AFC East mailbag at your doorstep

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Thomas in Cullman, Ala., writes: GO Fins. With the AFC East in a 3 way tie, looking at all three teams. Which team would be the underdog upset and have the best chances beating the Titans/Pittsburgh and make it to the big game?

Tim Graham: All three teams have their faults. None match up well against the Steelers. The Jets already have beaten the Titans, but that seems like eons ago with the way the Jets are stumbling down the homestretch. Of the three clubs tied atop the AFC East, the Jets are the most dangerous when they're playing well.

Pam in Charlotte, N.C., writes: Any updates on whether the Phins/Jets game will be in Prime Time on the 28th? That would be sweet. And Sparano SHOULD get Coach of the Year hands down, right?

Tim Graham: The NFL hasn't tipped its hand about which game it will move to prime time. The Dolphins-Jets showdown seems to be the best option, but the other attractive possibilities are Cowboys-Eagles and Colts-Titans. As for Tony Sparano winning coach of the year, it's not nearly a slam dunk -- maybe more like a running baseline jumper. Mike Smith of the Falcons and Jeff Fisher of the Titans are up there.

Andrew in Coral Gables, Fla., writes: Hi Tim. Can you explain exactly how the strength of victory is calculated? If you beat a team twice do you count their win-loss record two times as well? There is a chance that strength of victory could be important if Indy and Baltimore collapse these last 2 weeks. Thank you.

Tim Graham: Strength if victory, the fifth tiebreaker, is determined by adding the records of all the teams you've beaten. Strength of victory was the deciding factor in 2006, when the New York Giants went into the playoffs ahead of the Green Bay Packers even though both were 8-8.

Mr. Anonymous in Kannapolis, N.C., writes: You hear all this talk about how the Atlanta Falcons have turned thier franchise around with their new coach and quarterback, but people hardly mention the Miami Dolphins. Hiring a non-high profile coach, signing a quarterback that the Jets thought was washed up, and not signing any big-name free agents! It seems Parcells and Sparono have this team moving in the right direction,and possibly the playoffs! Good job Dolphins!

Tim Graham: I agree that Tony Sparano is a deserving candidate for coach of the year, but I don't think he'll win it. Mike Smith also is an unheralded NFL rookie head coach, but he is winning with a rookie quarterback and a first-time GM with no oversight similar to what Bill Parcells is providing the Dolphins. Veteran quarterback Chad Pennington also is helping Sparano look like a good coach by limiting turnovers and playing smart football.

Scott in New York City writes: Tim, If NE and Miami both lose next week, but win in week 17, would the Dolphins win the division? Theyd now be tied on AFC, but think theyd win strength of victory. Is this correct?

Tim Graham: The Dolphins would win the AFC East in that scenario. They would go down to the fourth tiebreaker (conference record) over the Patriots and the third tiebreaker (common-opponents record) over the Jets -- unless the Jets lose in Week 16 also. In that case, the Jets would finish 9-7.

Bill in York, Pa., writes: Tim, I'm hoping you can answer a question for me. Why doesn't Ralph Wilson sell the naming rights to Ralph Wilson Stadium? Is it ego? Does his legacy mean that much to him? Maybe he won't get enough money so he doesn't think it's worth it? I really am clueles. He always says that Buffalo is struggling financially, yet he doesn't take this step to add some money to the coffers. Hopefully I hear back! Thanks, Bill

Tim Graham: Michael David Smith tackled that subject for the New York Times earlier this year. Smith wrote that Ralph Wilson and Bengals owner Mike Brown "have chosen to stroke their egos rather than take part in one of the easiest ways for pro sports teams to make money."

Here's more from the article:

While most N.F.L. teams play in stadiums bearing the names of corporations that purchased naming rights, Wilson named the Bills' stadium after himself, while Brown named the Bengals' stadium after his father. Wilson and Brown claim that life is tough for small-market N.F.L. owners, but it's not tough enough to make them take the names Wilson and Brown off their stadiums.

How much money are these men turning away for the sake of seeing their names in lights? During a heated exchange at the owners' meetings two years ago, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones suggested that it's at least $10 million, offering to buy the naming rights to Paul Brown Stadium from the Bengals for $5 million and telling Brown, "I can double that in about five minutes, Mike."

Andrew from New York City writes: Tim, do you think that the Jets guard Brandon Moore should be in the pro bowl? He has only allowed 2 sacks and been called for 1 holding penalty. I think he deserved a trip to Hawaii.

Tim Graham: Jets right guard Brandon Moore has put together a fine season, but so have many others. Right guards don't carry the same cachet as left guards because, like left tackles, they're usually the more talented player. The AFC's three representatives at the position -- Alan Faneca, Kris Dielman and Brain Waters --all line up on the left side. Left guard is one of the mote loaded positions in the AFC East.

Mr. Anonymous in Oswego, N.Y., writes: did poerter get a personal foul for taking off his helmet???

Tim Graham: Joey Porter was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for removing and throwing his helmet after sacking Shaun Hill to end the 49ers late victory bid. The 15-yard penalty moved the Dolphins back to their own 14-yard line with 62 seconds to play, but the 49ers had no timeouts left.

Orlando in Miami writes: Do you think the Dolphins D can push us to the playoffs, or will our offense need to step it up come Week 17?

Tim Graham: Although the Dolphins have gone three straight games without allowing a touchdown -- a first since 1973 under Don Shula -- they have been pushed up and down the field. We're not talking Steel Curtain or Monsters of the Midway here. The Dolphins' offense absolutely needs to improve. They've been fortunate to build early leads and squat, but 15.3 points (average output over their past three games) won't cut it forever.

Peter in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., writes: Tim, Great article and GREAT WIN by my Jets... I would like to point out one thing, you mention that it w
as the first time that a team had recovered a fumble and ran it in with under 2 minutes left and won the game... Techincally this is 100% true, but doesn't NFL rules (due to the HOLY ROLLER game in '78) restrict who can advance a fumble with under 2 minutes left (if a play is started from 2:00 and under) and this is a reson why we don't see something like this more often?

Tim Graham: I appreciate the feedback, Peter. The rules that limit advancing a fumble inside the final two minutes pertain to the offense. The player who fumbles is the only one who may advance it. So I suppose if there's a change of possession and then a subsequent fumble were to happen, then the "defense" wouldn't be allowed to advance a fumble. But such a situation would be rare.

But the stat that I quoted didn't pertain to fumbles only: "The last time a team that was losing scored a come-from-behind defensive touchdown in the final two minutes of a game was 1981, when Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Tom Howard returned a fumble to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers." That includes interceptions and safeties, too.

Andy in North Tonawanda writes: Hey Tim, 5-1...6-5...6-10. Geeze. Go Sabres. Vanek's really tearin' it up right now. They're borderline playoffs as of today, but I'm gunna go ahead and predict a 3 game losing streak to end the season and miss the playoffs by two points to...Toronto.

Tim Graham: That's the Buffalo spirit I know and love.

Mason in Whittemore, Iowa, writes: Tim, first of all i want to say thanks for being an awesome reporter. I have a question, after reading your blog on Smiley and how it was tough for him to think about watching games, i was wondering how come it seems like whenever pro football player suffer season ending injuries you never see them on the sidelines at games? a few names that come to mind off of the top of my head are Tom Brady and Jeremy Shokey (who watched the super bowl game from a press box last year) i know when i played football in high school and teammates were injured they were always on the sidelines cheering their team on. I think injured NFL players could be a good source of inspiration and motivation for their respected team if they cheered from the sidelines... your thoughts?

Tim Graham: Thank you for such kind words, Mason. Players react differently about attending games when they're injured, but many stay away from the sideline because they don't feel as much a part of the team anymore. There's a widely held sentiment the sideline should be reserved for the players who put in the work every week. Injured players can be hard on themselves. Some simply can't bear to watch because it kills them to not be on the field.

Another factor can be safety. If players aren't mobile enough, teams would rather they not be on the sideline in case a play gets taken out of bounds and the injured player can't get out of the way.

Jesse in Pittsburgh writes: Ok, for starters, my opinion may be biast as I am a Phins fan and have never really liked Farve. But seriously, can anyone actually validate him being selected to the Pro Bowl? I can probably think of 8 other QBs in the AFC more deserving. Even if you don't believe it yourself, could you come up with a reason to validate it?

Tim Graham: Beyond a popularity contest, Brett Favre has no business in the Pro Bowl this season. That said, as long as he's active he will be selected because of his legacy, a la Mickey Mantle at the end of his career.

Tom in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., writes: As a Bills fan I'm embarrassed that Jason Peters is going to the Pro Bowl. There has to be 20 more deserving left tackles out there. Their special teams should be represented some way, but Peters? He should do the honorable thing and pull a hammy so someone else can play.

Tim Graham: Bills fans see Jason Peters with a jaundiced eye because of the infuriating holdout from offseason workouts, training camp and the entire preseason schedule. Then he got off to a frustratingly slow start. But every coach or personnel man I've spoken to about Peters' progression throughout the season claim he's playing as well now as he performed last year, when he became known as one of the best in the NFL.

Greg in New Jersey writes: Hey Tim, thanks for a great year of AFC East reporting! I have a few questions: 1. Who is the most VALUABLE quarterback to his team this year outside of the AFC East? 2. Who is the least VALUABLE quarterback to a playoff bound team this year? 3. Who is your favorite band or artist? 4. What comes first: Jets winning the Super Bowl or Rutgers winning the BCS Championship

Tim Graham: I'm glad you like the blog. I truly enjoy doing it and hope that enthusiasm comes through in my work. As for your questions ... 1. Peyton Manning; 2. Jake Delhomme or the Vikings' quarterback, whoever they use; 3. I go through cycles, but the artists most frequently on my iPod are the Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, Johnny Cash and Violent Femmes; 4. Jets winning the Super Bowl -- at least they're in the appropriate league.

Dan in Wisconsin writes: Tim - We all know how badly you want the 'Phins to run the table so you can have your story.......the cinderella story. Why can't you ever write a story which focuses on their weaknesses? Why always the Jets? The 'Phins aren't exactly racking up the points and have needed last minute lucky stands to survive against losing teams (Rams, 49ers), but you don't write anything about that. It's so sad that nowadays most of the media focuses on writing ANYTHING negative where Favre is involved. There's no integrity and no objectivity. I tell you this.....seeing how media figures work makes me greatful for my job. And I work in insurance!!! Have a nice day.

Tim Graham: Is it at all conceivable that I honestly believe, after developing an independent opinion from covering the games and closely following Favre for the past four months, that I simply have come to my own conclusion that he's not having a great season? I guess a conspiracy theory or an agenda is easier to fathom for some people.

As for nitpicking the Jets' weaknesses, I don't. For instance, I haven't written much about their miserable pass defense. I write about interesting topics. Favre is an interesting story. Vernon Gholston being benched is an interesting story. Thomas Jones' awesome year is an interesting story (I suppose you've missed those posts). The Dolphins winning is an interesting story. Matt Cassel putting together a remarkable season is interesting. The Bills' collapse is an interesting story, and if you think I've written more negative articles about the Jets than I have the Bills, then you're not reading closely enough.

Given all that, your initial hypothesis is incorrect. I don't
care who reaches the playoffs. There will be interesting stories to tell no matter what.

Michael in Hickory, N.Y., writes: What do you think about the Dolphins chances for next year? Also, what do you think would be a good draft choice, position, for the Fins? Thanks and I love your blog! Go Dolphins!!!

Tim Graham: The Dolphins won't sneak up on anybody next year, but they're in decent shape to keep building. They're young. They don't have much dead weight because that was lopped off already. They have enough salary-cap room to make moves.

Regarding the draft, center is a need, but you don't use a first-round pick on one unless he's truly special. Receiver is a need. Defensive back is a need. But the Dolphins are a team on the make. They might lean a bit toward a certain position, but they'll pretty much draft the best player on the board with their first choice.

Kolding in Denmark writes: As a Patriots fan I was rather surprised by some of the AFC Pro Bowl selections. Can you explain, how did Randy Moss not get in with his 10 TDs?! And what about Logan Mankins? He looks unbeatable. Finally, was there ever a chance for Richard Seymour (8 sacks), Vince Wilfork (53 tackles), Jerod Mayo (114 tackles), Brandon Merriweather (4 interceptions) and Ellis Hobbs as a kick returner (28,8 yds/ret)to make the team? Thank you in advance for your answer.

Tim Graham: When judging whether Pro Bowl justice was served, fans first need to stop and consider who made it before lodging complaints over who didn't. While Randy Moss, Logan Mankins, Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour would've been defensible choices, each Pro Bowler selected for those positions deserved it. There were no Patriots robberies. Jets return man Leon Washington distanced himself from the competition, including Ellis Hobbs, because he returns kicks and punts and has been a dazzling player at his regular position.

David in Fort Myers, Fla., writes: Wow. Of the three qbs that could have gotten a Pro Bowl bid, the worst of the 3 got it. As much as I believe in Pennington, Matt Cassel has done some really great things and could be argued for as well. But Favre? How can he be the 3rd best in the AFC if hes only 3rd best in his own division?

Tim Graham: The best players don't always go to the Pro Bowl.
Steve in Fort Myers, Fla., writes: How is it that Jake Long and Dan Carpenter don't make the probowl. granted Carpenter bang on off the goal post last game and the game before he missed a field goal. but he's been nothing but icewater all year and hes still geting better, 3 touchbacks I believe against the niners. which is an improvement from what he usually does. and to be fair the field goal that hit the post, he had the wind at his face. Now Long, has he not done an excellent job this year? he has shown he has what it takes to be a probowl tackle, he finishes his blocks, is always downfield trying to help, and the one time he did get hurt he was only out for a couple series. sorry for ranting I just think those two deserved to be in hawaii

Tim Graham: To be blunt, neither of them deserved to go ahead of the players selected. Jake Long and Dan Carpenter have had fine seasons for the Dolphins, but there are 30 other tackles and 15 other kickers to choose from. Carpenter has missed 33 percent of his kicks between 40 and 49 yards, is 11th in scoring in the AFC and is tied for 11th in touchbacks.

Seth from Parts Unknown writes: You rankings this week are a joke. You should really put more than 5 minutes into them each week. You are getting paid for this, correct? Did you watch the games last week? Arizona ahead of Minnesota? I'd keep writing, but I have to run to the bathroom to vomit!

Tim Graham: You're absolutely wrong. My rankings are a joke every week. And so are my mailbags.