of the First Half: BUF, QB Kyle Orton:
Orton hasn’t had a starting role for a long time, but he has done everything and more for the Bills in his five starts. Leading the team to three wins in five games, Orton has put the Bills in playoff discussions despite star running backs CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson both missing games.
Let down of the First Half: BUF, QB EJ Manuel/ NYJ, QB Geno Smith
The first two quarterbacks taken in the 2013 NFL Draft were both looking to make names for themselves as starting quarterbacks, but both have been benched this season. Smith and Manuel combined for 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Cover Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images
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