AFC East mailbag: Fitz, Sparano and more

Let's see what's in the weekend mailbag.

John H. from Alexandria and Chris from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., want to know whether Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Buffalo Bills is worth elite quarterback money?

James Walker: The amount ESPN's Chris Mortensen is reporting (between $9 and $12 million) the Bills are offering Fitzpatrick is second tier for quarterbacks. Players like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are worth more. But still it's a valid question for a player who has never led his team to the playoffs and can be streaky at times. I like Fitzpatrick and believe Buffalo should re-sign him. He's smart and gets the most out of his abilities. But the number seems a little high. Other quarterbacks like Matt Cassel and Kevin Kolb are getting similar deals. The market is inflated, and teams have to pay a quarterback premium.

Ryan from Astoria, N.Y., writes: Do you think Fred Jackson will eventually come back down to Earth, or is he really amongst the league's elite backs?

Walker: Ryan, "elite" is not a word I like to throw around too much. But I don't see Jackson slowing down this season unless he suffers an injury. He is running with a purpose and is one of the best players I've watched in person all year. I would say Jackson, Brady, Wes Welker and Darrelle Revis have impressed me the most in my first year covering the AFC East.

Shaun from Rochester, N.Y., writes: What are your thoughts on C.J. Spiller moving to receiver for the short term?

Walker: I understand the team's thinking, Shaun. It's out of necessity. Spiller is a great athlete and has the ability to play other positions. In fact, Spiller and Jackson are both very good receivers for running backs. Both have made some tough catches. But I would not to make this a full-time switch. Spiller was drafted to be Buffalo's future at running back. His ceiling is much higher there. Speedy receiver Donald Jones should be healthy in a few weeks, and players will revert back to their normal roles.

TheBoredGuy from Fort Worth writes: James, do you see any reason to fire Tony Sparano? Mike Nolan could take over but what has he done that would inspire confidence?

Walker: I credit Dolphins owner Stephen Ross for not having the quick hook, Bored Guy. I think he's given Sparano every chance to make something out of this 2011 season. But when the Dolphins took two steps back coming out of the bye, that was the beginning of the end. Miami did not look like a team that had two weeks to prepare for the New York Jets. That is on the head coach. Miami could win this week against the Denver Broncos and it would quiet things for a short time. But the writing is on the wall. Sparano won't be back next season. I understand making the switch if the ship continues to sink.

John Rast from Chattanooga, Tenn., writes: We all know Sparano is firmly on the hot seat. But what about Jeff Ireland?

Walker: Good question, John. Ireland has been a mystery throughout this situation. I would classify his seat as "warm" through five games with the potential to get "hot." Here is my synopsis: The head coach always is the first to go. So Ireland will not be on the hot seat unless Sparano is let go during the season. If that happens, the focus will shift to the talent on the roster. Ireland's job comes more into question if potential interim coach Mike Nolan cannot get anything out of Ireland's players. Another key is what type of coach Miami looks for next year. Will the Dolphins go top shelf? If that's the case, someone like Bill Cowher will not come out of retirement to take orders from Ireland. Cowher or another top-tier coach would demand complete control or handpick a general manager he's comfortable with. If Miami goes the assistant route (Rob Ryan, Perry Fewell), Ireland has a much better chance to stay on board next year.

Alex Hammm from N.Y., writes: Hey James, I was wondering what you think the Jets' chances of making the playoffs are?

Walker: The next three games will be telling, Alex. The Jets face the Chargers (4-1), Buffalo Bills (4-2) and Patriots (5-1) in that span. New York needs to win two of those three games to stay in the hunt. The Jets have the talent to do it, but they need to play more together. It's probably going to take 10 wins to make it in the AFC. That means the Jets have to go 7-3 the rest of the way, which is a tough task.

Ben from New York writes: What do you think of Jets cornerback Kyle Wilson this year?

Walker: Wilson has been solid most weeks, Ben. He's definitely much improved. I expected more of him coming out of the draft. Teams would attack him in the nickel to avoid Revis and Antonio Cromartie. But sometimes it takes a couple years to adjust to the NFL. The Jets are very good defensively on third down. Wilson's improvement is one reason why. He's no longer the weak link teams can pick on.

Tacowrecker from Calion, Ark., wants to know what should the Patriots do with receiver Chad Ochocinco.

Walker: I'm not as worried with Ochocinco as most people, Tacowrecker. New England is winning and I think that helps the situation tremendously. His lack of production would be getting a lot of blame if the Patriots were losing. The truth is New England doesn't need Ochocinco to be successful. He is a luxury. But if Ochocinco has a big game or two this year, which he is capable of, that will help New England in the second half of the season.

Jorge Garcia from Mexico City writes: Do you think changing from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense has had the impact some of us Patriots fans expected?

Walker: Not at all, Jorge. New England is ranked last in the NFL in total defense. It's always tough to switch an entire scheme during the lockout. I think you're starting to see strides with the Patriots' defense the last couple of weeks, because New England is finally catching up for the lost practice time. The thing I cannot explain is how the defense started playing better after Jerod Mayo's injury. I don't know if that's good or bad.

Alex from Hamburg, N.Y., writes: I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to know who you actually root for come Sundays.

Walker: I root for the Temple Owls, but they play on Saturdays during football season. Temple basketball is my real squad. You may not hear from me on the blog as much during March Madness.

Comment and complaint department

Scottie Glover from Duluth, Ga., writes: Why is Karlos Dansby so mad at the fans for the "Suck for Luck" campaign? We all obviously can see that this team is not a contender. So why can't we all be happy at a shot to drastically turn the franchise around and get back to the glory days? Nobody is asking them to tank, just to keep doing what they've been doing.

Walker: Keep doing what they're doing, Scottie? That's pretty close to wanting Miami to tank the season. I don't blame Dolphins fans for wanting their team to lose. And I don't blame veterans like Dansby and Jason Taylor for being upset about it. This is coming from two different perspectives. Dolphins fans are on the outside and can see the big picture -- the entire forest, not just the trees. The players are on the inside fighting for their jobs and working hard to win every week. Naturally, there is a disconnect.

Pascal from New York, N.Y., writes: James, it's hard to stop calling them Jersey A and Jersey B since...wait for it...they both play in New Jersey! More so, since it was the New York Jets who play in Giant Stadium in New Jersey for so long, it's hard to let go of that kind of sentiment.

Walker: This is starting to become a running joke in our AFC East community, Pascal. I get emails on it every week that the Giants and Jets do not represent New York. We can agree to disagree.

Timothy Jette from Richmond, Va., writes: I know Sanchez isn't having a pro bowl year but why is he constantly being talked about as an awful QB and yet QBs like Josh Freeman, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco are praised? He has a higher QB rating than those three and winning games has never been his problem. I don't understand the double standard.

Walker: Timothy, I can tell you from experience that Flacco gets drilled regularly in Baltimore, mostly for not performing well in the playoffs. Sanchez actually does pretty well in the postseason, but Jets fans don't like his inconsistencies in the regular season. That's just the nature of the position. Sanchez has had some good games and bad. Watching him closely this year, I still think he still has a lot to prove.

Darren from Manchester, N.J., writes: I see you've come around to clear common sense; the Dolphins need to make a change and they have to start now, this season is over and they should start preparing now for 2012. I wrote you a couple of weeks ago about this very point. Fire Sparano, interim coach, tell all the players they are playing for their jobs next year, scout the heck out of college QBs, and start talking to Bill Cowher now.

Walker: I don't think it was a matter of coming around, Darren. I just wasn't ready to say the season is over at 0-2. Now, at 0-5, Miami has virtually no chance to salvage the season. The best they can do is win some games for their pride. But even that would upset many Dolphins fans.

JR from Tampa Bay writes: Toward the end of the season, if the Jets or the Pats knew they were still going to get into the playoffs even with a loss to the Fins, and said loss would knock the Fins out of the top draft pick, should they suck to avoid Luck? If this guy is the next Peyton Manning, you don't want him in the division unless you are a Fins fan.

Walker: Wow, JR. Opponents sucking to avoid Luck? I haven't thought of that one. I don't see it happening. Teams don't tank games, despite what fans think. I doubt the Jets will be in position to rest their players in the final game anyway. I don't see New York winning the AFC East this season.

AFC East Hater of the Week

Our newest AFC East "Hater of the Week" is a Bills fan:

Kayleen from Buffalo writes: James....you really need to stop hating on the Bills and get off the Patriot juice. Really...you need to be more open to all teams in the AFC East. As a Bills fan, I'm used to being in the basement. But I'm sick of hearing you talking about how great the Patriots are. They are a joke...they choke....and they will from here on out. Stop drinking their juice.

Walker: Kayleen, I've been very fair to the Bills and all teams in the division. The statement that is sticking with you and a lot of Bills fans is when I said New England will win the AFC East and Buffalo is in a good position to make a run at a wild card. That's my take on the situation and part of the reason I'm trying to avoid predictions this year. Some readers view it as bias for or against a team instead of simply providing an informed opinion from what I've seen so far.

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