- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Let's take a look at whose stock is rising and falling in the AFC East.
1. New England Patriots' tight-end depth: The Patriots lost dynamic Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski for the season after he broke his arm for a second time Sunday against the Houston Texans. The Patriots must adjust to life without Gronkowski, especially in the red zone. Gronkowski had 11 touchdown receptions in just 11 games this season. No other Patriot had more than six touchdown receptions. New England still has dynamic tight end Aaron Hernandez, but will have to rely on the inexperienced Michael Hoomanawanui to fill that second tight end role. Hoomanawanui is more of a blocking tight end who has just five catches receptions this season.
2. New York Jets' GM search: Does anyone want to run the Jets next season? It doesn't seem that way after New York's prolonged general manager search is approaching three weeks. Jay Glazer of FoxSports.com recently reported the Jets "can't give the position away" and are coming back to candidates who turned the team down earlier and asking them to reconsider. That is harsh. But it's understandable why New York's general manager position is not a desirable job. First, the team is well over the cap with old and overpaid players. Second, the Jets need to fix their extremely broken quarterback situation. Finally, the new general manager must work with Rex Ryan and cannot hire their own head coach. Add it up and you have a mess that apparently no top candidate wants to clean up.
3. Patriots kickoff coverage: New England had some rare mistakes last week in kick coverage. Houston had 230 kickoff return yards in the divisional round, which included a 94-yard return to start the game. The hidden yards and winning in the third phase made the final margin betwen the Patriots and Texans closer than it really was. New England head coach Bill Belichick defended his special teams this week and doesn't believe it will be an issue in the AFC title game against the Baltimore Ravens.
1. Tom Brady, Patriots quarterback: Brady became the all-time winningest quarterback in NFL playoff history with a win over the Texans. Brady threw for 344 yards, three touchdowns and improved to 17-6 in the postseason. Brady has a chance to advance to his sixth Super Bowl with a win next week against the Baltimore Ravens. With other elite quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers knocked out of the divisional round, New England has a significant advantage at quarterback among the final four teams.
2. Shane Vereen, Patriots tailback: I knew Vereen was a threat catching out of the backfield. But I didn’t know Vereen was this dangerous. New England's second-year running back made some great catches in Sunday's playoff win over the Texans. Vereen finished with 83 receiving yards, 41 rushing yards and three total touchdowns. Vereen and fellow running back Stevan Ridley are coming of age together for New England in the postseason. That makes the Patriots even more dangerous.
3. Buffalo Bills defense: The Bills made some quality hires on defense to land former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and former Jets defensive line coach Anthony Weaver. Both did a solid job in New York and will bring that experience to Buffalo. The Bills drastically underachieved on defense under Dave Wannstedt. Buffalo was 22nd in total defense and 31st against the run, despite having a defensive line that included Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. Pettine is known to get the most out of his players. Expect the Bills' hybrid 3-4 and 4-3 defense to improve in 2013.