The AFC East isn’t the elite division that was expected.
The three-time defending division champion Buffalo Bills (5-4) have already lost more games than last season. The Miami Dolphins (6-3) still haven’t defeated a winning team in three tries.
The New York Jets (4-4) can't score points without Aaron Rodgers, but have stayed in the mix because of a stingy defense. The once-proud New England Patriots (2-7) are a disaster.
All four teams lost in Week 9.
Josh Allen and the Bills were supposed to be Super Bowl contenders, but they’ve been inconsistent since a lopsided win over Miami in Week 4. They’re 2-3 over the past five games and both victories were shaky. The offense simply isn’t clicking and the defense was picked apart by Joe Burrow in a 24-18 loss on Sunday night.
“The big thing for us is just to find a way to get in that groove, however it is,” embattled offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey said. “I mean, it could be running the ball, it could be throwing the ball, there’s different ways to do this. The big thing for us is not becoming one-dimensional and predictable and I think that’s what we try to do.”
Bills coach Sean McDermott supported Dorsey but the offense needs to get going. They’ll face an improved Denver defense next Monday night. The Broncos shut down Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in a 24-9 victory in Week 8 after holding Kansas City to only 19 points in a loss two weeks before that.
The Dolphins have lost to the Chiefs, Eagles and Bills. Their six wins came over teams that are currently a combined 14-37. They may not play a winning team over the next five games, however, but finish up against the Cowboys, Ravens and Bills.
“I don’t think our team is in need of any prove-it in that way,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said about beating a winning team. “I think that it’s important to understand that the narrative will continue until we change it. But I honestly also don’t think that that’s something that’s in the back of our team’s mind.”
The Jets’ hopes crashed when Rodgers went down with an injury. At his best, Zach Wilson is a game manager who isn’t capable of lifting the team to victory with his arm. He had two turnovers and was sacked eight times in a 27-6 loss to the Chargers on Monday night. They’ll have a chance to rebound on the road at Las Vegas (4-5) on Sunday night.
The Patriots have gone from dominating the division during an unprecedented two-decade run of excellence to becoming a doormat. Bill Belichick’s six Super Bowl championships may not help him keep his job.
MAKING OF A SUPERSTAR
Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud has shown superstar potential in the first half of his rookie season. He was spectacular in a 39-37 comeback win over Tampa Bay, throwing for a rookie-record 470 yards and five touchdowns against a tough defense.
Stroud has 2,270 yards passing, 14 TDs and only one interception for a 102.9 passer rating while leading Houston to a 4-4 record.
The No. 2 overall pick from Ohio State is not only making a strong case for AP Offensive Rookie of the Year but he belongs in the MVP conversation, even though FanDuel Sportsbook doesn’t list him among the top 10.
“He’s still learning, he’s still growing, but the plays that he’s able to make — you don’t win games in this league unless you have a quarterback who can make those type of plays,” Texans rookie coach DeMeco Ryans said.
“He’s continued on his way to becoming that guy, but you see that ability that he has, you see the leadership that he has, and you see how his teammates — they all believe in him. That’s what I’ve seen grow from once we drafted him until now. You just see him continue to grow each week, see him just continue to just put confidence in our entire team and that’s what I started to feel from that — that confidence that he puts in everyone around him.”
RESPECT THE RAVENS
The Ravens (7-2) may not get the hype other teams receive, but they’ve been the NFL’s most impressive team over the past four weeks. They’ve won four in a row, including dominant victories over a pair of first-place teams. Baltimore routed Detroit 38-6 in Week 7 and dominated Seattle 37-3 on Sunday. Lamar Jackson is back to playing at his 2019 MVP level. The run game gets the job done no matter who is in the backfield. The defense is suffocating and opportunistic.
Baltimore has a chance to increase its lead in the AFC North over the next two weeks with tough home games against the Browns (5-3) and Bengals (5-3).
The Raiders didn’t even wait to get to .500 to celebrate as if they won something big. They lit up victory cigars after a 30-6 rout over a woeful Giants team. Inspired by interim coach Antonio Pierce, the Raiders beat down New York and third-string quarterback Tommy DeVito. The cigars weren't just about the victory. It seemed more as if players were enjoying the culture change caused by the departure of coach Josh McDaniels.
“I’m very appreciative of it,” Pierce said of players buying into his message. “When you’re straightforward, it is what it is. You don’t have to worry about anything.”
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl
Rob Maaddi, The Associated Press