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Monday, 6 October 2014

AFC East: Sorting Out The Hierarchy After Week Five

2014 is looking mighty dysfunctional just five weeks into the campaign. The New England Patriots have been dominant over the past decade and a half, with 13 straight winning seasons and since 2001, have only missed the division title twice, one of those being 2008 when Tom Brady missed the season to a knee injury.

And the AFC East has been called the weakest division in the NFL, although that may be a bit harsh. But this year has not started well for any of the teams in this division. None of these teams appear poised to make a playoff run, even at this early stage.

The Patriots have displayed none of their usual swagger, and after dropping their opening game to division rival Miami Dolphins, could find themselves fighting for their lives, as well as, dominance in the East.

Interestingly enough, it is the Buffalo Bills who head the division at the moment, also holding the distinction of being the only team to have a positive, points differential so far. They, in turn, have beaten the Dolphins already this year, giving them a leg-up in the tie-breaker scenario. However, the team looks to have a bit of a controversy with the benching of former starter E. J. Manuel in favor of Kyle Orton. How this affects their season going forward remains to be seen. But at least they have come this far with a winning record.

As already stated, a severe lack of consitency exists from the top of this division all the way down. And it is the New York Jets who top the list in this category. They sit firmly at the bottom with only one win to their credit, and week five was particularly disturbing with a benching of their own. Whether or not Michael Vick is the answer, he has the reins now, while Geno Smith's career hangs in the balance. Getting shut-out in San Diego just makes things so much worse for Rex Ryan and the Jets. Is there anything going right there? I think not.

With the Dolphins enjoying a bye week, I won't say much about their position in the division right now. They seem to have the most potential of any of these teams, but still aren't showing anything that could be called consistent to date. How these guys handle the match-ups with inter-conference foes from the NFC North could make or break the division standings just as much as the intra-division games.

Miami will face the Green Bay Packers after this rest in the bye week, while the Patriots have already beaten the Vikings, and don't face another NFC North foe until week eight. The Jets have already lost to three NFC North teams, which may have contributed to their poor start in 2014. But the Bills have beaten both the Bears and the Lions. That could mean a lot in the overall scheme of things.

But a Sunday night match-up with the Cincinatti Bengals seemed just the venue for the Patriots to wake up out of their slumber and also to keep pace with the Bills for first place. On paper, the Patriots would appear to be the superior team, and with this performance against a contender, may well be the favorite to edge their way past the rest of the division as the season progresses.

That is not to say that this team doesn't still have issues, but they do seem to have found the spirit they were lacking in the first four weeks. The defense is still giving up big plays and not applying much pressure up front. And the offensive line has more work ahead to become the cohesive unit that Brady and the runners need.

So, the Patriots win puts them even with the Bills, while Miami trails by a game, and the Jets occupy the basement. It has been anything but pretty. BUt if the Patriot offense keeps clicking like this, and the defense does a reasonable job, the sky is once again the limit for them. Playing a full 60 minutes is the recipe the Patriots have to emphasize and they will cruise to the postseason with ease.

The key every week will be consistency. One game does not a season make. The team that gets on and stays on track will be the team that rises to the top. With QB controversies, the Bills and Jets would seem like the most precarious in their positions. It just might be the Dolphins that pose the biggest challenge to the reining division champs.


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