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Friday, December 26, 2008
Audibles: AFC East Week 17 preview


Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

New England Patriots (10-5) vs. Buffalo Bills (7-8), 1 p.m. ET

The AFC's first playoff domino will fall in Ralph Wilson Stadium. Whatever the Patriots do in Week 17's most important early game will affect the Dolphins-Jets and Jaguars-Ravens games at 4:15 p.m.

New England is playing better than any AFC East club yet still could miss the playoffs -- even if the Patriots record their 11th victory.

Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel is scalding hot. The first-year starter is guiding the NFL's fourth-ranked offense. He has thrown eight touchdowns and one interception in his past three games.

The most significant aspect for the Bills is that the result could impact head coach Dick Jauron's future.

Beyond that, Sunday is one final opportunity to avoid a fourth straight losing season. The Bills have known for a couple of weeks they're not going to the playoffs for the ninth year in a row.

Miami Dolphins (10-5) vs. New York Jets (9-6), 4:15 p.m. ET

At least in this space, let's ignore the drama and the sexy story lines. Instead, here is a breakdown of the matchups for a game that will decide the AFC East.

The best way for the Jets to win is by handing off to Pro Bowlers Thomas Jones and Leon Washington as much as possible. Jets quarterback Brett Favre has thrown one touchdown and six interceptions in his past four games.

In that same span, Miami's 25th-ranked pass defense has allowed only two passing touchdowns. Then again, Marc Bulger, J.P. Losman, Shaun Hill and Tyler Thigpen aren't exactly Favre. Or maybe they are -- this year, anyway.

Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington has thrown nine touchdowns and two interceptions in his past five games. The Jets have the 29th-ranked pass defense, while their hallmark run defense has slipped to No. 7.

In the red zone, Miami ranks seventh on offense and ninth on defense. New York ranks 18th and 13th, respectively.

The Jets hold a substantial edge on special teams. Washington is as dangerous as they come on kick returns. The Dolphins allow an average of 24.7 yards a return and give up the third-worst starting position on kickoffs.

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