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Friday, September 9, 2011
Final Word: AFC East

By Matt Williamson

» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:

C.J. Spiller
Running back C.J. Spiller could help Buffalo slow down Kansas City's pass rush.
Handling Hali: Something to watch carefully when Buffalo visits Kansas City is how the Bills handle linebacker Tamba Hali. If left alone, he will torment Bills left tackle Demetrius Bell. If Buffalo designates a tight end next to Bell to assist with Hali or assigns a running back to chip him, that leaves the rest of Buffalo’s protection scheme vulnerable against pass-rushers  Justin Houston, Glenn Dorsey and Wallace Gilberry. Kansas City also has a strong secondary. I have a hard time believing that Buffalo will have much success through the air this week. One guy who could really help their cause if used properly is running back C.J. Spiller.

Inexperienced Cowboys: Dallas visits the Jets on Sunday night. This is a terrible matchup for the Cowboys’ offense. Instead of older, heavy-footed road graders up front, the Cowboys' offensive line has an influx of athletic, but very young, starters. This could pay off in time, because they should be much better equipped to pass-block and get out on the screens and draw plays that favor Felix Jones. But for now, I expect huge growing pains. Ultra-talented Cowboys first-round pick Tyron Smith will not play because of a knee injury. I expect Dallas’ protection schemes to have plenty of breakdowns. That is an awful situation against a defense coached by Rex Ryan. Compounding matters for the Cowboys are the matchups on the perimeter. Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are as good a pair of starting wideouts as you will find. But Austin isn’t 100 percent healthy, and Darrelle Revis will shut down whichever wide receiver he covers. Antonio Cromartie is a very good man-to-man cover man who thrives against bigger wide receivers like Austin and Bryant. However, it should be noted that New York’s third-down defense last season gave up too many big plays.

Test for New England: New England travels to Miami for the early "Monday Night Football" game. Although it struggled this preseason, particularly against the Lions, I still consider New England’s offensive line one of the very best. But they will be tested in a huge way on the road. In the Miami heat, the fatigue factor will favor the home team. Miami has an extremely physical and deep 3-man defensive line. Led by Cameron Wake, the Dolphins’ edge pass-rushers are a real handful for any protection scheme. New England might be without starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, so we might see first-round pick Nate Solder in his first action.

Pressure from Patriots: When Miami has the ball, I expect Bill Belichick to dial up a lot of front-side pressure. Chad Henne is not very mobile, and he can struggle with pressure right in his face. Jake Long returns, after missing the preseason, to man his left tackle spot. I worry about the right side of the Dolphins’ offensive line, particularly starting right tackle Marc Colombo. He should be out-manned by players such as Shaun Ellis and Jermaine Cunningham, let alone the added front-side pressure. Compounding the problem, right guard Vernon Carey has little experience at guard. Anthony Fasano is an excellent blocking tight end and will have to spend much of his time on the right side, but the Miami running backs are either small and lacking physicality (Reggie Bush) or lacking experience (Daniel Thomas) in protection.

Stopping the run: The Bills' defense was awful against the run last season, but I am betting that it improved with the drafting of Marcell Dareus and some other additions. I expect the run defense to be particularly stout up the middle, where Dareus, Kyle Williams and Nick Barnett play. However, the changes might not pay off big against the Chiefs because Jamaal Charles is such a great runner outside the tackles. I also expect Dexter McCluster’s role as a ball carrier to increase.