AFC East Week 17 X factors

December, 31, 2011
12/31/11
8:00
AM ET
It's hard to believe the 2011 regular season is over after this weekend. This will be our final post on X factors for the season.

Here are some under-the-radar players who could make an impact:

New England Patriots (12-3)

Opponent: Bills

X factor: RB Stevan Ridley

Analysis: It's amazing that the Patriots have gone on a seven-game winning streak this time of year without a consistent running game. Patriots quarterback and MVP candidate Tom Brady has been so good that New England continues to win in the winter months through the air, while many outdoor teams are forced to run. But that doesn't mean eventually New England doesn't want one of its many running backs to step up. That player might be rookie Ridley. He showed flashes all season and last week averaged 4.9 yards per carry. If Ridley gets it going, the Patriots' offense will be even more dangerous. Buffalo's defense is very susceptible to the run this season and the Bills could give up a lot of yards to New England on the ground.

Buffalo Bills (6-9)

Opponent: Patriots

X factor: S Jairus Byrd

Analysis: The Bills seem to play at their best when Byrd has a big game. Byrd made his share of mistakes this season, but he's perhaps the team's best defensive playmaker and is coming off one of his better games. Byrd recorded seven tackles and a pick six against the Denver Broncos and quarterback Tim Tebow. Both Buffalo safeties -- Byrd and George Wilson -- will get plenty of opportunities to make plays against Brady, who throws the football a lot. No one expects the Bills to pull off the season-ending upset at Gillette Stadium, but their best chance to do it is probably with big plays from Byrd and the secondary.

New York Jets (8-7)

Opponent: Dolphins

X factor: Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer

Analysis: Schottenheimer needs to finish strong -- not only for the Jets' sake, but for his as well. There are already rumblings in New York that Schottenheimer is going into the offseason on the hot seat. New York has the 27th ranked offense, which is unacceptable for a team some thought was capable of making a Super Bowl run. Instead, the Jets most likely will miss the playoffs and the offense will get the blame. Last week's play-calling was a disaster. Schottenheimer called 59 passes in a loss to the New York Giants. Schottenhiemer needs to do much better against a solid Dolphins defense.

Miami Dolphins (5-10)

Opponent: Jets

X factor: WR Brian Hartline

Analysis: It's always about the No. 2 receiver when facing the Jets. Why? Because there's a good chance Darrelle Revis is going to be all over the opponent's best receiver. Revis versus Brandon Marshall will be a great matchup. Revis will make his share of plays and so will Marshall. But the key to winning for Miami depends on what the other receivers do against New York's corners. Hartline is coming off a solid game last week where he caught four passes for 72 yards. He will see a lot of Jets corner Antonio Cromartie, who has been inconsistent. If Hartline has a big game, there is a good chance Miami can finish the season with a victory.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?

Insider