- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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The AFC East division was an impressive 3-1 this past week.
Here are seven notes an observations in the division:
The New England Patriots will be without Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski for several weeks due to a broken forearm, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports. Fortunately for New England, tight end is a position of depth. The Patriots should be fine at the position, especially when the dynamic Aaron Hernandez returns from an ankle injury. Where New England will miss "Gronk" most is in the red zone. Gronkowski had seven touchdowns in his past four games.
Here is why the Patriots remain Super Bowl contenders: They have a league-best plus-20 turnover margin. The Patriots take care of the ball and force plenty of turnovers. Winning the turnover battle is the easiest way to consistently win. The Patriots (7-3) forced four turnovers and didn't commit any Sunday in a 59-24 blowout of the Indianapolis Colts.
I saw a mixed bag in the debut of new Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib. He had a 59-yard interception return for a touchdown but also allowed two touchdown passes. You can see the size and athleticism from Talib, who will only get better in New England's system. But the Patriots put a lot on his plate coming off suspension and just one week of practice. He was clearly winded at times and has some things to work on.
Don’t sleep on the New York Jets (4-6) this week. They will be big underdogs on Thanksgiving night against the Patriots. But anyone who knows the Jets-Patriots rivalry is aware that you must ignore the records when they play. The Jets nearly upset New England at Gillette Stadium earlier this year. New York couldn't finish and lost 29-26 in overtime. The Jets usually have a good gameplan against New England and will play at home on a short week. Gronkowski's injury also makes it tougher on the Patriots. These factors could help even the playing field.
Two Buffalo Bills are making themselves a lot of money. Pending free agents Jairus Byrd and Leodis McKelvin came up big in Buffalo’s 19-14 victory over the Miami Dolphins Thursday night. Byrd had an impressive interception in the fourth quarter and McKelvin had another punt return for a touchdown. Both are pending free agents and their price tags continue to rise. Byrd is a must-sign for Buffalo. McKelvin was a draft bust as a cornerback but is one of the top returners in the NFL. The Bills have an interesting decision to make with their former draft picks.
Buffalo improved to 2-0 when tailback C.J. Spiller gets 15 carries or more. It’s not rocket science that Spiller should get the football more. The issue is can the Bills bench starter and team leader Fred Jackson when he returns from a concussion? I think it’s a no-brainer, but the Bills’ coaching staff has been struggling with this dilemma all season. Spiller is a unique talent who makes things happen. He should get at least 20 carries a game -- either in the starting lineup or off the bench.
I’m surprised how much Miami’s run game has struggled. The play of Miami’s offensive line has tailed off dramatically since the first half of the season. The Dolphins aren’t getting much push up front and Miami’s running backs can't get to the second level. Buffalo showed little respect for Miami’s rush. The Bills barely blitzed and brought four or fewer rushers in 93.5 percent of dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats and Information. That made it tough for Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill to have any success throwing.