AFC East: Ralph Wilson Stadium

When the NFL released its 2013 schedule in April, one of the first things that caught my eye was the Week 1, AFC East matchup between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills.

My initial reaction was this was a very tough draw for Buffalo.

“I thought it was cruel of the NFL to give Buffalo rookie head coach Doug Marrone his first assignment against the New England Patriots in his first game,” I wrote upon the schedule release. “Marrone was hired from Syracuse and now has to match coaching strategies against Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. It is a chance for Marrone to make a huge statement in his NFL debut. But there is also the likelihood that the Marrone era could get off to a losing start in Week 1.”

However, things can change quickly in the NFL. And after recent events involving the Patriots the past several weeks, I’m starting to change my tune.

The Bills could actually be catching the Patriots at the right time on Sept. 8 at Ralph Wilson Stadium. New England will be at its weakest point in Week 1, which leads to the possibility of an upset.

New England will be without at least one of its top tight ends. The Patriots released Aaron Hernandez after he was charged with murder and five additional gun charges. Rob Gronkowski recently had back and arm surgery and is questionable for Week 1. The Patriots also have a host of new receivers that will take time getting on the same page with quarterback Tom Brady.

The Patriots remain preseason favorites to win the AFC East. Buffalo will meet New England in Week 1 and Week 17 this season. Considering all the current distractions, the Patriots will be much easier for Buffalo to beat on Sept. 8 than on Dec. 29.

Morning take: Can Tim Tebow be fixed?

December, 22, 2012
Here are the most interesting stories Saturday in the AFC East:
  • Quarterback gurus tell USA Today that New York Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow can be fixed.
Morning take: Unless you fix the mechanics, Tebow will be inaccurate and erratic as a thrower. Teams must take advantage of his other skills, such as his ability to run the ball.
  • New England Patriots Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski will not play Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, reports.
Morning take: The Patriots do not need "Gronk" against the lowly Jaguars, and it's best to rest him until he's 100 percent. New England may want to consider resting him until the postseason.
  • Buffalo Bills CEO Russ Brandon tells reporters the team isn’t going anywhere after a 10-year lease extension with Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Morning take: That's good news, but the seven-year out clause is concerning. The Bills could be seeking a new stadium around that time, and that could be another battle between the county, state and the team.
Morning take: That is a big position in Joe Philbin’s offense and the aging Anthony Fasano will be a free agent. As we mentioned last week, Jermichael Finley of the Green Bay Packers could be available, and he’s very familiar with Philbin’s offense.

Bills agree to 10-year lease

December, 21, 2012
The Buffalo Bills finally resolved their stadium issue. On Friday the Buffalo News reported the Bills agreed a new 10-year lease at Ralph Wilson.

This keeps the Bills in western New York. However, there is an out in the lease that should be concerning for Bills fans. The team can leave Buffalo after seven years for a relatively small penalty of $29 million. For perspective, that's about half of what the team paid quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick ($59 million) in 2011. The penalty for the Bills leaving before 2020 is a significant $400 million.

That pretty much amounts to a "band-aid" contract for the next seven years. Ralph Wilson Stadium reportedly will get $130 million in revovations, with $35 million being paid by the team and $95 million being paid by county and state tax payers. Both sides compromised from the previous estimate of $200 million or more, mainly due to the difficult economic conditions in western New York.

The good news with this lease is Bills fans do not have to worry about their team relocating for the next seven years. But the Bills' long-term future seems murky beyond 2020.

Can the Bills cool off Chad Henne?

November, 28, 2012
The Buffalo Bills (4-7) will see a familiar face at quarterback Sunday when Chad Henne leads the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9) into Ralph Wilson Stadium. This is a game involving two struggling teams, but the Henne element adds a little spice to the matchup.

Henne was once considered the quarterback of the future for the AFC East-rival Miami Dolphins. The 2008 second-round pick spent four seasons in Miami -– three as a starter -- and had some success against the Bills.

Henne is 2-2 in four career starts against the Bills, which includes a win in Buffalo in 2010. He’s thrown for 748 combined yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions.

The Jaguars are one of the worst teams in the NFL but have found new life with Henne under center. He replaced former starter Blaine Gabbert two weeks ago against Houston and nearly led Jacksonville to an upset. Henne then won his first start of the season last week against the Tennessee Titians.

Henne comes to Buffalo with the hot hand. In two games, he’s thrown for 615 yards, six touchdowns and just two interceptions. Henne also has a 99.6 passer rating.

The Bills are under a lot of pressure and need to win this game. Stopping Henne, an old rival, will be key.
The Buffalo Bills slashed ticket prices for their annual regular season game in Toronto, the team announced. Buffalo will "host" the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 16 at the Rogers Center.

Tickets have been reduced by at least 51 percent across the board. There are obvious reasons the Bills want more butts in the seats in Toronto. But I think the underlying reason Buffalo is attacking this game so aggressively is it could be huge for the team's potential playoff push.

The Bills are being picked by many to make the postseason in 2012. December is a crucial month, and Buffalo is giving away a home date at Ralph Wilson Stadium to play in Toronto.

I went to Buffalo's game in Toronto last year against the Washington Redskins, and the turnout wasn't overwhelming. The Rogers Center definitely was not full, and I can recall some grumblings that week from Bills players, who know the value of playing at home.

Fortunately for Buffalo, the Bills have just one true road game in December and another traveling game in Toronto. If the Bills can move more tickets to make Toronto feel closer to Ralph Wilson Stadium in December, it could turn out to be meaningful.

Catching up on the AFC East

July, 9, 2012
Several things happened in the AFC East last week while I was on vacation. Here are some of the stories we missed.

No. 1: Various Chad Ochocinco chatter

Miami Dolphins receiver Chad Ochocinco kept busy last week. He got married, legally changed his name back to Johnson and says he wants to play football until he's 40. We want to give a hearty AFC East blog congrats to Ochocinco getting hitched. As far as his goal to play until 40, his biggest goal should be having a big year for the Dolphins. They need someone to step up this season at receiver.

No. 2: Tannehill no longer in Miami QB race

Dolphins rookie Ryan Tannehill reportedly is all but out of Miami's quarterback race heading into training camp. This is no surprise. The Dolphins didn’t want Tannehill to play right away to begin with. That is why they signed veteran David Garrard to battle Matt Moore. I don’t expect to see Tannehill on the field as a starter until late 2012 or 2013. For now, Garrard or Moore needs to lead the team. Garrard has looked better in minicamp. But what happens in training camp is what really matters.

No. 3: Tim Tebow takes up MMA training

Tebow continues his offseason routine by training at the Gracie Academy in Torrance, CA. MMA is one of the fastest growing sports in the world and more NFL players are trying it out. Tebow is entering camp in top physical condition. This can only help his standing.

No. 4: Bills hope to get updated stadium lease soon

One of the underlying stories about the Buffalo Bills this year is the looming stadium lease that is set to expire next year. New York officials and the Bills have been hard at work trying to work out an amicable agreement to renovate Ralph Wilson Stadium. I agree this is the easiest, cost effective thing to do, as oppose to building a new stadium. The plan is to have things hammered out by the end of the month.

Morning take: Rob Gronkowski update

January, 25, 2012
Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday morning in the AFC East: Morning take: Don't expect much injury info from the Patriots over the next week. But Gronkowski returned to the AFC title game and later said in the locker room that he’s going to play in the Super Bowl. But he won’t be 100 percent, so this is something to keep an eye on.
Morning take: This is not a ringing endorsement of Matt Moore, who might have saved Ireland’s job by help Miami finish the season strong. But Ireland is right. Moore is a great backup and an average starter. The Dolphins need a great starter to compete annually in the AFC.
Morning take: This brings up more questions about the dog-and-pony show the Jets put on, saying “Schotty” would be back if he didn’t get a head-coaching gig. I don’t understand it. But there’s been a lot of zaniness with the Jets lately.
Morning take: Cuomo has a lot on his plate, but the future of the Bills should be a topic of discussion. His latest plan fell far short of what Buffalo needed to renovate Ralph Wilson Stadium. But New York and the Bills still have one more year to figure things out.
Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday morning in the AFC East: Morning take: With time running out, this is most likely Miami's final list. Which coach of this group would Dolphins fans prefer?
Morning take: It’s an interesting thought, consider Deion Branch is on his last legs and Chad Ochocinco isn’t a good fit. But I still think New England would be better off drafting defenders with its two first-round picks.
Morning take: This is part of the plan to keep the Bills in western New York. The stadium lease runs out in 2013, so Buffalo is on the clock.
Morning take: There are plenty of skeptics based on what we saw from Miami’s offense under Sparano the past few years. The biggest question is whether Sparano will be able to develop quarterback Mark Sanchez in his fourth season.

Final Word: AFC East

December, 30, 2011
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 17:

[+] EnlargeBrady
Brad Mills/US PresswireWhere's the love? Tom Brady is also on pace to break Dan Marino's single-season passing record.
Brady for 5,000: With all the fanfare last week surrounding Drew Brees' surpassing Dan Marino's single-season passing record, there has been very little hype for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's also eclipsing 5,000 yards this week. Brady needs just 103 passing yards Sunday against the Buffalo Bills to reach the milestone. Brady is on pace to surpass Marino's old mark (5,084) but probably won't have enough to catch Brees (5,087), who could play the entire Week 17 game against the Carolina Panthers.

Wrong side of history: The Patriots could enter the record books for the wrong reasons Sunday. According to ESPN Stats & Information, New England needs to allow just 122 passing yards to set an NFL record for most passing yards allowed in a season. New England's 32nd-ranked defense allows 293.8 yards per game, making the record a near certainty. Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick throws the ball a lot and could give New England that record before halftime. This is an area the Patriots must address.

Bills on the road: The Bills ended a season-high seven-game losing streak last week. But they still have another ugly streak hanging over them. Buffalo is just 1-6 on the road this year and has lost six straight games away from Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills' first and only road win of the season came in Week 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs. Since then, Buffalo has been outscored 194-93 on the road.

Marshall vs. Revis II: One of the matchups I'm most looking forward to this weekend is Miami Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall against New York Jets corner Darrelle Revis. These two have had great battles in the past, including earlier this season when Marshall had six receptions for 109 yards but Revis had a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown. Marshall is arguably Revis' toughest matchup in the AFC East. Both players made the Pro Bowl this season.

Fond farewell: The Miami Dolphins will say goodbye Sunday to one of the franchise's greatest players. Defensive end Jason Taylor will retire after 15 NFL seasons. He played 13 seasons with Miami. Taylor, 37, is second on the Dolphins with seven sacks this season. That has been his best skill throughout his career. Taylor is sixth on the NFL career list with 139.5 sacks. Miami would love to send Taylor out with a victory against a division rival.

J.P. Losman ready for return to Buffalo

December, 15, 2011
DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins quarterback J.P. Losman has a chance to come full circle this week.

Losman was the first-round pick of the Buffalo Bills in 2004. He was a bust and was eventually benched and let go by the team.

[+] EnlargeJ.P. Losman
AP Photo/David DupreJ.P. Losman will return on Sunday to face the Bills, the team he played for from 2004-08.
After bouncing back-and-forth from the UFL and three NFL teams, Losman could get his first NFL start in three years with the Miami Dolphins. Losman’s opponent? Buffalo.

Not only that, Losman could play the Bills Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, where he often drove Buffalo fans crazy with interceptions and poor decisions. Now, Losman has a chance to drive Bills fans crazy again by beating the home team.

"Here is the opportunity where it might be the case, who knows, and it would be great to," Losman said. "It’s my first start since I left there in the NFL. To be against them is pretty ironic but that just seems like what it might be."

Things were disastrous in Buffalo. But Losman had a great sense of humor about it this week. He said he hopes Bills fans bring out their old Losman jerseys in support on Sunday. That's probably not going to happen.

Losman spent the early part of the season in school and throwing the football four times a week in his free time with his uncle at Santa Monica (Ca.) Community College. The Dolphins finally called after various quarterback injuries.

No one was willing to give Losman a starting job once he left Buffalo -- until now. Losman said the past three years have been "odd." But the former first-round pick is not going to put too much pressure on himself if he starts against his former team.

"[I have] nothing to prove," Losman said. "I'm old enough now not to get caught up into that. I think younger in my career I tried to prove too much, and that's just like any quarterback. I never left in the offseason. They said take time off, but I never took time off. I wanted to be there and I wanted to work, and that was probably too much."

The Dolphins, despite their 4-9 record, have been playing much better than Buffalo (5-8) in recent weeks. Miami is 4-2 in its last six games. The Bills have lost six straight and don’t appear to have much left in the tank.

The Miami-Buffalo game could determine which team finishes last in the AFC East this season. If the Bills lose to Losman Sunday, it would only add to Buffalo's embarrassing finish.
Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday morning in the AFC East:
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he wants to keep the Bills in Buffalo.
Morning take: Renovating Ralph Wilson Stadium is going to be costly, and that's a key element. That will cost the state about $100 million. But it beats building an entirely new stadium.
  • Should the Miami Dolphins consider Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to be their next head coach?
Morning take: That would certainly be interesting. Schottenheimer may be on the list to interview. But he's not a splashy enough name to be Miami's next head coach. Some Jets fans probably wouldn't mind.
  • Sunday will see a good rookie battle between New England Patriots offensive tackle Nate Solder against Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller.
Morning take: Both Solder and Miller have been two of the best first-year players at their position. Disrupting Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will be key in this game.
  • The New York Jets signed safety Gerald Alexander to the 53-man roster.
Morning take: Alexander replaces the roster spot starting safety Jim Leonhard (knee) left open. Brodney Pool is the big name in this equation. He has to step up in the starting lineup for the rest of the season.

Jets' defense has its swagger back

November, 6, 2011
Ryan FitzpatrickKevin Hoffman/US PresswireAn aggressive Jets defense limited Ryan Fitzpatrick to just 191 yards passing on Sunday.
ORCHARD, PARK, N.Y. -- In a rare occurrence this season, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan stepped to the podium Sunday with very little to complain about with his defense.

"We gave up an 80-yard drive at the end of the game there when we were up a bunch of scores," Ryan scoffed. "So that was disappointing."

Ryan pointed out the only blemish in an otherwise stellar day for New York's talented but, at times, underachieving defense. The Jets' strongest unit turned back the clock -- circa 2009 and 2010 -- to cruise to a 27-11 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

More than 70,000 Bills fans came to Ralph Wilson Stadium expecting a "whiteout." They nearly witnessed a shutout, as New York battered and confused Buffalo's offense for four quarters. The Bills turned over the football three times and gained only 287 total yards.

New York's defense officially has its swagger back. That could only mean trouble for the rest of the NFL.

Jets defensive tackle Sione Pouha even has a nickname for the defense regaining its identity.

"It's totally attitude -- it's 'Jetstitude' the way we look at it," Pouha said. "It's playing like a Jet, aggressiveness, going out there in attack mode. I think today kind of displayed just what Jet football is all about."

Although they don't always put it together, the Jets have the NFL's most talented collection of defensive players.

The cornerback tandem of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie is tops in the league. The linebackers, led by David Harris, Bart Scott and Calvin Pace, are physical playmakers. The safeties and defensive line play good, complementary roles when the Jets are at their best. All of those things came together in a big game.

"When everybody is rolling, this team is very hard to beat," Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson said.

It marked the first time Buffalo was held to fewer than 20 points this season. Afterward, the Bills sounded perplexed about how the game went downhill so quickly.

"If it was one thing, we could have solved that," Bills coach Chan Gailey said. "You can always solve one thing in a game. They would bring pressure, they would play coverage. ... They would give us something we hadn’t seen or they would bring an extra guy. It was a combination. They kept us off balance and that’s what we can’t allow to happen."

The Jets' defense took apart Buffalo's offense systematically. It started with punishing Bills tailback Fred Jackson.

Jackson has bullied defenders all season. But New York matched and exceeded Jackson's physicality. The Jets even knocked Jackson (82 rushing yards) out of the game temporarily in the second half with big hit that caused a fumble and shoulder stinger. Buffalo's offense never recovered from that blow.

With Jackson not his usually dominant self, the Bills couldn't get anything going offensively.

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had his worst game of the season. He threw for 191 yards, two interceptions and a late touchdown in garbage time. Most of the game the receivers were blanketed, and Fitzpatrick dangerously threw into tight coverage.

"For us, we were on our heels trying to figure out what they were doing and trying to figure out what was going on," Bills receiver David Nelson said. "It wasn't because of play calling or anything like that. We only had the ball twice in the first quarter and going three-and-out. We couldn’t get in rhythm."

It didn’t take long for several Jets players to turn toward the New England Patriots. The reigning AFC East champions are up next for the Jets with first place in the division on the line. The Patriots -- currently in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC East with the Jets and Buffalo -- beat New York 30-21 in the first meeting at Gillette Stadium.

Pardon me, but the Jets "can't wait" for next week's rematch at home.

“If you can’t get fired up and ready to play for this game, you shouldn't be playing," Jets tailback LaDainian Tomlinson said. "That's plain and simple."

Last month, New York was a team close to imploding during its three-game losing streak. This month, the Jets have their sights set on first place in the AFC East after a three-game winning streak.

It's a stunning turnaround for the Jets, who have found the winning formula with an aggressive defense and a ground-and-pound style on offense.

New York showed on Sunday it has as good a shot as anyone in the second half of the season.

"We know what we're capable of doing. We know we're not a team that's going to fold in the tank," Wilkerson said of the midseason turnaround. "We lost three in a row, but it's a long season. We kept preparing like we’ve always been doing, knowing that we'd get things turned around."

Going to see Bills vs. Jets

November, 5, 2011
The AFC East blog left the country and cleared customs last week to watch the Buffalo Bills beat the Washington Redskins in Toronto, Canada. We don't have to do that much this weekend in our trek to Buffalo to cover the Bills (5-2) and New York Jets (4-3) at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

This is one of the biggest games to date in the AFC East with playoff implications for both teams. We had a lot of trash-talking between Bills and Jets fans this week.

The AFC East blog is running a "Remember Last Week" post either way. So get your final jabs in now.

The Buffalo Bills dare to dream

October, 9, 2011
Fred JacksonKevin Hoffman/US PresswireFred Jackson had a productive day against the Eagles with 111 yards and a score.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" blasted throughout Ralph Wilson Stadium in the final minutes of the Bills' 31-24 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. The song was a fitting tribute to Buffalo's surprising start to the 2011 season.

The no-name Bills are 4-1 and first in the AFC East. The uber-talented and high-powered "Dream Team" Eagles are 1-4 and have a slim chance to make the postseason.

Who would have thought?

"We were a home [under]dog today at 3-1 against a 1-3 team," Bills center Eric Wood said. "You don't put a lot of stock into it. But you know it, you talk about it, and it ticks you off. But keep picking us to lose. We like it. It helps keep the chip on our shoulder. We don't need to be the media darling that we were two weeks ago before we lost."

Memo to NFL media and fans: It's time to take these Bills seriously.

Stop punishing Buffalo for past mistakes. Forget about last year's 0-8 start and 4-12 season. This season's Bills are young, scrappy, fearless and fun to watch. Most importantly, this season's Bills have staying power and are a legitimate threat for the playoffs in the AFC.

Buffalo still has a long way to go to become elite. For starters, it must improve a porous defense that has allowed 450-plus yards in each of the past four games. But you can lump the Bills in with the "very good" of the NFL. And in this topsy-turvy league, that's a position a lot of teams wish they were in after five games -- including the desperate Eagles.

"We got talent, too," Bills safety George Wilson (11 tackles, one interception) said defiantly. "We don't back down from any challenge."

Buffalo didn’t go Frank Gore on the Eagles. But the Bills’ offensive players were not shy to admit that they believed they would have their way with Philadelphia’s struggling defense. The Eagles were ranked No. 30 against the run entering Week 5.

The Bills were correct. Buffalo running back Fred Jackson shredded Philadelphia’s soft front seven for 111 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. The Eagles were blown off the ball and their tackling was horrendous. According to ESPN’s Stats and Information, 59 of Jackson’s 111 yards came after contact. Buffalo ran the ball 35 times and passed 27 times, the second time Buffalo’s offense has run more than it has passed this season.

“We knew that with the running game we’d be able to move the ball,” said Jackson, who also had 85 receiving yards. “We felt like we were bigger and more physical at the line. So we felt like we’d be able to move them off the ball.”

Buffalo’s early success on offense put a lot of pressure on the Eagles, and Philadelphia cracked by making poor decisions. The Eagles tried (and failed) at an onside kick to start the second half. Vick forced the ball into tight spots and threw a career-worst four interceptions. The mistakes added up and, by the start of the fourth quarter, Buffalo held a 31-14 lead.

Philadelphia went into full desperation mode and tried to orchestrate a comeback. But Buffalo, which blew a 14-point second-half lead in Week 4 against the Bengals, learned from last week’s mistakes and held on. After that loss, Buffalo heard all week about how it was a fluke team and couldn’t bounce back against the talented Eagles.

“If we had Tom Brady or a big-name guy, we wouldn’t be so easy to write off,” Wood said. “But we got some talented players and we got a great quarterback to go behind now. We like our chances.”

How far can these no-name Bills go this season? If they play like they did Sunday, Buffalo will make the playoffs.

"This is a different season, a different era and a different team," Nelson said. "We know how to win games and we're continuing to come out and surprising people. But we're not surprising ourselves."