NFL Nation: AFC East

Former New England Patriots assistant coach Pepper Johnson agreed to join the Buffalo Bills' coaching staff Friday, a source confirmed to ESPN's Mike Reiss.

It's not immediately known what role Johnson will fill on the Bills' staff, but he is expected to work under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who was hired last week.

The Bills are without both of their linebackers coaches from last season. Outside linebackers coach Jim O'Neil became the defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns, while inside linebackers coach Chuck Driesbach was fired. The Bills have also granted the Browns permission to interview defensive line coach Anthony Weaver.

Johnson, 49, spent the past 14 seasons as an assistant coach for the Patriots, serving as an assistant linebackers coach (2000), inside linebackers coach (2001-2003), defensive line coach (2004-2011), and linebackers coach (2012-2013). He decided to leave the team earlier this month.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in a statement that he was "proud and honored to have spent more years of my career with Pepper Johnson than any other player or coach." Johnson played under Belichick as a linebacker with the New York Giants (1986-92), Cleveland Browns (1993-95) and New York Jets (1997-98).

Schwartz served as a personnel scout for the Browns from 1993-95.

It is believed that Johnson departed the Patriots to seek opportunities for advancement. Schwartz, a veteran coach who was fired after five seasons with the Detroit Lions, could be in line for another head coaching job as soon as the 2015 season. That could potentially open the door for Johnson to become the Bills' defensive coordinator.

W2W4: Five things for Patriots-Broncos

January, 17, 2014
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It was a safe bet that the buildup to this Sunday’s AFC Championship Game was going to include substantial talk about Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, the two quarterbacks involved.

But this week has involved so much more, as the two best teams in the AFC have provided no shortage of storylines this season in distancing themselves from the rest of the conference.

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Talk has ensued about how the previous matchup between the teams will play into Sunday, how the game will impact the legacy of Brady and Manning, and how much of a factor familiarity between the two teams will be.

In the end, however, Sunday will dictate only one thing for sure, and that is which team will represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVIII.

A win would make Brady the first quarterback in NFL history to start six Super Bowls, and would also tie Bill Belichick for the most postseason victories of all-time.

The Denver Broncos enter the game as a favorite according to the point spread, but the New England Patriots are looking to carry their strong play over the past three games into a triumphant effort on Sunday.

Here’s what we’ll be watching for.

1. Patriots' offensive approach: If the Patriots want to stick with what has worked over the past three games, then hammering the Broncos on the ground seems like a strong bet. LeGarrette Blount and the stable of backs have been dominant behind an overwhelming offensive line. The Patriots are a game plan offense, however, always aiming to attack a defense’s weakness, and with recent injuries factored in, the Broncos are a better defense against the run than the pass. Will the Patriots try to pick apart a secondary playing without its best cornerback? Or, perhaps, will the ground game set the tone?

2. Slowing Denver's passing attack: Back in Week 12, the Patriots' defense was able to limit Manning to a mortal effort, holding him to 150 passing yards on 19-of-36 attempts. Some of that might be attributed to the wind, but the secondary also showed it has what it takes to go toe-to-toe with the best offense in football. A key player who was not on the field during that matchup, tight end Julius Thomas, will be available this Sunday, giving the Patriots one more player to account for. He joins the trio of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and, of course, Wes Welker to form a unique set of weapons for Manning.

[+] EnlargeKnowshon Moreno
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesKnowshon Moreno rushed for 1,038 yards this season.
3. Building the run D wall: In the last meeting, Denver rushed for 280 yards, with Knowshon Moreno accounting for 224 of those yards. The Patriots were likely happy with keeping the Broncos' passing offense under wraps in Week 12, but they have repeatedly said this week that they can't afford to let Denver run the ball the same way again. From a personnel standpoint, the insertion of Sealver Siliga as a starter at defensive tackle has appeared to pay off, as the Patriots have held two of their past five opponents under 100 yards rushing.

4. Allen and Dobson’s health and status: They have flown under the radar a bit after Brady missed Wednesday’s practice, but both punter Ryan Allen and wide receive Aaron Dobson have practiced on a limited basis this week. Allen left last Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury, and while that won’t likely impact his punting, it could be a factor in him handling snaps, both as the holder and punter, as we saw what a high snap can do on a given play last week. For Dobson, who hasn’t played since Week 17, a return would give the Patriots their biggest receiver in the lineup and a potential red-zone target. Should the Patriots aim to test a beaten up Denver secondary, Dobson could give them a vertical presence on the perimeter.

5. Altitude, crowd noise, “Omaha!”, etc. It’s hard to gauge just how much the thin air of Denver impacts players’ stamina on the field, but one area where it does often have an impact is in the kicking game. Don’t expect many kickoff returns on Sunday, though it does shorten the field for offenses, who can attempt field goals from greater distances. Denver is a loud venue, and the Patriots' offense will be tested by the crowd noise. As we saw in the Broncos-Chargers game, Manning is a master at drawing opponents offside (he used the cadence “Omaha!” 44 times during the game), and the Patriots must be disciplined in their pre-snap movement. Especially against this offense, giving away free yards (which can potentially extend a drive) is something a defense must avoid.

Pro Bowl selections: New York Jets

December, 27, 2013
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A few takeaways on Friday night's Pro Bowl announcement:

Who's In: No one. No players were selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in the Rex Ryan era.

1. It's a personnel problem, not a coaching problem: This underscores what we've known all season: The Jets don't have enough talent, and yet Ryan could pay the price with his job. This was a resounding message from the rest of the league. What made this is a real kick in the stomach was that Darrelle Revis -- remember him? -- was selected to the Pro Bowl as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

2. Mo wuz robbed: Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (career-high 10.5 sacks) was the Jets' best candidate and deserved to make it. Six defensive ends were selected: Greg Hardy (Carolina Panthers), Cameron Jordan (New Orleans Saints), Robert Quinn (St. Louis Rams), Cameron Wake (Miami Dolphins), J.J. Watt (Houston Texans) and Mario Williams (Buffalo Bills). Wake and Williams? Wake (8.5 sacks) is having an off year; Williams has 13 sacks, but he's an accumulator, not a truly dominant player. Wilkerson probably was hurt by a late-season dip in his sack production. He was named a first alternate, small consolation.

3. Other alternates: Center Nick Mangold was named a first alternate, and cornerback Antonio Cromartie a second alternate. How Cromartie made alternate status is beyond comprehension. If he gets to play in the game, he should have to pay for his own flight. Kicker Nick Folk got no recognition whatsoever, which is too bad. He's having a career season, but his timing stinks because this has been a great year for kickers. Justin Tucker (Baltimore Ravens) and Nick Prater (Denver Broncos) were deservedly named to the two kicking spots.

4. A look at the AFC East: The New England Patriots and Dolphins placed four players apiece in the Pro Bowl. The Bills had three.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.

Pro Bowl selections: Miami Dolphins

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
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The Miami Dolphins are hoping to get into the postseason for the first time since 2008 this weekend. But on Friday Miami, received additional good news by getting four players into the Pro Bowl.

Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes, defensive end Cameron Wake, punter Brandon Fields and center Mike Pouncey were all selected to the 2013 Pro Bowl, as voted by fans, players and coaches.

"It is a well-deserved honor," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. "I know they will be outstanding representatives of their teammates and the rest of the Dolphins organization in Hawaii."

This will be the first Pro Bowl for Fields and Pouncey. It is the second for Grimes and the third nod for Wake.

Fields and Pouncey have been considered Pro Bowl snubs in the past. But perhaps the Dolphins' success this year got them over the hump. Wake, who has 8.5 sacks, didn't have his strongest year. He was hampered by a knee injury earlier in the season, but name recognition and a fast finish helped in the selection process. Grimes has been a stud in his first year with Miami and has four interceptions. Grimes missed nearly all of 2012 following Achilles surgery.

"This selection means a lot especially coming off last year," Grimes said. "To come back and make the Pro Bowl is a big deal."

Miami (8-6) can clinch a wild-card spot with a win Sunday over the New York Jets and a loss by the Baltimore Ravens or a win by the San Diego Chargers.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.

Marrone maintains stance on EJ Manuel

December, 20, 2013
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Having suffered three knee injuries this season, it's fair to question whether Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel has become injury-prone.

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Bills coach Doug Marrone acknowledged that to WGR 550 in Buffalo on Friday but maintained his stance that Manuel's injuries are more of a matter of bad luck than durability.

"It's very difficult when your quarterback has had three injuries within a year to go out there and defend him," Marrone said. "But the way I look at it is, I don't believe so."

Manuel sprained his left knee in Sunday's win over the Jaguars, the second time that he's experienced swelling in that knee since the preseason. He also sprained his right knee on a tackle in a Week 5 loss to the Browns.

"When you look at the injuries and how they've occurred, it's really been ... outside of the Cleveland one, and Cleveland, I think it's very easy for us to see, he took a shot right on it. But the other two, when you talk about Minnesota in the preseason and this last one, you're looking and you can see it, and you're like 'Wow,' the position of him and the position of somebody else, and it's not a surgical-type procedure that you need to correct. So what we'll do in the offseason is we'll strengthen those things, do different things to get him ready, and I don't forsee it being a problem," Marrone said.

Marrone said earlier this week that he would not consider "shutting down" Manuel for the remainder of the season and reiterated his reasoning for that Friday.

"No absolutely not, and the reason why I say that and before I said and I do believe this, as many reps as you can get is important. Game experience is one of the most important things that you need and I believe in putting him in there," he said. "The same thing when somebody asked 'Do you ever think of taking him out if he's not playing well?' No, we're putting him in there and we're going to see exactly what we have as we go through an evaluation as we do with everyone."

Double Coverage: Dolphins at Bills

December, 20, 2013
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Thad Lewis and Mike WallaceUSA TODAY SportsThad Lewis and the Bills will look to thwart the playoff hopes of Mike Wallace's Dolphins.


It was Dec. 22, 1990, when the Buffalo Bills defeated the Miami Dolphins in a cold rain at Ralph Wilson Stadium (or Rich Stadium, as it was called then) to lock up their third consecutive AFC East title.

On Dec. 22, 2013, the Bills (5-9) will again host the Dolphins (8-6) in a cold rain, but this time around it's Miami that has playoff aspirations. With a win Sunday, the Dolphins will simply need to win next week to secure a postseason berth.

That game 23 years ago -- which capped off a perfect home record for Buffalo -- was seen by a crowd of 80,325. That won't be the case Sunday. The Bills could have as many as 16,000 empty seats for their home finale, which has been blacked out on local television.

ESPN.com Bills reporter Mike Rodak and Dolphins reporter James Walker discuss the matchup:

Mike Rodak: James, the Dolphins are one of the hottest teams in the NFL, having won their last three games. What has gone right for them lately, and how important is Sunday's game in their quest to make the playoffs?

James Walker: This game is vital for Miami. Truthfully, the playoffs started for the Dolphins on Dec. 1. They were a 5-6 team still alive for the postseason, but few viewed them as a serious threat. Three consecutive wins later, Miami controls its own destiny and just needs to beat Buffalo and the New York Jets in back-to-back weeks. It's certainly doable if the Dolphins maintain focus -- and that has been the biggest key.

The stink, to some degree, has worn off from the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito bullying scandal. Miami has been able to focus mostly on football since NFL investigator Ted Wells left its training facility a few weeks ago. I credit quarterback Ryan Tannehill's play down the stretch as a key reason. He saved his best football for the end of the season, with passer ratings of 94.2, 95.5 and 120.6 during the three-game winning streak.

However, Tannehill struggled in the first game against the Bills. He had three turnovers off two interceptions and one lost fumble. How does Buffalo plan to defend Tannehill and Miami's offense a second time around?

Rodak: They will bring a whole lot of pressure. We saw the effect that the Bills' pass rush had in October, when Mario Williams' strip-sack of Tannehill set the table for Dan Carpenter's game-winning field goal. The Dolphins' offensive line came into that game shaky, and it doesn't appear that has changed. Miami has allowed 51 sacks, the most in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Bills have 49 sacks, the most in the NFL.

It's been more than just Williams. Three other Bills -- defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus and defensive end Jerry Hughes -- have set career highs for sacks. Hughes, in particular, has come on strong in the second half of the season. The pressure on Tannehill will be coming from all angles Sunday.

James, the last time these teams met, Cameron Wake was working his way back from an injury and Dion Jordan was off to a slower start than expected. Have they picked it up since? Are the Dolphins happy with what they're getting from their pass rush?

Walker: The pass rush has been solid over the past month. The Dolphins have gotten contributions from various players, including Wake, Olivier Vernon and Jordan. Miami got only one sack last week against the Patriots. But Tom Brady gets rid of the ball quickly and the quarterback pressures were satisfactory, according to Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle.

A lot of people have asked about Jordan. It's clear he will just have a reduced role this year, and that won't change. Jordan makes an impact in his limited reps, but he will need to wait until next season, or for an injury, to get a bigger role.

Mike, it looks like backup quarterback Thad Lewis has a shot to ruin the Dolphins' season. The Miami native beat the Dolphins in Week 7. What can we expect from Lewis this week?

Rodak: I think he could again pose a challenge for Miami. While EJ Manuel's QBR (42.3) is significantly better than Lewis' (19.1), Lewis has completed a higher percentage of his passes and has a better passer rating. When Lewis played for three games in October, we saw a quarterback with a strong arm who wasn't afraid to take deep shots. Those could be harder to convert if it's raining Sunday, but the Dolphins' banged-up secondary needs to be aware of that. On the other hand, Lewis has shown to be prone to fumbles. He fumbled six times in three games. He'll also need to get better protection than he did in his first stint as the starter, when he was sacked 13 times.

James, weather could be a factor Sunday. Cold rain is expected, or even a wintry mix, with temperatures in the mid-30s. If this slows down Tannehill and the Dolphins' passing game, can their running game carry the load?

Walker: Miami's running game has been strangely inconsistent. The Dolphins are ranked 24th in rushing. But I usually don't get the sense Miami can't run the ball. I just think the Dolphins aren't dedicated to the run. There are games such as Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and, to some degree, New England in which the Dolphins proved they can run effectively and efficiently. But in many weeks, Miami gets discouraged too easily and loses balance on offense.

Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas are not dynamic tailbacks. But Miami has enough receiving threats where it just needs a running back to pick up five yards when his number is called. Miami's offense can be physical when needed, and this will be one of those games if inclement weather plays a factor.

Finally, Mike, what is considered a successful season for Buffalo? There are still two games left. Has this year's team met your expectations?

Rodak: Bills CEO Russ Brandon was on the radio this week and called it a disappointing season since the Bills didn't make the playoffs. I would agree. I think that, even as a rebuilding team, the bar needs to be set high. Recent history has shown that it's hardly impossible to turn it around quickly; the Colts went from 2-14 to 11-5 after drafting Andrew Luck, for example.

The Bills have impressive speed on offense and talent on defense. It just didn't come together for them this season. That's not to say I was expecting the Bills to make the playoffs -- I predicted a 6-10 record in the preseason -- but I'm not sure that I see progress from the time the season started until now.

Rob Ninkovich a step ahead of the Sox

October, 31, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- "Getting Beard" is all the rage in Boston these days, as the Red Sox culminated their magical 2013 season with a World Series win catalyzed by tremendous starting pitching, an unstoppable David Ortiz, and beards that rival those seen on "Duck Dynasty."

Ninkovich
New England Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich has a full face of hair himself, though he reminded the media on Thursday that his patented "Ninko-beard" predates the Red Sox run.

"I mean, I've been doing this for a couple years now, guys, so this isn't the Boston Red Sox beard right here, this is the Ninko-beard," he joked.

"I've been doing this for like three years," Ninkovich continued before light-heartedly adding. "We'll see how many of those guys shave them off, because they're not -- I'm sure [Red Sox center fielder Jacoby] Ellsbury's taking his off."

Ninkovich was one of a handful of Patriots to take in Game 1 of the World Series at Fenway Park, and there's a mutual admiration between both the organizations and the players on each team.

"Congrats to those guys, it's a great -- when you're a little kid, you're thinking about playing in the Super Bowl, the World Series, and when you get to that point and you win it, it's got to be pretty special," he said. "I'm still trying to get to my win in the Super Bowl."

Rapid Reaction: Patriots 13, Jets 10

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – My thoughts on the New England Patriots' 13-10 victory over the New York Jets on Thursday night:

What it means: In one of the uglier football games we’ve seen the Patriots play in recent memory, they get the victory. But are the Patriots still one of the AFC’s elite teams? It’s hard to answer that with an authoritative “yes” after the past two weeks. While they played without receiver Danny Amendola on Thursday night and will benefit from the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski (possibly as soon as Week 3), there are plenty of questions surrounding the offense right now.

Brady’s struggles: Quarterback Tom Brady’s frustration boiled over at times. It’s rare to see a game in which Brady hovers below the 50 percent completion mark, but he just couldn’t get on the same page with anyone outside of receiver Julian Edelman (New England's best offensive player). Brady previously talked about the need for more patience this year. His patience was put to the test in this game.

Stock watch: Falling -- rookie receivers. It was a tough night for Aaron Dobson (second-round pick) and Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted), as the Patriots’ passing game was stuck in neutral. Dobson caught a 39-yard touchdown pass on his first career play, but otherwise struggled with drops on a night when the conditions got wetter and sloppier as the game progressed. While everyone expected some growing pains for the Patriots’ passing game with young receivers, I’m not sure we expected them at this level.

Defense delivers: The Patriots created four turnovers on defense (two interceptions by Aqib Talib, one pick by Alfonzo Dennard and a fumble return by Devin McCourty created by Talib), as it was a night in which the D had to keep the team in the game because of the anemic offensive performance (some credit goes to the Jets’ defense for owning third down). This is the second week in a row that the Patriots’ defense stood tall late in the game. While the unit deserves credit, it’s also notable that the Jets (1-1), with rookie Geno Smith at quarterback, are one of the NFL’s offensively challenged teams.

What’s next: The Patriots (2-0) host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, Sept. 22 (1 p.m. ET). Having played Thursday night, they’ll have extra time to prepare. The Buccaneers host the New Orleans Saints this Sunday.

Live blog: Jets at Patriots

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
7:00
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Join our ESPN.com NFL experts for the divisional showdown between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots.

Follow along with our live updates from 7 p.m. ET and then join us for our in-game chat at 8:15 p.m. ET. See you there.


 
Click here for a look at the Buffalo Bills' latest roster moves.

Most significant move: The Buffalo Bills were expected to start fourth-year cornerback Crezdon Butler in Week 1 in place of an injured Stephon Gilmore. However, Butler played 54 defensive snaps in the preseason finale Thursday night, a sign that his roster status was in doubt. Slotting Butler as the starter was more out of necessity than anything else; with Leodis McKelvin and Justin Rogers hampered by injuries this preseason, the Bills found themselves extremely thin at the position. Butler did not help his cause by struggling against the Detroit Lions in Thursday's loss. Expect the Bills to turn to Rogers as their opening-day starter alongside McKelvin.

Quarterback shuffle continues: Besides Butler, the most notable player to be released was quarterback Matt Leinart. The Bills signed Leinart and traded for Thad Lewis last Sunday, one day after Kevin Kolb suffered a serious concussion. As it turned out, the preseason finale was a competition between Leinart and Lewis for the Bills' third quarterback job. Leinart threw two interceptions in the first five possessions of the game, ending his night. Lewis fared better in the turnover category, but still only completed 44 percent of his passes, going 7-for-16 in the game.

What's next: The Bills released 18 players and placed another three -- Kolb, wide receiver Brad Smith, and running back Drew Smith -- on injured reserve. With 76 players on their roster entering Friday, the Bills are now down to 55. Safety Jairus Byrd's roster exemption has expired, meaning that they will, at a minimum, need to two more moves by Saturday's 6 p.m. ET deadline. Linebacker Bryan Scott could be one of those cuts; Byrd had a tweet earlier Friday that suggested Scott had been released.

Bills cuts: QB Matt Leinart, RB Zach Brown, RB Kendall Gaskins, WR Brandon Kaufman, TE Dorin Dickerson, TE Nick Provo, T Zebrie Sanders, G Antoine Caldwell, G Zack Chibane, C David Snow, DL Jarron Gilbert, OLB Kourtnei Brown, OLB Keith Pough, ILB Brian Smith, CB Crezdon Butler, CB T.J. Heath, CB Kip Edwards, S Jordan Dangerfield.

Observation deck: Dolphins-Saints

August, 29, 2013
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MIAMI -- Rapid reaction from the Miami Dolphins' 24-21 victory over the New Orleans Saints at Sun Life Stadium in Thursday's preseason finale:

What it means: This game didn’t mean anything for key players. That is why Miami head coach Joe Philbin decided to sit quarterback Ryan Tannehill and a majority of Miami’s starters. It was mostly about preventing injuries, and the Dolphins accomplished that goal. Miami will enter the regular season mostly in good health.

Devlin showcase: Third-string quarterback Pat Devlin entered on the roster bubble, and got the start against New Orleans in what was essentially a showcase game. Devlin showed some good and some bad. He finished 22-of-38 passing for 259 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Dolphins will debate ahead of Saturday's deadline whether to keep Devlin on the 53-man roster.

Bubble performers: It was a good day for several Dolphins on the bubble. Two who particularly helped their standing were defensive lineman Vaughn Martin and safety Kelcie McCray. Martin recorded four tackles and was credited with a half-sack, while McCray had four tackles and stayed around the football. Receiver Marvin McNutt also had four receptions for 99 yards -- which included a 56-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter -- to most likely solidify a roster spot.

Tight-end development: Miami is still in search of a player to replace injured tight end Dustin Keller, who is out for the year with a knee injury. Rookie Dion Sims took a step in the right direction with four receptions for 36 yards and a touchdown. Charles Clay, who rested Thursday, is the most experienced backup tight end and the leader in the clubhouse. But Sims might be the most complete option with his blocking and catching. The rookie may also have the highest ceiling. Sims just needs to work on his consistency.

Cuts are coming: Miami must trim its roster to 53 players by Saturday evening. The Dolphins have 25 players to cut, and there will be several tough decisions to make the end of the roster.

What’s next: Now the real fun begins. The Dolphins will prepare over the next 10 days for their regular-season opener on Sept. 8 at the Cleveland Browns. It was a long preseason for the Dolphins. They were one of two teams to have five exhibition games. Miami hopes the extra work paid off.

Observation deck: Jets-Eagles

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Jets' quarterback competition took a night off, as neither Mark Sanchez nor Geno Smith played Thursday night in the final preseason game. Matt Simms got the call and led the Jets to a 27-20 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium.

What it means: The Jets finished the preseason at 3-1. Big deal. No one will remember their record in 24 hours. The focus shifts immediately to opening day and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There are a myriad questions for the Jets, starting with the quarterback position: Smith or Sanchez? Sanchez (shoulder) remains day-to-day and should know more about his status when he meets with the medical staff over the weekend.

No Geno: That the Jets didn't play Smith suggests they believe there's a good chance he will be the opening-day starter. The rookie could've used the work -- his preseason consisted of 3½ quarters -- but it would've been too risky to expose him to potential injury. Coach Rex Ryan bubble-wrapped almost his entire starting lineup. The only projected starters/key reserves that saw action were Vladimir Ducasse (started at right guard), cornerback Kyle Wilson and safety Antonio Allen. Why play Wilson, a virtual starter? It was very curious and, no doubt, will fuel speculation about his future. Were the Jets showcasing him for a trade? Wilson has been a first-round disappointment, but he has value because of his versatility.

Tough dude, Simms: Battling for the No. 3 QB job, Simms was absolutely terrific. Undaunted by a seven-sack first half, Son of Phil completed 33 of 44 passes for 285 yards and no turnovers, although there were a couple of near-interceptions. He went 25-for-27 in one stretch, shades of his dad in Super Bowl XXI. He showed toughness, poise and accuracy. How can he not make the team? Greg McElroy (knee), who didn't play, should be worried about his roster spot. Newly signed Graham Harrell didn't play, but could factor into the equation.

Porous pass protection: The Jets had better hope their starting offensive linemen stay healthy, because the backups are shaky -- and that's being kind. They could be in the market for a backup swing tackle because veteran Jason Smith, who re-signed last week, played quite possibly one of the worst games ever by a lineman. Facing the Eagles' backups, Smith -- the No. 2 overall pick in 2009 -- allowed at least three sacks. He was pulled at halftime, the best thing to happen to Simms all night.

Defensive stand: The Jets' No. 2 defense dominated Chip Kelly's No. 2 offense. LB Ricky Sapp, LB Danny Lansanah, DE Leger Douzable, LB Nick Bellore and S Jaiquawn Jarrett were among the standouts.

Kicking competition: It was a draw between incumbent Nick Folk and challenger Dan Carpenter. Folk was good from 28 yards, Carpenter from 43. Each recorded a touchback on his only kickoff.

What's ahead: Now comes the bloody part of the business. Teams must pare their rosters to 53 by 6 p.m. ET Saturday, meaning the Jets have to slice 22 players over the next 48 hours.
Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Doug Legursky was carted off late in the third quarter of Thursday's preseason finale with an apparent leg injury.

Legursky was hit in the side of his left calf by a falling Lions defender at the end of a run. He immediately grabbed for his left knee and was later carted off the field.

The Bills signed Legursky, 27, in June to compete for their open left-guard spot. Veteran Colin Brown looks to have that starting job locked up, but Legursky, who can also play center, was primed for the top interior backup spot.

Legursky has played in 50 career games (making 17 starts) over his first four NFL seasons, all with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He is the Bills' second-most-experienced offensive lineman, after right tackle Erik Pears.

In his place, the Bills could turn to Antoine Caldwell (fifth season) or David Snow (second season) as their top interior reserve.

What to Watch: Saints-Dolphins

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
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MIAMI – The Miami Dolphins will play their fifth and final preseason game Thursday against the visiting New Orleans Saints.

Here are three things to watch for the Dolphins:

1. Players on the bubble: Miami must make 25 roster cuts by Saturday evening to get down to the 53-man limit. Several key players to watch are defensive tackle A.J. Francis, third-string quarterback Pat Devlin and receivers Marvin McNutt and Chad Bumphis. Look for the bottom portion of the roster to get plenty of playing time. Shameless plug alert: I will do my roster projection Friday after the final preseason game.

2. Progression of tight ends: It was not a strong outing for Miami’s tight ends following the season-ending knee injury to starting tight end Dustin Keller. The Dolphins got just three catches and 34 yards from the position. New starter Charles Clay had just one reception for five yards -- though he was targeted six times by starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. This will be an important game for Miami’s tight ends to get reps in preparation for the regular season, even if Tannehill isn’t on the field. Let's see what more Clay, Michael Egnew, Kyle Miller and Dion Sims can do.

3. No injuries: To be blunt, there isn’t much for teams to gain in this final preseason game. The most important thing for the Dolphins is to exit without significant injuries. The real games start in about 10 days, when the Dolphins travel to face the Cleveland Browns. Miami head coach Joe Philbin has been coy about playing time for his starters. Some may play briefly, while others might not play at all. This is a game for backups and fringe players.

Live chats: All your #NFLNation questions

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
2:15
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NFL NationESPN IllustrationAre you ready? Chat with experts from all 32 teams starting at 1 p.m. ET.


Join 32 of our ESPN.com NFL experts as they answer any and all your questions on your favorite team's upcoming season.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. You can also ask questions of any of our 32 reporters via Twitter, by using the #NFLNation hashtag.

Here's where to find them:

NFC EAST
Dallas Cowboys chat, with Todd Archer.
New York Giants chat, with Dan Graziano.
Philadelphia Eagles chat, with Phil Sheridan.
Washington Redskins chat, with John Keim.

NFC WEST
Arizona Cardinals chat, with Steve Palazzolo.
St. Louis Rams chat, with Nick Wagoner.
San Francisco 49ers chat, with Mike Sando.
Seattle Seahawks chat, with Terry Blount.

NFC NORTH
Chicago Bears chat, with Michael Wright.
Detroit Lions chat, with Kevin Seifert.
Green Bay Packers chat, with Rob Demovsky.
Minnesota Vikings chat, with Ben Goessling.

NFC SOUTH
Atlanta Falcons chat, with Ashley Fox.
Carolina Panthers chat, with David Newton.
New Orleans Saints chat, with David Fleming.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers chat, with Pat Yasinskas.

AFC EAST
Buffalo Bills chat, with Mike Rodak.
Miami Dolphins chat, with James Walker.
New England Patriots chat, with Mike Reiss.
New York Jets chat, with Rich Cimini.

AFC WEST
Denver Broncos chat, with Jeff Legwold.
Kansas City Chiefs chat, with Adam Teicher.
Oakland Raiders chat, with Bill Williamson.
San Diego Chargers chat, with Nathan Jahnke.

AFC NORTH
Baltimore Ravens chat, with Jamison Hensley.
Cincinnati Bengals chat, with Jeffri Chadiha.
Cleveland Browns chat, with Matt Williamson.
Pittsburgh Steelers chat, with Scott Brown.

AFC SOUTH
Houston Texans chat, with Tania Ganguli.
Indianapolis Colts chat, with Mike Wells.
Jacksonville Jaguars chat, with Mike DiRocco.
Tennessee Titans chat, with Paul Kuharsky.

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