Friday, December 31, 2010
Final Word: AFC East
By Tim Graham
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 17:
Jets fans are hoping Shonn Greene can replicate last season's year-end surge.
The Jets must build some ground-and-pound momentum. Since the start of November, the Jets' vaunted ground attack has been erratic. They've put together some impressive performances in terms of total yardage, but from Weeks 9 through 15, they averaged better than 4 yards an attempt twice and scored four rushing touchdowns. LaDainian Tomlinson's hot start is a distant memory, but this time last year was when Shonn Greene took over for Thomas Jones and helped the Jets reach the AFC Championship Game. Greene averaged 5.8 yards a carry and scored a touchdown last week against the Bears. He needs to remain a force for the Jets to have a shot at a long playoff run.
Tony Sparano's job probably isn't on the line Sunday, but a Dolphins victory wouldn't hurt. NFL Network insider Michael Lombardi reported a few days ago that Bill Parcells already had talked Dolphins owner Stephen Ross into retaining Sparano for 2011. But on Thursday, Sparano said he hadn't yet spoken to Ross about his future, although a meeting had been scheduled. I doubt the result of a Week 17 game with no postseason implications will factor into Ross' decision. I suspect Ross has all but made up his mind already. Still, if the Dolphins can knock off the NFL's best team, then they not only will end the season on a high note but also will avoid finishing with a losing record.
Buffalo on Sunday can slide anywhere from No. 2 to No. 9 in the draft order. Bills fans have been analyzing their draft needs for the past four months. The Panthers have the top pick already locked up. The Bills are 4-11 and tied with the Bengals and Broncos for the second-worst record. But thanks to strong seasons from the Patriots and Jets, the Bills will lose any draft-order tiebreaker because they have a more difficult strength of schedule. The Bills can finish second in the order if they lose to the Jets and the Bengals and Broncos both win. The Bills can't finish worse than ninth because the No. 10 team will own a better record.
Patriots starters will play, but Wes Welker's injury won't be far from anybody's thoughts. Brace yourselves, Patriots fans. Even with the AFC's top seed clinched, it looks like the Patriots are going to use their best players in Sunday's meaningless game versus the Dolphins. Patriots coach Bill Belichick might very well remove them later in the game, but Welker tore up his left knee in the first quarter of last year's irrelevant finale. If the Patriots can escape Sunday without any significant injuries, it would be a relief.
The Jets could use a fast start Sunday against the Bills. The Jets have struggled all year in the first quarter. There's a good chance several of their top players will see limited action Sunday, so a sharp performance while they're on the field could help them generate some confidence for the playoffs. The Jets have scored only 33 first-quarter points. In the Jets' past seven games, they have been outscored 47-13 in the first quarter.