- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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The 2012 regular season is in the books. Here are seven notes and observations from Week 17:
The finale was ugly, but fans should not be down on the Miami Dolphins. Miami didn't show up in a 28-0 loss to the New England Patriots. But this is a team that accomplished a lot this year. First and foremost, Miami developed its first-round rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. That was the biggest task for the Dolphins this year. Miami also got seven victories in the process, which is better than most expected. The Dolphins have plenty of cap space and draft picks to improve their roster next year. They just have to make the right decisions.
I felt decent about moving Dolphins rookie Jonathan Martin to left tackle in 2013 before Sunday's game. But now I'm not so sure. Martin and Miami's entire offensive line was manhandled by New England's defense. The Patriots recorded seven sacks of Tannehill, and Martin accounted for at least two of those sacks allowed. Martin, a second-round pick, is smart and sound. But he lacks the strength to play left tackle and often gets pushed around. Miami needs to protect Tannehill, their biggest investment, and Martin looks better on the right side. Miami has a tough decision to make whether to pay a huge contract extension to re-sign starting left tackle Jake Long.
Do you think Wes Welker enjoys beating Miami? Just consider his stats this season against his former team. Welker led the Patriots with eight receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown against Miami. He had 12 receptions for 103 yards in the first meeting at Sun Life Stadium. Welker's 20 receptions this year against Miami alone is impressive. The Dolphins traded Welker to New England in 2007.
The Patriots had an astounding 20 players listed as questionable on the injury report last week. That means plenty of Patriots have nicks and bruises this time of year. New England's No. 2 seed and first-round bye will be very beneficial to get all of those players healthy. Two weeks off this time of year is crucial. The Patriots will host their next opponent at Gillette Stadium on Jan. 13.
The Buffalo Bills (6-10) landed the No. 8 pick in the NFL draft, which is the highest slot in the AFC East. It's also an interesting slot, because Buffalo clearly will be looking for a quarterback but must determine if one is worth that pick. If you recall last year, Miami had the No. 8 pick and drafted Tannehill. The pick was considered a "reach" at the time, because Tannehill was considered a distant third behind quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Tannehill was far from a sure thing, but Miami needed to fill a premium position. Scouts Inc. ranks West Virginia's Geno Smith and Matt Barkley of USC No. 23 and No. 30 overall, respectively. Will the Bills "reach" for a quarterback in the top eight? Or will they wait until the top of the second round?
Embattled quarterback Mark Sanchez says he wants to stay with the New York Jets in 2013. That will probably happen because he is due a guaranteed $8.25 million salary that no other team would be willing to trade and pay for. However, the Jets must take the approach this offseason that it is imperative to find Sanchez's replacement, regardless of whether Sanchez is on the roster. The draft is the most likely scenario. The Jets don't have much cap room available to go after a quick fix like Alex Smith, especially to spend at quarterback after already investing more than $8 million into Sanchez.
Speaking of free agency, the Jets have several tough calls. Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry, leading rusher Shonn Greene and starting tight end Dustin Keller are all pending free agents looking to cash in. The Jets must decide which players are worth spending on and who to replace. Landry has been a pleasant surprise and should be the priority. But coming off a Pro Bowl year, his price tag may now be out of reach for the tight salary cap the Jets have. Keller and Greene are not must-signs, but both have played important roles for the Jets the past several years.