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Audibles: AFC East Week 13 preview

11/28/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Miami Dolphins (6-5) at St. Louis Rams (2-9), 1 p.m. ET

The Dolphins need to chalk up a victory to keep pace with the rest of the tightly bound AFC East.

They impressively rattled off four straight victories before losing at home last Sunday to the Patriots. That one defeat has the Dolphins tied for last place in the division with the Bills and two games out of first place with only five to play.

After going 1-15 last year, the Dolphins could lose all of their remaining games and still consider 2008 a significant improvement, but they've played so well that not making the playoffs will be a major disappointment in the organization.

A loss to the Rams would be a colossal blow not only to the Dolphins' playoff hopes, but also to their psyches.

The Rams are that bad. They rank among the worst five NFL teams in every major statistical category except for passing defense, where they're 21st.

Miami should be able to do whatever it wants offensively, although the team lost top receiver Greg Camarillo to a season-ending knee injury. Undrafted rookie Davone Bess and veteran Ernest Wilford should have greater opportunities to get involved.

Miami could feast on St. Louis' careless offense. Miami is tied for third with a plus-8 turnover ratio. St. Louis is tied for 28th with a minus-7 ratio, thanks to 14 interceptions and eight fumbles.

San Francisco 49ers (3-8) at Buffalo Bills (6-5), 1 p.m. ET

Teams that travel three hours eastward have failed to win a game this year, but the 49ers have been a dangerous opponent in recent weeks, and the Bills can't consider themselves back on track after a single victory -- regardless of how decisive -- in five games.

The Bills are coming off a 54-31 romp over the Kansas City Chiefs. The 54 part looks spectacular. The 31 part should make Bills fans wince.

Cornerback Jabari Greer will miss his second straight game with a knee injury. Strong safety and captain Donte Whitner is doubtful. Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Schobel isn't returning from his foot injury either. Linebacker Keith Ellison is questionable, further depleting a position that has needed safety Bryan Scott to convert.

All eyes will be on Bills quarterback Trent Edwards to see if he can build off last week's sharp performance. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more.

Fans hope that's a sign Edwards has his game back together after four straight games in which he looked utterly lost.

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3) at New England Patriots (7-4), 4:15 p.m. ET

How legit is Matt Cassel? We'll have a better idea when we see how he performs against the Steelers' unforgiving defense.

Cassel has thrown for at least 400 yards his past two games versus the Jets and Dolphins. Those aren't pushovers, but the Steelers rank No. 1 across the board in total defense, run defense and pass defense.

How Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels choose to attack will be fascinating to see, but don't expect fireworks. The Steelers allow only 2.9 yards per rushing attempt and 168.8 passing yards a game. Opponents are scoring under 15 points against them.

It's uncertain how the Patriots will use their backfield because there's no recent information to draw from. Cassel has been throwing like he's in the Arena Football League. The Patriots might be so inclined again, but who will take handoffs if they decide to run?

Sammy Morris has been playing, but has carried only 13 times the past two weeks. Rookie BenJarvus Green-Ellis has only nine carries, although he did score a garbage-time touchdown against the Dolphins.

Another back to consider, LaMont Jordan, has been practicing this week and could play for the first time since Week 5.

The Patriots match up favorably on defense. The Steelers have been wobbly. They rank 26th in total offense, 24th in run offense and 18th in pass offense. The Steelers also are 28th in sacks per pass play.

Denver Broncos (6-5) at New York Jets (8-3), 4:15 p.m. ET

Sure, it's a showdown between two division leaders. But the teams aren't remotely similar in how they're perceived heading into Week 13.

The Jets are being debated as the team to beat in the AFC and a Super Bowl contender. Brett Favre is generating MVP talk, but running back Thomas Jones might be having an even b
etter season.

They have won six of their past seven games and five in a row, including back-to-back victories over the Patriots and the previously undefeated Titans. The Jets haven't lost a game in regulation time since Sept. 22.

The Broncos, meanwhile, are coming off a demoralizing loss at home to the deplorable Raiders.

Yes, the Raiders also beat the Jets, but that game was played in Oakland and went into sudden death. The Broncos were trounced by 21 points at home. The Broncos also lost to the Chiefs and despite a winning record have been outscored on the season.

Sunday likely will come down to Denver quarterback Jay Cutler against the New York secondary. The Jets' impenetrable run defense ranks first in the NFL and stonewalled Titans duo Chris Johnson and LenDale White.

But the Jets can be had through the air when teams don't throw near cornerback Darrelle Revis. Cutler ranks third in yardage, but only 16th in passer rating because he has thrown a dozen interceptions.