AFC East: X factor

AFC East Week 16 X factors

December, 23, 2011
New York Jets (8-6)

Opponent: New York Giants

X factor: WR Santonio Holmes

Analysis: Holmes had his worst game as a Jet in last week's loss against the Philadelphia Eagles. He caught four passes for 40 yards and a touchdown. But it was his fumble that led to a defensive touchdown, a drop that led to an Eagles interception and an excessive celebration penalty that cost New York 15 yards. Those things added up to a frustrating day for Holmes. But he has a chance to make up for it with a big game against the cross-town rival Giants. Holmes is at his best in big games, and I expect him to step up. Holmes said this week that big plays can be had against the Giants.

New England Patriots (11-3)

Opponent: Miami Dolphins

X factor: RB Danny Woodhead

Analysis: The Dolphins haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher since Week 2. But the Patriots need to have some semblance of balance on Saturday, and running back Danny Woodhead might be the answer. Woodhead is part of New England's three-headed rushing attack, and lately he's making the most of his opportunities. Woodhead is averaging 5.4 yards per rush in his past two games. Woodhead also led New England in rushing with 69 yards in the Patriots' 38-24 win over the Dolphins in Week 1. Similar production against Miami would be effective.

Miami Dolphins (5-9)

Opponent: Patriots

X factor: WR Brandon Marshall

Analysis: It's no secret New England's secondary is the weakest link on the team. For the Dolphins to have a chance at the upset, they need a big game from their big players. Marshall is the type of receiver who gives the Patriots trouble. He had seven receptions for 139 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting against New England. Marshall has 70 receptions for 1,021 yards and five touchdowns this season. Those are pretty good numbers. But he can't afford some of the drops and inconsistencies he's had this year in order to beat the Patriots. Marshall has missed practice time this week. Miami needs him to play this weekend and play big.

Buffalo Bills (5-9)

Opponent: Denver Broncos

X factor: NT Marcell Dareus

Analysis: The Denver Broncos and quarterback Tim Tebow are going to run the football. Everyone knows it. Denver is the NFL's top rushing team, averaging a league-high 163.1 yards per game. That means Dareus will get a major test clogging up the middle. Buffalo's first-round pick has been one of the few bright spots defensively. The Bills are having trouble stopping opponents. But Dareus has 38 tackles and leads the team with 5.5 sacks, despite many double-teams. Expect Dareus to have some extra motivation for this game. The Broncos passed on him with the No. 2 overall pick to select linebacker Von Miller.

AFC East Week 15 X factors

December, 17, 2011
Miami Dolphins (4-9)

Opponent: Bills

X factor: CB Vontae Davis

Analysis: Win or lose, the Bills throw the football a lot. Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is a streaky gunslinger. Right now he's on the downside. Fitzpatrick is coming off another poor outing last week with two interceptions against the San Diego Chargers. This will provide plenty of opportunities for Davis to make plays. He's been Miami's best corner in the second half of the season. With injuries at quarterback and the offensive line, Davis and Miami's defense may have to carry the team to win.

Buffalo Bills (5-8)

Opponent: Dolphins

X factor: RB C.J. Spiller

Analysis: Spiller's late-season audition for Buffalo's starting job has seen some ups and downs. He needs to finish strong and prove to Buffalo that he's part of the team's long-term plans. The Bills have gone away from the run the past two weeks in the second half. Last week San Diego gathered a huge lead and made the running game obsolete. Spiller will be tested this week against Miami's stout run defense. The Dolphins are third overall in stopping the run and haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher since Houston Texans running back Ben Tate in Week 2.

New York Jets (8-5)

Opponent: Philadelphia Eagles (5-8)

X factor: LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson

Analysis: The Eagles' pass rush is dangerous. Philadelphia registered a season-high nine sacks last week in a win over the Dolphins. New York's offensive line has been an enigma this season. It started the season slowly but has picked it up lately. As a result, the Jets are averaging 33 points per game during their three-game winning streak. Ferguson has to protect Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez's blind side. He could see a lot of Philadelphia defensive end Jason Babin on Sunday.

New England Patriots (10-3)

Opponent: Denver Broncos (8-5)

X factor: LB Dane Fletcher

Analysis: Someone has to keep an eye on Tim Tebow. That job could come down to Fletcher in the middle for New England. He recorded eight tackles last week in a win over the Washington Redskins. New England’s defense has been terrible this season. It is ranked last in the NFL. But the Patriots have defended the run pretty well. New England is ranked 13th against the run, and that will be tested against Denver and Tebow.

AFC East Week 12 X factors

November, 26, 2011
Week 12 continues with a pair of weekend games involving three AFC East teams.

Here are some potential X factors to watch:

New York Jets (5-5)

Opponent: vs. Bills

X factor: CB Antonio Cromartie

Analysis: It's been a while since Cromartie has made a huge play. New York's No. 2 cornerback hasn't had an interception since Oct. 9. Buffalo will throw the ball a lot. Chances are, the Bills won't do a lot of passing in the direction of Jets top cornerback Darrelle Revis. That means Cromartie should have plenty of opportunities to make an impact. The Jets could use a big play or two from "Cro" in this must-win game.

Buffalo Bills (5-5)

Opponent: at Jets

X factor: C.J. Spiller

Analysis: This one is obvious. Spiller is making his first start of the season at running back in place of the injured Fred Jackson (leg), who is out for the season. We haven't seen enough of Spiller to know how he will fare as the team's workhorse. Spiller has just 398 rushing yards in two seasons. Can he handle 25-plus carries a game? Can Spiller be physical against a talented Jets defense? We are about to find out.

New England Patriots (7-3)

Opponent: at Eagles

X factor: OT Nate Solder

Analysis: I like what the Patriots are doing with Solder, who converted from tight end to offensive tackle in college. New England head coach Bill Belichick added a wrinkle to use Solder as the third tackle to help with the running game and pass protection. Solder has done a good job pummeling outside linebackers and defensive backs on the perimeter. He will be an underrated key against the Philadelphia Eagles' defense.