20 AFC East reasons to be thankful

November, 24, 2011
11/24/11
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Reason No. 20. Bills, Jets still in playoff hunt: With the way these two teams have played lately, both are fortunate to still have a chance at the postseason. One team's hopes will end when Buffalo plays at New York this Sunday.

Reason No. 19. Tony Sparano: Say what you want about Sparano, but the embattled head coach has the Dolphins playing their best football. Miami made the right choice to stick with him the rest of this season.

Reason No. 18. Andy Levitre: Buffalo's Mr. Versatile has started at guard, offensive tackle and center. Levitre struggled at center, but the Bills put him in a bad spot.

[+] EnlargeJoe McKnight
AP Photo/Jack DempseyJoe McKnight brings excitement -- and the possibility of a turnover -- to the Jets offense.
Reason No. 17. Joe McKnight: Every time he touches the ball, something exciting can happen. But the Jets' young running back needs to work on ball security to earn the trust of the coaching staff.

Reason No. 16. C.J. Spiller: Buffalo is fortunate to have its 2010 first-round pick now that starter Fred Jackson is out for the season. Spiller finally gets his chance after nearly two seasons as a backup.

Reason No. 15. Brandon Fields: Miami's punter is quietly having a Pro Bowl season. But the Dolphins' 3-7 record won't get him much attention.

Reason No. 14. Mike Pouncey: Miami hit on this year's first-round pick. The center has been one of the team's steadiest players in an unsteady season.

Reason No. 13. Nick Mangold: The Jets have the best center in the league. They wish they had two or three more Mangolds on their offensive line.

Reason No. 12. Patriots' defense improving: If New England's weakest link plays like it has the past two weeks, the Patriots will be dangerous in the postseason.

Reason No. 11. Miami is healthy: The Dolphins are fortunate to be so healthy late in the season. It's one of the reasons Miami is playing well in the spoiler role.

Reason No. 10. Kyle Arrington: The Patriots cornerback is this year's version of Devin McCourty. Arrington leads the NFL in interceptions and stays around the football.

Reason No. 9. Bill Belichick: New England has the best coach in the division and one of the best ever. Despite a flawed team, Belichick finds a way to keep the Patriots in Super Bowl contention.

Reason No. 8. MetLife Stadium: The Jets are 4-1 at home this season. That's a good thing, because New York must win its three remaining home games to stay in the hunt.

Reason No. 7: Wes Welker: New England's top receiver is having the best year of his career. He leads the NFL with 1,028 receiving yards.

Reason No. 6: Dolphins defense: Miami's defense finally looks like the dominant unit from a year ago. The Dolphins haven't allowed a touchdown in three games.

Reason No. 5: Patriots tight ends: Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are the best tight-end duo in the NFL. I would put Gronkowski in my top five and Hernandez in or around the top 10.

Reason No. 4: Matt Moore: Despite only playing in seven games, Moore has to be in consideration for Miami's MVP. He's one of the biggest reasons for the Dolphins' late turnaround.

Reason No. 3: Patriots’ easy schedule: New England has to be thankful for the NFL's easiest remaining schedule. As a result, beware of New England if the road to the Super Bowl goes through Gillette Stadium.

Tom Brady
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireIn quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots have the division's great equalizer, able to make up for troubles elsewhere.
Reason No. 2: Darrelle Revis: Health permitting, the cornerback will be an all-time great. New York has the rare luxury to shut down a star receiver or one half of the field every game. You just hope the Jets aren't wasting Revis' prime years by underachieving in other areas.

Reason No. 1: Tom Brady: For more than a decade, Brady has been the biggest equalizer in the AFC East. The Patriots can overcome many deficiencies because Brady is an elite quarterback. Until the Bills, Jets or Dolphins find a quarterback good enough to counter Brady, New England will remain the favorite in the division.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Enjoy the holiday.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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