Saturday, December 3, 2011
AFC East Week 13 X factors
By James Walker
New England Patriots (8-3)
Opponent: Indianapolis Colts (0-11)
X factor: LB Rob Ninkovich
Analysis: The Patriots do not really need an X factor against the winless Colts. But a player who is quietly playing well in recent weeks is Ninkovich. He's a heady player who stays around the football, which has resulted in some big plays for New England's defense. Ninkovich has two sacks, two interceptions and a defensive touchdown the past three games. Keep an eye on Ninkovich this week and down the stretch.
New York Jets (6-5)
Opponent: at Washington Redskins (4-7)
X factor: RB LaDainian Tomlinson
Analysis: Tomlinson is back, and he returns at a good time. The Jets are in must-win mode and need their running game. Starting tailback Shonn Greene is banged up and Joe McKnight still is inexperienced. Tomlinson can be a solid bridge between the two. He's proven and has fresh legs. He's sat out the past two games with a knee injury and only has 46 carries this season. Look for the Jets to rely on Tomlinson more down the stretch.
Buffalo Bills (5-6)
Opponent: Tennessee Titans (6-5)
X factor: DL Marcell Dareus
Analysis: Buffalo's defense can't stop anyone right now. The Bills are struggling against the run and pass and need someone to step up and turn it around. This is where Dareus has to come in. Yes, he is a rookie. But Dareus is this year's No. 3 overall pick and one of the few difference-makers on Buffalo's defense. Dareus has shown flashes of dominance — but the Bills need him to be consistently stout in the middle, especially this week against the Titans and Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson.
Miami Dolphins (3-8)
Opponent: Oakland Raiders (7-4)
X factor: S Yeremiah Bell
Analysis: Bell is playing solid football. He has eight tackles and an interception his past two games. But here is why Bell is very important this weekend: Oakland has tremendous speed on offense. Expect the Raiders to challenge the Dolphins vertically with deep threats such as receivers Denarius Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Jacoby Ford. It will be key for Bell to maintain his deep responsibility. Oakland's offense thrives on big plays.