North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Why the AFC East is upside-down – Tuesday NFL Notebook

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Call me crazy, but from here it looks like the best team in the AFC East are the Miami Dolphins.

Sure, easy enough to say after a huge – slaughter is not too strong a word – win over New England. Easy enough to say after Ronnie Brown’s five touchdown game. And it is easy to say it, too.

Because their already tepid schedule just got a whole lot easier.

The Dolphins’ schedule is by no means completely lame – they play the suddenly surging Chargers in week five and the Broncos in week nine – but it has a few easy games: The Rams in week 13; The Texans in week six; Kansas City in week 16.

For a team that suddenly looks like it’s found it’s rhythm, those games could be huge.

Down the stretch, let’s say that Maimi has managed to keep pace with whomever is in the lead – most likely New England, or perhaps the Bills. Thanks to their early-season win over a division rival, they’ll almost have a half-step towards a playoff spot.

By beating New England like that, the Dolphins have made a statement to the other teams. They’re not the hapless fins of a year ago. Chad Pennington is throwing the ball well, Ronnie Brown is running (for now) exceptionally well – ending any controversy for who should be their featured back – and their defence, 28th in the league last year, held one of the great receiving corps to just over 150 yards and a single major.

It’s a statement. The Dolphins are back. And in a mess of an AFC East, they could just end up on top.

Speaking of the AFC East, how about those Bills?

Undefeated yes. But overrated?

Sure, they have yet to lose a game. They sit on top of their division – in wins, in points, in total yards, in defence, etc, etc. The rest of the teams in the AFC East are far, far back of them.

But I’m not sure if they’re as good as they seem so far.

For three quarters, they were outplayed by the Raiders. Their running game wasn’t getting them anywhere, and Jamarcus Russell, who looked competent in stretches, picked their pass defence apart.

Okay, that’s a lie. He was overthrowing, wildly throwing, throwing it away for most of the afternoon.

But still, the Raiders were the ones getting downfield – the Bills punted their first four possessions. Remember, going into this game the Bills were eight point favourites. But the Bills only won with a late-game rally, scoring on their last three possessions.

This is nothing new for the Bills, who had a similar comeback the week before against Jacksonville, with a 10-point fourth quarter.

This marks two comebacks for the Bills. The Bills! Remember the old line, “nobody circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills”? Remember their history of faltering late in games?

To some extent, I’m willing to say they’ve turned a new leaf. Their point-differential is the best in the AFC East (the only positive one, at that). They’ve scored 78 points, third in their conference. And they have an easy schedule, to boot.

Normally, perhaps, they’d be a sleeper team. But in the AFC East, which is so messed up right now (I know I’ve already said that, but bear with me here), they’re hidden no more. They’re marked as one of, perhaps the, team to beat in the AFC. And of the teams to beat, they look like the most beatable.

Finally, the Chargers look like a powerhouse.

They decimated, chrewed up, ran up the score on the New York Jets, in what was admittedly a pretty uneventful game.

The Jets fell behind early and spent most of the game in catchup mode, going for fourth downs, going to two-point conversions and trying the inside kicks.

Naturally, these never seemed to work as often as Greg Esterbrook loves to say they would, but that’s life for you. Sure, you may get only a few yards each play – and need less then those on a fourth down – but not every play will work.

But enough of that.

The Chargers were the story Monday night. They roared back to life, thanks to a two-touchdown night from LT (who only had 60 yards – and an average carry of less then three). They intercepted three passes, even running one back for a touchdown early in the second quarter.

After a bad loss the week before, when Denver pulled out a tough one (with a little help from an errant whistle), this was the kind of win they needed. One where they power over their opponent – one that seemed kind of good, too. The kind of win that can mark a change in the way season is going.

One writer said after the game that if the Chargers make the playoffs, thanks should go to that referee. Perhaps. I’d mark the season change to Antonio Cromartie’s interception-return touchdown as the turning point, though – it gave San Diego a 10-point lead, and seemed to wake up the team. By the end of that half, the Chargers had a 31-14 lead and were firmly in control of the game.

It’ll be neat to see if they can keep that momentum going next week.

Written by M.

September 23, 2008 at 6:23 pm

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