AFC East at Midseason: Sizing Up the Competition
As the Patriots near the midpoint of the 2009 NFL season, it makes a good deal of sense to consider what we've learned about the rest of the division.
Which teams will pose a threat to the Pats' playoff chances? Which teams are playing for draft position?
In a league that changes as frequently as the NFL, it is necessary to constantly re-evaluate one's conclusions.
The New York Jets
After the Jets defeated the Patriots in Week Two, the NFL was put on notice that this team could not be overlooked.
With a well-coached defense and a risk-averse rookie quarterback, the Jets appeared serious contenders to the AFC East throne.
The Jets have cooled over the past few weeks, however.
Despite a dominant rushing game, featuring Thomas Jones and now rookie Shonn Greene, the team has lost two of its last three. Mark Sanchez has looked human in that span, and the defense was not as incredibly disruptive as it had been earlier.
Nevertheless, the Jets still pose a legitimate threat to the Patriots when the two play again in Week 11.
The defense remains the key ingredient to this team's success. With their exotic blitzes, they seem to be able to get into almost any quarterback's head, throwing the entire offense out of whack.
Tom Brady was legitimately flustered the last time the two played and the Pats know they must protect him.
The Miami Dolphins
After winning the division last year, the Dolphins started 2009 poorly, losing their first three games and losing starting QB Chad Pennington for the season to injury.
Nonetheless, this team is still dangerous—it has won two of its last three games, losing the third only because of a miraculous Saints comeback.
The mere fact that Miami had a big lead on a red-hot Saints team should be troubling to Pats fans. The recent pastings of the Bucs and Titans notwithstanding, the Patriots offense is not nearly as in sync as that of the Saints.
Again, it is the defense that is most worrisome. Jason Taylor has given Brady trouble for years, and Joey Porter was definitely disruptive against the Pats last season.
Brady must prove that the last two weeks were not a fluke—that he has indeed returned to the calm, decisive play that has won him so many accolades over the years.
In short, the Pats definitely must not overlook this foe.
The Buffalo Bills
Of all the Pats' division rivals, Buffalo seems to be the one most likely to fade down the stretch.
True, the team has won its last two games, and played the Pats tough in the season opener.
Closer examination, though, reveals a team in disarray. The Bills would not have won the past two games without the generosity of opposing quarterbacks (Sanchez and Jake Delhomme threw eight picks between them).
In fact, even after getting six interceptions in the Jets game, this team still needed overtime to seal the deal.
Meanwhile, the team does not seem to have a legitimate option at quarterback. Neither Ryan Fitzpatrick nor Trent Edwards appear to be able to make the throws necessary at the NFL level.
Provided Brady does not undergo a complete meltdown in their next meeting in Week 15, it should be a very winnable game.