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It’s time for the rivalries to begin, time to get a true gauge on how the Miami Dolphins match up in the AFC East. Over the next two weeks, the Dolphins play the Buffalo Bills at home and the New England Patriots on the road.
Not since 1997 have the Dolphins waited this long to play their first AFC East game. Whether the wait was well worth it we will soon find out. What do we know right now? More than anything else, we know that the division title still must go through New England and that the Patriots are far better than any of us thought they would be after the arrest, the injuries and the defections.
Amazing what you can do when you have Tom Brady, never better evidenced than during his fourth quarter comeback win last Sunday over New Orleans. That left the Patriots on top at 5-1 followed by the Dolphins at 3-2, the Jets at 3-3 and the Bills at 2-4.
Still close enough to give each team hope with more than half the season yet to be played. Just as the Bills and Dolphins play this Sunday so do the Jets and Patriots. Serious times for all four teams. The AFC East race is about to hit another gear.
The Jets have gotten here with a gambling defense and enough decent moments from rookie quarterback Geno Smith to provide a measure of confidence. The Bills are 2-4 because their rookie quarterback, EJ Manuel, is out with a bum knee and, in truth, that’s all you really need to know. But as the Bills have shown us over the years, they are both resilient and resourceful.
“Every game is important,” said cornerback Brent Grimes, “but there’s just something about division games that are different.”
I figure the Dolphins need to go 4-2 at worst within the division to have a realistic shot at the title; 5-1 being much more preferable. That only underlines the importance of Sunday’s game against the Bills, especially since the Patriots are looming the following Sunday up in New England.
With all six AFC East games in front of the Dolphins, the challenge is clear and undeniable. As much as we already know about this football team, we’re going to find out a lot more over the next two games and then late in the season when four of the final five games are against AFC East teams
How do I view the competition in the AFC East at this exact moment of the season? Let’s break it down a little further.
• New England Patriots: How can you not be impressed with what this team has done? Wes Welker is in Denver. Rob Gronkowski has yet to play. Aaron Hernandez is in jail. Danny Amendola is in and out of the lineup. And the beat goes on. The big play offense is now relying on a bunch of young players who probably grew up with Tom Brady posters on their bedroom walls. Now, they are catching his passes. Little Julian Edelman, a converted quarterback from Kansas State, has become the go-to receiver.
But this isn’t a one-dimensional team. The Patriots have perhaps the best rushing attack in the division with three starting caliber backs in Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden and their defense, also void of many big stars, is better than I thought it would be even after losing mountain man Vince Wilfork to an Achilles injury. It’s going to be difficult for the Dolphins to unseat this team; not impossible, just difficult.
• New York Jets: As much as I hate to admit it, you’ve got to give Rex Ryan his due. Heading into this season, I thought the Jets would be terrible. I thought the running game would be non-existent, Geno Smith would struggle big-time and the defense couldn’t hold up with the offense doing so little.
But six games into the season, the Jets are far more formidable than I had anticipated. Yes, even after losing at home to the previously winless Steelers. The win at Atlanta, and the passing performance of Smith that night, said plenty. The defense is typical Rex Ryan. In other words, blitzes coming from every conceivable direction on almost every play. You just know in the two games against the Dolphins, Ryan will make it his personal mission to test the efficiency of this offensive line.
• Buffalo Bills: When EJ Manuel was healthy, the Bills were doing reasonably well. With Manuel injured and with no proven backup, things have become dicey in upstate New York. Thad Lewis, a former practice squad player, is expected to start at quarterback for the Bills against the Dolphins, assuming a sprained foot heals in time. Think the Dolphins will bring the heat? Got a feeling they will.
The Bills aren’t void of quality talent. C.J. Spiller is one of the league’s most explosive backs, Fred Jackson is a quality backup and rookie receiver Robert Woods has a chance to be special. On defense, Mario Williams is justifying his big money contract. But if you don’t have stability at quarterback, you are missing the most important ingredient and that is so hard to overcome.
When Ryan Tannehill first arrived here from Texas, he had trouble naming the AFC East teams. Now he knows them all too well. “They know us and we know them,” he said. “These are games we really look forward to.”
Beginning this Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.
On Wednesday, AC in the AM answers fans questions.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.
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