- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Let’s take a look a whose stock is rising and falling in the AFC East:
1. Buffalo Bills: From playoff hype to "pretender" status. That is the free-fall the Bills are taking this season. Buffalo fell to 3-4 after an embarrassing home loss to the lowly Tennessee Titans. The defense is horrendous most weeks and underachieving. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick throws too many untimely interceptions. Despite talent, there is no quick fix other than to play better. The Bills play the Houston Texans (6-1) and New England Patriots (4-3) on the road in their next two games. The Bills could be in an insurmountable hole before you know it.
2. Patriots’ pass defense: Did New England play against Mark Sanchez or Hall of Famer Joe Namath? It was hard to tell with the amount of big passing plays the Patriots allowed in a 29-26 overtime win over New York. Sanchez connected on a career-high nine passing plays of 15 yards or more, according to ESPN Stats and Information. The Patriots had way too many holes in their zone defense, and the corners and safeties didn’t play well in man coverages. This has been a problem for multiple seasons and I’m not sure it can be fixed unless New England gets better secondary players.
3. Brandon Lloyd, Patriots receiver: It was not a good game for Lloyd. New England quarterback Tom Brady targeted Lloyd eight times and only connected once for six yards. Lloyd also had two drops. Some games Brady and Lloyd are on the same page and some games they are not. Brady and Lloyd need to get their timing down more consistently.
1. Jeremy Kerley, Jets receiver: There was a time in the spring and summer when Kerley was a disappointment. He was not making the progress expected learning a new offense, and head coach Rex Ryan wasn’t afraid to say it. But Kerley has stepped up since No. 1 receiver Santonio Holmes went down. Kerley recorded a career-high seven receptions for 120 yards in an overtime loss to the Patriots. The Jets need Kerley to continue to produce. He is New York’s most reliable receiver.
2. AFC East kickoff returns: It’s been an interesting year for special teams in the division. Last week, three teams successfully pulled off fake punts. This week, two teams returned kickoffs for touchdowns. Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty returned a 104-yard kickoff for a touchdown, and Brady Smith in Buffalo did the same for 89 yards. Special teams are important in close games, and AFC East teams are doing well in the third phase.
3. Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots kicker: Be honest, Patriots fans. You were extremely nervous when Gostkowski had to nail a 43-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to force overtime. He also nailed a 48-yard field goal in overtime to win the game. It has not been a good season for New England’s kicker. But he does have a good career track record. Perhaps Gostkowski is getting his rhythm back.
4dField Yates and Rich Cimini