Audibles: AFC East Week 16 preview
Of all the matchups involving teams tied for first place in the AFC East, this one looks like the most difficult. The Patriots should win, mind you, but their opponents won't be as easy to beat as the ones the Dolphins and Jets will face.
The Patriots are hurting on defense and have been coping for some time. But they haven't faced a passing team like Kurt Warner's Cardinals since losing to the Colts in Week 9.
After getting lit up by Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers in Week 6, the Patriots have fared well against offenses which predominantly pass.
The Patriots limited the Broncos (ranked No. 3 in pass offense) to seven points and 169 passing yards in a Week 7 victory and, two games later, held the Colts (ranked No. 6 in pass offense) to two touchdowns and 202 passing yards.
The Dolphins are one of the NFL's hottest teams, having won seven of their past eight games.
The Dolphins control their own destiny in the AFC East. They still could lose Sunday and be in position to win the division in the season finale against the Jets. But falling to the wretched Chiefs sure wouldn't put the Dolphins in a pleasant frame of mind heading into the crucial, final week.
Just because the Chiefs have won a pair of games, don't assume this will be a walkover. The Dolphins have done just enough to win since early November.
In their past five victories (over the wilted Seahawks, Raiders, Rams, Bills and 49ers), the Dolphins' average margin of victory has been 7.2 points even though they haven't allowed a touchdown over their last three. Take out the 13-point win over the Bills and the margin drops to 3.3 points.
Miami's offense will have another chance to break out before the season goes on the line next week at the Meadowlands. Kansas City ranks dead last in total offense and 30th in both run defense and pass defense.
Then again, the Seahawks rank 30th in total defense, the Rams rank 29th and the Raiders rank 26th.
The Jets are 0-3 on the West Coast, 0-4 in games that kick off at 4 p.m. and 1-5 when they don't play at 1 p.m.
So their game won't be a run-of-the-mill showdown between clubs with a six-win differential. Qwest Field also should be livelier than normal because Mike Holmgren will be coaching his final home game for the Seahawks.
Even so, if the slouching Jets can get past all of that, then the Seahawks could serve as perfect foes. The Seahawks rank 30th in total defense and rock bottom in pass defense.
Brett Favre has thrown three touchdowns and five interceptions in his past four games, but that's OK. Only one team has intercepted fewer passes than Seattle's six.
The Bills were realistically eliminated from the playoff race a few weeks ago and mathematically snuffed in last Sunday's gift-wrapped defeat to the Jets in the Meadowlands.
What a disgusting season after such a promising start. How the Bills play out the string might provide a glimpse of what's to come next year from a character standpoint.
Trent Edwards likely will return from his groin injury, and he's a quarterback in desperate need of a couple of pick-me-up performances heading into the offseason. The second-year pro was the toast of the AFC through the first third of the campaign. Now Bills fans are wondering if he's the long-term answer.
The Broncos have the 28th-rated defense. They're 27th in pass defense. Edwards and Lee Evans, another disappointment after signing one of the NFL's richest contract extensions for a receiver, could use a boffo afternoon.
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