- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Here are seven notes and observations from Week 10 in the AFC East:
The New England Patriots received a lot of press for making big-name acquisitions like Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco. But New England's best offseason addition turned out to be an under-the-radar free agent. Veteran defensive end Andre Carter signed with the Patriots in August and didn't create many headlines. He was one of several defensive linemen added to the team for depth, which included Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis. But Carter is on a tear with the Patriots this season. He had 4.5 sacks in Sunday's important win against the New York Jets and is tied for fourth in the NFL with nine sacks. Carter is on pace to shatter his career-best total of 11 sacks from 2009.
The Patriots have depth issues at several positions, but offensive tackle is not one of them. New England flexed its muscle at tackle against the Jets and didn't allow any sacks on quarterback Tom Brady. Left tackle Matt Light and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer got the start and played great, while rookie first-round pick Nate Solder was used as a sub in heavy packages and temporarily when Vollmer was hurt. Both Vollmer and Solder were questionable heading into the game. The Patriots also have a young offensive tackle on their practice squad in Matt Kopa who has potential. The second-year player from Stanford could be additional insurance if New England has any major injuries at the position.
The Jets (5-4) are essentially two games back in the AFC East and could run into issues in the wild-card race. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head meetings, and the Jets lost to a pair of wild-card contenders in the Baltimore Ravens (6-3) and Oakland Raiders (5-4). New York has to hope the Ravens and Raiders win their divisions. The Jets also have to worry about the Cincinnati Bengals (6-3) and maybe the struggling Buffalo Bills (5-4). The Jets and Bills could have an elimination game in two weeks at the Meadowlands.
Speaking of Buffalo, a lot of pressure now is on Bills starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. He was paid $59 million to be the long-term solution and face of the franchise. Fitzpatrick is no longer a cute, surprising story. With the $10 million per year price tag comes high expectations for Fitzpatrick to consistently produce. It's poor timing for Fitzpatrick to play his worst football of the season. He's thrown for 337 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions the past two weeks. As a result, Buffalo has been outscored 71-18 in that span against the Jets and Dallas Cowboys. The bar has been raised and Fitzpatrick will get a lion's share of the blame when things don't go well. That's par for the course for other franchise quarterbacks around the league.
Buffalo has a lot of issues defensively. But the biggest issue haunting the Bills is their lack of pass rush. Buffalo thought it fixed its pass-rush issues in Toronto after registering 10 sacks against the Washington Redskins. It was the second-most sacks in Bills history. But that proved to be a fluke. Buffalo has just one sack in its past two games, and quarterbacks are taking advantage. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo was very comfortable in the pocket. He was 23 of 26 for 270 yards and three touchdowns.
Is winning the best thing for the Miami Dolphins? Miami fans have to be torn about the Dolphins' two-game winning streak. The Dolphins are finally playing well. But it comes after the team has no pressure and no shot at the postseason. On the flip side, it's a virtual certainty Miami played itself out of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. The Indianapolis Colts (0-10) cannot win three of their final six games. Miami (2-7) also would have to lose its final seven games. That doesn't appear likely, either.
Next week's game between Buffalo and Miami will be more interesting than expected. The AFC East blog will be covering that contest next week at Sun Life Stadium. I think this is a must-win game for Buffalo. The Bills are in the middle of their three-game road trip, and this is the most winnable one on their schedule. Miami, meanwhile, will have a lot of say in who wins the AFC East. The Dolphins have four division games remaining and seem to be relishing their "spoiler" role. Miami can put a huge dent in Buffalo's season next week.