Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
This is supposed to be the preseason weekend we learn the most about how each team is coming together. The third exhibition game is when the first-stringers see the most action before sitting out the finale.
The AFC East, however, is in flux, especially on offense.
New England Patriots QB Tom Brady sat out Friday night because of his sore foot. Buffalo Bills QB Trent Edwards will miss Sunday night's game because of a deep leg bruise. Brett Favre still is trying to absorb the New York Jets' playbook and has played just two series. The Miami Dolphins still haven't settled on a starting QB and tonight won't have RB Ronnie Brown, who has a thumb injury.
There won't be as many on-field questions answered this weekend as there will be in other divisions.
So let's answer a few here in the weekly AFC East mailbag.
Joe in Buffalo writes: Honestly, it is sad that NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw passed away, but the fact of the matter is that he treated the retired players like crap. HBO and other sports news outlets have covered Gene's incompetence in this field over and over. Gene may have been great at getting the whining babies of today's NFL paid, but he did nothing for the retired. The sport will be better without him.
Tim Graham: The chorus of detractors has observed the traditional moratorium since Upshaw's death, but you're not alone in your sentiments.
Nick in London, England, writes: You have to admire the Bills front office in their handling of the Jason Peters holdout. Given their fiscal position, they are absolutely right to wait it out. With the makeshift starting OL gashing the vaunted Steelers last Saturday, you also have to admire the coaches and players for their diligent work to overcome the loss of arguably their best raw talent. But how destabilizing do you think a potential Peters return could be for this team? Could the LT disrupt any of the good progress that the OL and the offense have made?
Tim Graham: Know how it feels when you rent a car on an extended trip and then return home to yours? That's what it would be like for the Bills' offensive line when Peters gets back. They'll reach in the wrong place for the gear shifter a couple of times and need to remember how differently the brakes feel. But it all will come back to them quickly and feel nice and familiar.
The player Peters' return mostly would affect is Langston Walker, who would move back to his right tackle position and probably feel much more comfortable. The other linemen are veterans, so they'll adjust easily enough.
Daryl in Alberta writes: Jets T D'Brickashaw Ferguson hasn't been mentioned much so far this summer. It's an important year for him, and the addition of G Alan Faneca leaves him with little excuse for not turning in a big year. How has he looked so far and do you think he's going to step it up this year?
Tim Graham: That Ferguson hasn't been in the spotlight probably is a good thing for him. From what I've seen, the entire Jets offensive line was playing well and developing chemistry before they acquired Brett Favre, a move that probably helps Ferguson as much as it does anybody on the offense.
Here's what nine-time Pro Bowl guard Ruben Brown told me during a recent conversation we had about blocking for a notoriously unpredictable quarterback:
It's easier for the O-line to block for these guys. If you're changing the pocket up, defensive linemen can get a bead on him. They can't rush up the field. It changes the way the defensive linemen rush. It'll help the O-linemen block better. I guarantee any good offensive lineman loves a quarterback like that. Brett will roll out and move and all that, and D'Brickashaw is the one who's going to benefit the most.
Chris Thompson in St. Paul writes: Who says the Vikings wanted Brett Favre? Quit making stuff up.
Tim Graham: When you're ready to dismount your unicorn, we'll talk.
Dave in Columbus, Ohio, writes: I am a huge Dolphin fan, and obviously am drinking the Tuna Kool-Aid. I was thrilled when the Jets landed Brett Favre because I knew we would make a run at Chad Pennington. With a healthy Ronnie Brown and a focused Ricky Williams, the receiving corps with All-Pro-caliber athlete Teddy Ginn and an O-line oriented head coach, is it crazy to dream of not being eliminated from playoff contention in the final weeks of the season?
Tim Graham: How do you type with a straightjacket on? Seriously, I think they can stay mathematically alive deep into the season, but they're clearly the worst team in the AFC East, and the AFC East has the easiest schedule in the conference. They'll be looking up at the Patriots, Jets and Bills with no shot at a wild card.
Bill in Pittsburgh writes: With Favre now in Jersey, how much do you think the balance has shifted in the AFC East? Have the Pats erred on the side of too much experience? The NFL is all about cycles, we know. Has the Patriots' cycle run its course?
Tim Graham: Favre makes the Jets a legitimate playoff contender if he can pick up the offense quickly enough. They can't afford to give away early games. I realize before the trade I scoffed at the notion Favre could have much of an impact on the Jets' postseason hopes, but that was before I had been to Jets training camp and saw how well they were coming together without him. The offensive line looks darn good.
I don't think the Patriots are finished being dominant. But Tom Brady's absence during the preseason has only emphasized he's the most important player on the roster and the key to their continued success.
Too much experience (it was nice of you to not call the Patriots elderly, Bill) isn't their problem. Where they might have made their biggest mistake was investing so much time in a backup they can't count on. Matt Cassel hasn't started a real game since high school. All he has done this preseason is show he cannot step in and be effective if disaster strikes.
David in Houston writes: How do you feel about Chad Pennington coming into Miami? I feel this gives Chad Henne the time he needs to mature and grow as a quarterbac
k instead of being fed to the wolves right off the bat! I think Ricky Williams will be a much better contributor this year and once Ronnie is 100 percent the combo of the two runners will open up the pass game, as I've seen Pennington knows how to pick a defense apart. Your thoughts?
Tim Graham: I can't disagree with a single thing you wrote, David. The Dolphins love Henne, but they brought in Pennington not only to bridge the gap between college and NFL readiness, but also in hopes the classy veteran rubs off on him. You can't find anybody to say a negative word about Pennington the person or the leader. Having him as a mentor for Henne should be a boon for the future.
Scott in Washington D.C. writes: Will the Jets bring another kicker (Fins ex) into camp?
Jets coach Eric Mangini was none too pleased with Nugent's missed chip shot that would have sent last Saturday's game into overtime. It wasn't that Mangini was desperate to win an exhibition, but it planted a seed of doubt about Nugent's reliability in crunch time. Nugent also missed a 43-yarder in the third quarter.
James in Denver writes: I can't believe the Dolphins actually won. I mean, it doesn't matter, but thank God. Maybe there is a glimmer of hope. What's your take on their progress?
Tim Graham: They still have a long, long way to go to compete for the playoffs. They're still trying to amass the proper players to fit their vision, but they're getting there. They'll be competitive on a weekly basis.
Matt in Windham, Ohio, writes: With Ronnie Brown slowed with injuries, might Ricky Williams get a good amount of touches this season? I have heard he looks good this preseason.
Tim Graham: Love to see a question from my hometown. Go Bombers ...
Williams has looked stupendous in OTAs, minicamp and training camp. He's my pick to be the Comeback Player of the Year.
Brown is a special talent, but he's injury prone. He's still trying get his surgically repaired back to 100 percent. Now he's dealing with a right thumb problem that's supposedly minor, but the real concern is it's another injury.
Brown this week has been telling reporters it's OK because he's left handed and Emmitt Smith always carried the ball in the same arm, so why can't he? The problem is that much of Brown's talent pertains to his ability to make catches out of the backfield.
Stephen from Parts Unknown (but I'm suspecting Toronto) writes: Tim, just a point on the article about the Bills' "home games" in Toronto: There's just as many, if not far more, fans in Toronto who hate the Bills with a passion due to how obnoxious Bills fans and media were during the Super Bowl era (especially that *(&!@#! "Shout" song). Something tells me that the Dolphins will have a significant portion of the crowd on their side come December. Most people in Toronto were always cheering for the Bills' opponents in the various Super Bowls. (I distinctly remember when I was 12 and priest mentioned something about praying for the Bills when they went against the Giants. He was booed by the majority of the congregation, and that was only the FIRST Super Bowl.) That's also assuming that the city doesn't revolt against the NFL's idiotic security protocols that shut down half the downtown core last Thursday. That works for when stadiums are situated in the middle of nowhere (like Ralph Wilson Stadium), but all the NFL did by not adapting is annoy everyone living in some of the most expensive real estate in the city. The Bills made a LOT of enemies last week amongst the very people they (well, Ted Rogers) want buying up the most expensive seats in the house.
Tim Graham: Thanks for the e-mail, Stephen. And I hate the "Shout" song, too. The Miami Dolphins Fight Song is even worse. Claiming the Dolphins are No. 1 after kicking a field goal in a game that drops them to 0-12 was insufferable.
Tinkerthis from Parts Unknown writes: Does anyone know if the Jets' backs have good hands? Brett Favre likes to use backs as receivers. They are tough to stop in the open. He has made a star of grant and others that way. Bump-and-catch backs are hard to stop.
Tim Graham: Is that the name on your birth certificate? I think I might have been in your cab last time I was in Manhattan. Anyway, Thomas Jones is a decent receiving back. Although he has only one career receiving touchdown, he did catch 56 passes with the Bears in 2004 and has a career average of about seven yards a catch. Leon Washington caught 36 passes last year for 5.9-yard average.
Pat in Manhattan writes: Congrats on the new post at ESPN. Also, great interview with Robby Takac even though it reinforced that people like me who go to college and move away are part of the problem with the city. I wanted to ask if you know anything about Bills LB Angelo Crowell's contract. I know that he is in his last year, and not much has been said about extending him since Peters and Evans get all the contract-related headlines. Also, if Peters were to sit out the season, would he become a free agent or would he have to sit out the entire contract?
Tim Graham: Thanks for the kind words, Pat. I found the Takac interview too interesting not to share in its entirety. Q&A interviews with atypical subjects (celebrities, politicians, big names from other sports, et al) are something I'm going to try to do more often.
As for Crowell, I have to confess I don't know where he stands aside from that the three-year extension he signed in December 2005 will expire after this season. But I've made some calls for the specific purpose of answering your question. I'll post an answer when I learn more.
If Peters sits out the season, he still will be under contract to the Bills. He has been paid bonus money and owes them three more years unless they reach some sort of settlement.
Dave from New Jersey writes: I've been a fan of the Bills since the Bermuda Triangle days (Haslett, Nelson and Smerlas). I drive eight hours from Southern New Jersey on home game days. I am a fan in the biggest ways -- children named after players, tattoos of the team helmet on my arm and a bar in my home enshrined with autographed jerseys and memorabilia. With all of that being said, I truly believe we are seeing the last few years of the Bills in Orchard Park. The lease is up in 2012 and Ralph Wilson is pushing 90. When he passes, the team will go to the highest bidder. I believe season ticket sales are high because everyone has come to the resolution that these are our final days. It saddens me, but perception is reality!
Tim Graham: Hang in there, Dave. Enjoy them while you can and hope somebody can emerge as the savior of all saviors for Buffalo sports fans.
James from Parts Unk
nown writes: Last season Ronnie Brown was the No. 1 fantasy player and was the backbone of my team until he went down. My question is with Brown coming back from an ACL injury and Ricky Williams looking stellar in camp and his preseason games, would it be safe to assume that although Brown might re-emerge as the feature back Williams could get as many as 15 touches a game and potentially a lot of goal line touches, drastically increasing his value as an 8th or 9th round sleeper pick as a third RB. Also, do you think Brown is worth avoiding if the answer to this question is yes?
Tim Graham: Williams isn't a secret anymore. Word has gotten out that he looks explosive and has been committed to the program. Unless you're in a five-team league, I'd be shocked if Williams is around in the eighth round. Brown should be avoided because a) he's injury-prone, and b) when healthy he'll be splitting carries with Williams.