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Friday, December 5, 2008
Audibles: AFC East Week 14 preview


Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Miami Dolphins (7-5) vs. Buffalo Bills (6-6) in Toronto, 4:05 p.m. ET

While the Bills wallow in their playoff futility and are almost certain to stretch their drought to an eighth straight year, the Dolphins are trying to enter the next phase of their turnaround from laughingstocks to AFC East contenders.

The Dolphins, with games remaining against the Bills and Jets, can win the division if they run the table.

Sunday's game also is critical for the Bills, whose playoff hopes are mathematically alive, though their disgusted fans know how remote that possibility is. Even if the Bills finish 10-6, it probably won't be enough. But without a victory over the Dolphins we'll never find out.

Buffalo's J.P. Losman will make his first start in a year with Trent Edwards unable to practice because of a groin injury.

Perhaps Losman will be a sparkplug, but he mostly has misfired when given an opportunity the past two seasons. His mobility could help Buffalo against Miami outside linebacker Joey Porter, who ranks second with 14.5 sacks.

Miami will play without left guard Justin Smiley, who was having a Pro Bowl-caliber season before suffering a season-ending ankle injury last Sunday. Buffalo's defensive line hasn't been a dynamic force, but Smiley's absence is a profound weakness on a shallow offensive line the Dolphins have struggled all year to bolster.

New York Jets (8-4) at San Francisco 49ers (4-8), 4:05 p.m. ET

New York came crashing down last Sunday from the ozone layer, where they had been flying after back-to-back road victories over the Patriots and Titans.

The Jets could have taken an imposing lead in the AFC East race but were humbled at home by the beatable Broncos. Now the Jets have to fend off the rest of the division with a tricky final four games.

This weekend's trip will encompass 5,146 miles round trip. They'll host the Bills next week then fly another 4,804 miles round trip to play the Seahawks. There won't be any respite when they return to the Meadowlands for the regular-season finale. They'll meet the Dolphins in what could determine the division title.

San Francisco has earned its laughingstock reputation but has been playing well lately. Even so, the Jets' defense, with something to prove after last week's poor performance, should control running back Frank Gore and the tone of the game.

New England Patriots (7-5) at Seattle Seahawks (2-10), 4:05 p.m. ET

If the Patriots can't win this game, they don't deserve to return to the playoffs. They need at least a 3-1 record over their final four games based on where they are in the wild-card pecking order and the ease of the Dolphins' schedule.

Seattle looks like a fine place for the Patriots to rejuvenate themselves. The Patriots haven't lost to an NFC West opponent since early 2005, and the Seahawks have been horrible in head coach Mike Holmgren's swan dive season.

Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel is in his first real bounce-back situation. After establishing what he's capable of as an NFL starter -- consecutive 400-yard games against the Jets and Dolphins -- he had won of his first outings in last Sunday's 33-10 loss to the Steelers.

The Patriots should tee off on both sides of the ball.