Friday, December 14, 2012
Final Word: AFC East
By James Walker
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 15:
Strength vs. strength: The New England Patriots' front seven on defense will have arguably their biggest test of the season against the physical San Francisco 49ers. San Francisco will look to slow the tempo by establishing the run. The 49ers are second in the NFL in rushing at 161.5 yards per game. Stopping the run also happens to be the Patriots' strength on defense. New England is eighth in the NFL against the run, and defenders such as defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo are playing at a high level. Something has to give in this matchup of strengths. Expect a lot of big collisions Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.
Patriots looking for assistance: New England needs to take care of business against a tough opponent this weekend. But the Patriots also will do some scoreboard watching of their own. There is a tight race for the top two seeds in the AFC. New England (10-3) trails the Houston Texans (11-2) by one game, and the Texans have a tough game against the AFC South-rival Indianapolis Colts. The Denver Broncos (10-3) and Baltimore Ravens (9-4) also play each other and both are trying to catch New England. The Patriots have the same record as Denver, but New England owns the head-to-head tiebreaker. By the time the Patriots take the field Sunday night, they will know the outcome of these two important games.
Chad Henne has made his case to be a starter in the league following the season-ending injury to Blaine Gabbert.
Henne returns to Miami: The Miami Dolphins will see a familiar face Sunday when they host quarterback Chad Henne and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Henne was a second-round pick for Miami in 2008. But injuries and inconsistency made Henne a draft bust during his four years with the Dolphins. Henne got a second chance in Jacksonville this year due to an injury to former starter Blaine Gabbert. Henne is auditioning for a starting job next season. He has thrown for 1,217 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions in five games. Expect a motivated Henne in his return to Miami. He was open to staying with the Dolphins. But Miami's new coaching staff, led by rookie head coach Joe Philbin, wanted to go in a different direction and drafted Ryan Tannehill in the first round.
Huge stretch for Gailey: No coaching seat is hotter in the AFC East than Chan Gailey of the Buffalo Bills. Gailey is 15-30 in three seasons as Bills coach, and his long-term future with the team could come down to these final three weeks. The disappointing Bills (5-8), which had playoff aspirations, will play the Seattle Seahawks (8-5) in Toronto. Gailey's poor decision-making has cost the Bills games. That was never more evident than in last week's 15-12 loss to the St. Louis Rams. Gailey needs to finish strong to make his case to return in 2013. The Bills were 4-12 and 6-10 in his first two seasons.
Sanchez-Kerley connection: Not much has gone right for the New York Jets' offense this season. But New York may have found something between quarterback Mark Sanchez and second-year receiver Jeremy Kerley when throwing the deep ball. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Sanchez is an impressive 8-for-11 (72.7 percent) on passes of 20 yards or more to Kerley this season. Expect those two to try to connect for big plays again when the Jets travel to face the Tennessee Titans on "Monday Night Football." Kerley has taken over as New York's No. 1 receiver after the season-ending foot injury to Santonio Holmes. Kerley has 52 receptions for 728 yards and two touchdowns this season.