Friday, December 10, 2010
Final Word: AFC East
By Tim Graham
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:
Chad Henne gets another chance to prove he's Miami's QB of the future.
Mark Sanchez and Chad Henne will try to pull out of their tailspins against each other. One of the more popular topics on the AFC East blog over the past 10 months or so is whether Sanchez or Henne has the brighter future. Readers have been zealous in their stances. But it's safe to say we expected to know a heck of a lot more about these quarterbacks by Week 14. Yet here we are with as many questions as ever about a pair of second-year starters as they prepare to square off Sunday at New Meadowlands Stadium. Both are coming off three-interception defeats and trying to regain a semblance of homestretch momentum. Sanchez is in a more appealing situation. His team is 9-3 and can clinch a playoff berth with a victory against the Dolphins (and a couple other things happening). Henne's team is on the verge of elimination from the postseason race and he has been benched already this year. We might know more about these erratic lads by Sunday evening, but there's also a chance -- with the way they've been playing lately -- the winning team comes through despite its quarterback.
Don't be surprised if the Patriots deliver a letdown game. ESPN analyst Herm Edwards is known as an excitable guy. He was just as passionate a head coach as he was a player. Nobody ever could accuse him of not giving his all. But even Edwards recognizes a team can't maintain fevered emotion without an occasional dip, which is what he expects from the Patriots this week. The Patriots have been playing with an acute intensity. In the fourth quarter of Monday night's blowout victory against the Jets, running back Fred Tayor entered the game for mop-up duty, and Tom Brady screamed: "C'mon, Freddy, take it to the [expletive] house!" But that energy is bound to wane, and this week's game against the Bears at Soldier Field offers a confluence of banana peels. The Patriots are coming off a short week after beating a division rival. They're on the road against an NFC team that plays on an atrocious field. And, as ESPN.com columnist Ross Tucker wrote this week, the rookie wall is looming large for a lot of important contributors. If the Patriots can leave Chicago with a victory, then it will be an admirably gritty effort.
The weather at Ralph Wilson Stadium should be fitting for the Browns and Bills. A nasty storm is headed for the Great Lakes on Sunday. Arctic air. ... Snow turning to rain turning to ice turning to misery. ... Wind gusts. ... Should be a hoot. But this Bills-Browns series has been nothing but ugly lately anyway. Last year's 6-3 Browns victory ranks as the worst game I've witnessed. Browns quarterback Derek Anderson completed two of 17 passes -- and won. In 2008, the Bills committed four turnovers and lost on a field goal with 1:39 left. Three years ago, the Browns won 8-0 in a Cleveland blizzard. Sunday should be Chan Gailey's first game with Buffalo in its infamous wintery conditions. "I don't know that I'd say I look forward to it, but I know it's going to happen," Gailey said. "You've got to choose to make it a home-field advantage. You can gripe and complain, or you can get excited about the opportunity."
Jason Taylor has something to prove down the stretch. Taylor goes into Sunday's game against his former team as the Jets' leader with four sacks. But he hasn't recorded any in his past three games and has just two in his past nine games. Jets coach Rex Ryan accepted blame for their failure to deploy Taylor more often against the Patriots on Monday night. That admission, plus going up against his old mates, could mean an inspired performance. ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini reported Taylor's 2011 salary is dependent on his sack output. If he doesn't register seven sacks, then his $750,000 guarantee for next year is voided. If Taylor can hit double-digits, then his guaranteed salary will rise to $1.25 million. If he gets to 12 sacks, then Taylor's salary will jump to $2 million. So Taylor better get cracking. One of his sacks this year was against the Dolphins in Week 3. On a semi-related note, Dolphins outside linebacker Cameron Wake leads the NFL with 12 sacks.
The best rivalry debate can't be settled by one weekend. I woke up Tuesday morning to see James Walker declaring "Checkmate" for our debate last week -- which rivalry was better, the Ravens-Steelers or the Jets-Patriots -- because of what happened in their Week 13 games. What our Lionel Hutz of the AFC North obviously doesn't understand, apparently in addition to the premise of last week's debate, is what happens inside one weekend doesn't make a rivalry. In fact, it can be argued Monday night's 45-3 verdict adds another layer to the Jets-Patriots series because the team that won so handily in the rematch lost by two touchdowns just two months earlier. In 2006, the Ravens beat the Steelers by a combined score of 58-7. In their first meeting the next year, the Steelers won by 29 points. Did those blowouts end that rivalry or enhance it? These division foes will continue to play twice a year and perhaps in the playoffs. Since he declared "Checkmate," maybe somebody should inform Walker his king's exposed.