AFC East: Midseason 09 AFC East

Video: Midseason AFC East Report Card

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
2:20
PM ET
video

ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton gives you his midseason grades for each team in the AFC East.

Midseason Report: Dolphins

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
12:00
PM ET
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Power Rankings: Preseason: 16. This week: 17.

2009 Schedule/Results
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown continues to anchor the Wildcat offense.
Where they stand: The Dolphins are 3-5, tied with the Buffalo Bills at the bottom of the AFC East. The Dolphins are better than that, but there are no columns in the standings for bad breaks, bounces and calls. The reigning AFC East champs began the season with three straight defeats and then lost last year's MVP runner-up Chad Pennington for the year with another shoulder injury. As bleak as that start was, they have pulled together and remain competitive on a weekly basis and have a chance to make a run with a soft second-half schedule.

Disappointments: Aside from Pennington's absence, Miami's inability to acquire help at receiver has been detrimental. Ted Ginn Jr. has proven time and again he's not capable of being a No. 1 receiver. He's one of the NFL's fastest players, but he can't catch and wilts to avoid contact. The rest of Miami's receiving corps is comprised of reliable pass-catchers with marginal big-play abilities. On defense, inside linebacker Channing Crowder has been all talk, little action. He can tackle, but players at his position need to make plays. Crowder has no sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles or recoveries. Free safety Gibril Wilson, one of their big free-agent signings, has been an abysmal tackler.

Surprises: Ricky Williams is keeping up with the much younger Ronnie Brown. Williams has 644 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns. Brown has 648 yards and seven touchdowns. But Williams has 46 fewer combined carries and receptions (can't say touches when you're talking about a Wildcat guy). Rookie receiver Brian Hartline was the second receiver the Dolphins drafted in April, but the third-rounder from Ohio State has supplanted fellow Buckeye Ginn in the starting lineup. Although Hartline has only 11 receptions, he owns the Dolphins' longest reception so far and is averaging a team-high 15.9 yards a catch.

Outlook: The Dolphins can make some noise down the homestretch. Remaining opponents are 29-35 for a .453 win percentage. Their next three games are against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers and Bills. The Dolphins could have a winning record heading into December. But Dolfans likely will look back on 2009 as valuable experience for core players such as quarterback Chad Henne, defensive lineman Randy Starks and cornerbacks Sean Smith and Vontae Davis. Henne, the quarterback of the future, was pressed into service a few months earlier than the front office wanted. But the experience Henne gains this year and what the Dolphins learn from watching him will put them that much farther ahead.

Midseason Report: Bills

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
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Power Rankings: Preseason: 21. This week: 24.

2009 Schedule/Results
Kevin Hoffman/US Presswire
Terrell Owens has just 23 receptions in eight games this season.
Where they stand: The Bills are 3-5 and tied for last place in the AFC East with the Miami Dolphins -- but not in the same class. The Bills would need to darn near run the table and then hope for help along the way to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade, and that's not happening. Their offense is anemic, with a line that was weak from the start and has been decimated by injuries. They have the worst run defense in the NFL, and esteemed special-teams coach Bobby April's units are playing well below what we're used to seeing.

Disappointments: When kick returner Leodis McKelvin fumbled away a near-certain victory over the New England Patriots on opening night, it was a harbinger of the season. Bills fans were borderline euphoric over the possibilities of an offense with receivers Terrell Owens and Lee Evans and a potent backfield with Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson. Third-year quarterback Trent Edwards could have been looking at a breakout campaign with those weapons and a new no-huddle offense. The Bills woefully underestimated their talent on the line. The first string failed to score a touchdown in five preseason games. The Bills fired offensive coordinator Turk Schonert 10 days before the season opener, have Owens on pace for his worst season since he was a rookie and scrapped the no-huddle.

Surprises: The biggest surprise is that head coach Dick Jauron still has a job, but the spirit of this category is to recognize pleasant developments. There haven't been many, but rookie safety Jairus Byrd has been awesome. The second-round draft choice from Oregon has seven interceptions, tying him with defensive player of the year candidate Darren Sharper for the league high. Buffalo's secondary as a whole has played well, especially considering three-fourths of the original starting quartet has been sidelined. McKelvin is out for the season and safeties Donte Whitner and Bryan Scott have missed several games.

Outlook: After 10 years of not making the playoffs, the organization should have completed the rebuilding phase from its last postseason game, which ended with the Music City Miracle. Many teams have rebuilt, imploded and rebuilt again in that span. But the Bills likely are facing an offseason of further transition. In addition to Jauron's job being in jeopardy, the Bills still don't have a reliable quarterback -- a veteran or a viable understudy -- on the roster. With word they're considering Michael Vick, one has to wonder if the Bills have any organizational plan whatsoever or if they're content to wing it year after year.

Midseason Report: Jets

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
12:00
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Power Rankings: Preseason: 23. This week: 18.

2009 Schedule/Results
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
Coach Rex Ryan’s decision to bring in linebacker Bart Scott has paid off for the Jets.
Where they stand: The loud-talking, hard-charging Jets are 4-4 and two games behind the New England Patriots in the AFC East standings. The Jets are the AFC's only second-place team without a winning record, which doesn't bode well for their wild-card hopes. Fans were talking about an all-New York Super Bowl after the Jets compellingly opened the season 3-0 with victories over the Houston Texans, Patriots and Tennessee Titans. Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez played like a veteran. Rookie head coach Rex Ryan's defense was ferocious. But they've since dropped four of five games, with their lone victory against the woeful Oakland Raiders. The Jets own a losing divisional record.

Disappointments: Season-ending injuries to star nose tackle Kris Jenkins and running back Leon Washington will loom in the second half. But what will haunt the Jets come playoff time are their two games against the Miami Dolphins and their sudden death loss to the Buffalo Bills. The Jets were embarrassed by the Wildcat offense in Land Shark Stadium, but traded blows in a fourth quarter that featured five lead changes until Ronnie Brown tacked on one more Wildcat touchdown in the closing moments. In the rematch at the Meadowlands, the Jets dominated the Dolphins offensively and defensively, but two Ted Ginn kickoff returns for touchdowns and a Jason Taylor fumble return for another score sent Fireman Ed nauseous into the bye week.

Surprises: It was remarkable how quickly Ryan's defense came together. He overhauled Eric Mangini's crew, added key personnel such as linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard and came out of the chute with a readymade cohesive unit -- almost like he walked into Modell's and grabbed it off the shelf. On offense, Sanchez has played admirably. The Jets wouldn't have traded up in the draft to select him fifth overall if they weren't confident he would be a franchise quarterback, but the rookie has performed better than a lot of veteran starters out there. Sanchez has endured a couple rough outings, against the New Orleans Saints and Bills especially, but has been an effective game manager more often than not with considerable help from running back Thomas Jones, who has 704 rushing yards.

Outlook: The Jets still have a shot to make the playoffs, but they'll need to catch some breaks. They have a tough road ahead of them. Their remaining opponents are a combined 36-28 for a .563 win percentage. They have some winnable games against the Bills, who already beat them, Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But they finish against the Atlanta Falcons, Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals. At the very least, 2009 will be a foundation season for Ryan to build from.

Midseason Report: Patriots

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
12:00
PM ET
Power Rankings: Preseason: 2. This week: 6.

2009 Schedule/Results
Elsa/Getty Images
Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather has stepped up for a young defense.
Where they stand: The Patriots are atop the AFC East at 6-2 and have separated themselves from the division's other three teams. They have eight difficult games ahead, including dome trips this month to meet the undefeated Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints. The Patriots have won three straight and notched an important victory Sunday over the Miami Dolphins, who were previously unbeaten in the division. With the rest of the AFC East so muddled, if the Patriots finish their remaining schedule a game above .500, then they should lock up the division title. In fact, 4-4 the rest of the way might get it done.

Disappointments: Thankfully for Patriots fans, most frustrations from the first half of the season have been addressed in some way. The Patriots still haven't discovered a reliable No. 3 receiver, but they did part ways with Joey Galloway, whose inability to develop any semblance of chemistry with Tom Brady was exasperating. Brady seems to be getting increasingly comfortable with his reconstructed left knee. Two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Adalius Thomas, benched for a game, has responded with some strong play recently. The biggest issue lately has been red zone offense. The Patriots have been moving the ball with relative ease, but settling for too many field goals.

Surprises: People knew safety Brandon Meriweather was going to be good, but he has emerged as a force at a time when the Patriots' transitioning defense needed its youth to blossom. Free agent safety Brandon McGowan, considered a role player and special-teamer when the Patriots signed him, has been an eye-opener when it comes to run support and shutting down tight ends. On offense, two rookies have emerged. Julian Edelman, a quarterback at Kent State, was drafted in the seventh round but quickly endeared himself as a receiver. Tackle Sebastian Vollmer, a second-round pick out of Houston, has filled in remarkably well for injured left tackle Matt Light and kept reigning AFC sacks leader Joey Porter from recording a tackle Sunday.

Outlook: As long as Brady and head coach Bill Belichick are running the show, New England will be a Super Bowl contender. The Patriots are running the ball more than they did in 2007, but they remain a passing team. Brady makes it look so easy with Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Belichick masterfully reshaped the defense after losing four mainstays. Inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi and safety Rodney Harrison retired to the microphone farm. Outside linebacker Mike Vrabel and defensive end Richard Seymour were traded. But the defense stayed formidable. We'll learn if they can withstand the firepower of elite offenses when they face Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.

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