Samantha Bunten, CineSport—The New England Patriots offense put on a show in a 52-28 win over the Buffalo Bills, but how well did the defense perform? CineSport's Brian Clark and The Boston Globe's Zuri Berry discuss.
Is the AFC East more wide open than most believed prior to the start of the NFL season?
At the quarter mark, New England isn't already running away with the division as many expected they would be.
With the Patriots tied at 2-2 in the standings with the Bills and Jets, on paper the division looks to be up for grabs.
But the records don’t tell the whole story.
The Patriots trounced the Bills on Sunday, and Buffalo grabbed its two wins against weak opponents. Miami has looked surprisingly good, but not like they’re quite ready to compete with New England. And I doubt anyone could tell you how the disastrous Jets managed to win two games this season.
Indeed, much to the dismay of Belichick haters across the league and pipe dreams in Buffalo, New York and Miami, the Patriots don’t look like they’re going to be ceding any territory any time soon.
In their contest vs. the Bills, the Pats looked like the New England juggernaut of old, running the score up on their opponent to soul-crushing proportions, and looking lackluster but serviceable on defense.
Even when they struggle, putting points on the board has never really been New England’s problem. It’s generally their defense that does them in.
That may well still be the case later in the year when they have to face opponents in the playoffs who bring something elite to the field on both sides of the ball. But despite their .500 record, what has happened so far indicates that they still won’t have much trouble coming out atop the AFC East.
So where does that leave the Bills, Dolphins and Jets?
That depends on which of the three predicted also-rans in the East you’re referring to.
For the Jets, the answer to that question seems to be, nowhere good. A season-ending injury to CB Darelle Revis has destroyed the schematics of their entire defense, and it showed this week vs. the 49ers.
Coach Rex Ryan has been displaying a stunning lack of ability to adjust and to accurately assess opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, and the team’s quarterback situation is a total disaster.
Miami, behind rookie QB Ryan Tannehill, has yet to look anywhere close to commanding. But they definitely look like they have potential.
The outcome didn’t necessarily show it, but the Dolphins played very well against an undefeated Arizona team on Sunday. Tannehill picked apart a defense that both Michael Vick and Tom Brady struggled with in previous weeks. And then there’s Brian Hartline, who came out of nowhere to break Miami’s single-game record for receiving yards.
Success for the Dolphins may take longer than the remainder of this season to manifest, but Miami fans have more reason to be optimistic than they have at any point since the days of Dan Marino.
The Bills are the biggest mystery of the lot. They haven’t looked particularly convincing even in their victories so far this season, but they also have the look of a team that could click in just the right way at any moment.
Aside from the Patriots, who will likely be the division winner, the Bills look like the only team in the East with a shot at the playoffs. That shot might be a long one, but it’s a shot nonetheless.
Still, much of that will depend on how they do in the six games they play against their fellow AFC East members.
So far, they’ve lost both of their divisional matchups by huge margins; 48-28 to the Jets and 53-28 to the Patriots. Their victories came against the Browns and Chiefs, both of whom are outside of their division and more tellingly, both of whom are a mess.
To stay in the wild-card hunt, they’ll need to sweep Miami and take at least one more from their second go-rounds with the Patriots and Jets, especially because their strength of schedule outside the division is not particularly favorable.
They’ll face San Francisco, Arizona, Houston, St. Louis, and Seattle, all formidable opponents. They’ll also see Tennessee, Indianapolis and Jacksonville, but even a 3-0 mark in those three contests alone won’t give them anywhere near what they’ll need to be in the running for a wild-card spot.
For the Bills to compete, they’ll need their many pricey assets to play as well as they’ve been paid to, something they haven’t done so far.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has been wildly inconsistent, and their very expensive defense has ceded a tremendous amount of points given the price Buffalo paid for it.
If those and other facets of their squad can play up to potential, the Bills should be able to get on track and stay in the mix. But if they don’t solidify on both offense and defense quickly, 2012 will be a very expensive failure for Buffalo.