With just three weeks remaining in the NFL regular season, the most interesting storyline has to be the battle of the AFC East between the preseason favorite New England Patriots, the New York Jets, and the underachieving Miami Dolphins.
The AFC East topped headlines at the beginning of the season, when the Jets lured Brett Favre to the Big Apple in favor of Chad Pennington. Pennington was then coveted by the Dolphins who had a big question mark at quarterback.
The first week of the season we saw 2007 NFL MVP Tom Brady tear both his MCL and ACL and was lost for the season. As that was transpiring in New England, down in South Beach, Chad Pennington lost his first career start with the Dolphins to his former team, the Jets, 20-14, throwing an interception on the final drive.
Throughout the whole season, we have seen each team have their highs and lows.
In Week Two, the Patriots traveled to the Meadowlands to take on the Jets, with Matt Cassel starting in replace of Tom Brady. The Pats stifled Favre and the Jets offense, beating them 19-10.
At this point in time, the Miami Dolphins were getting trounced in Arizona 31-10 to the Cardinals.
With the two favorites both playing solid in New York and New England, no one could predict what would happen at Gillette Stadium in Week Three in a matchup between the Dolphins and Patriots.
The Dolphins were looking like the 1-15 team they were in 2007 starting off with a mediocre defense and an offense that couldn’t find an answer. Enter the Wildcat!
The Dolphins used the Wildcat formation, in which RB Ronnie Brown would take the snap in the shotgun and Pennington would line up as a wide receiver. The tricky formation confused the New England defense, leading to five Brown TDs, including one through the air.
The Dolphins routed the Patriots 38-13, snapping the Pats' regular season win streak at 18.
The next night, on Monday Night Football, the Jets were torched by the San Diego Chargers 48-29, in a game where Brett Favre was picked twice. The loss created doubts from the Jets faithful, but the Jets would resurrect after the loss.
The next week in Miami, who knew what Dolphins team would show up against the same Chargers who crushed the Jets two weeks prior? A strong running game from Ronnie Brown with a gritty defensive performance that included a goal-line stand on LaDainian Tomlinson proved to be the difference as the Dolphins defeated the Chargers 17-10.
Fast-forward six weeks.
With the Dolphins looking inconsistent with a record of 5-4, the Jets and Patriots squared-off on a nationally televised Thursday night showdown. Each team entered the game at 6-3, as the Jets were riding a season high three-game win streak.
America got a taste of fantastic football as the Jets held off the Pats in overtime 34-31. The Jets had recovered from blowing a 24-6 lead to take sole possession of the AFC East for the first time since 2002.
The Jets' high-water mark would come the following week when they knocked off the only undefeated team in the league, the Tennessee Titans, by a score of 34-17.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins continued to squeak out wins against lowly Seattle and Oakland and began to make their run at a division title.
They would meet the Pats in a Week 12 marquee matchup at Dolphins Stadium. Both squads came into the game one-game back of the Jets at 6-4. Both offensives sparked early, but in the end the Dolphins defense couldn’t handle the emergence of Matt Cassel.
With the Jets and Patriots coming off big victories, and the Dolphins taking a stride back, it seemed the Pats and Jets would be in a dog-fight for the division title.
With the help of the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers, the Jets have dropped two straight. Pile that on top of back-to-back Dolphins wins and all three teams are 8-5 entering Week 15.
The only head-to-head matchup left between the teams is a potential showdown at the Meadowlands in the last week of the season where Chad Pennington will make his return to New York.
How will it all play out?
All three teams have played liked playoff teams at one point or another this season.
The Dolphins are just happy to be in this position. The organization hasn’t been to the playoffs since the Jay Fiedler era of 2002, and has gone through a front-office makeover. Vice President of Football Operations Bill Parcells hired one of his former assistants in Dallas, Tony Sparano, who is making quite a case for Coach of the Year honors.
They have two favorable games against the 49ers and Chiefs which could very easily set them up for a “win and you’re in” game against the Jets in Week 17. The Dolphins are 6-1 in their last seven games, but have barely beaten teams that are under .500.
A win is a win in the NFL, but when it comes time to play AFC powerhouses, regular season or playoffs, the Dolphins need to find a tweak in their offense or their season could fall short of the playoffs.
The Jets have been on a roller coaster all season long. It all started when head coach Eric Mangini told Brett Favre if he would play for him, he would name his next child after him. When Favre came to New York, the buzz was high and it quickly sank after the blowout loss to the Chargers.
However, since that night, the Jets are 7-3. They have beaten teams on the road such as the Patriots and Titans, but can’t seem to find their game when they head out west. The Jets are 0-3 in California this season and will have to make a fourth trip to the Pacific Time Zone when they visit Seattle next week.
The Patriots have to be given an ovation. When Tom Brady went down in Week One, it did not look good. It’s no secret; quarterback is the toughest and most important in football, and arguably in sports.
They stumbled a little out of the gate without Brady going 2-2 in Cassel’s first four starts. However, the loss to the Jets was Matt Cassel’s best game and he is only improving. Not to mention, a come from behind win on the road in Seattle last weekend kept their division hopes alive.
A matchup with Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals next week will put Cassel and the Pats to the test. If the Pats come out on top, despite Brady’s injury, it will truly show what a genius Bill Belichick is, love him or hate him.
So take your pick! Three solid teams, who will come out on top?
Only time will tell!
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