We have a lot of topics to get to this week. Let's get started.
Mr. Wakefield from Fort Collins, Colo., writes: What is the main factor holding the Buffalo Bills from having a successful defense?
James Walker: I talked to several Bills after their loss to the New York Giants, Mr. Wakefield. The common theme was they are not winning their one-on-one matchups. I agree. Football is both a complicated and easy game. There are things schematically that you can do to beat your opponent. But at the same time, the player has to beat the man in front of him. How many Buffalo defenders to do you see fighting off a block to sack the quarterback or sticking to a receiver in man-to-man coverage? It doesn't happen often. I like the scrappiness of the defense. But the Bills lack defensive players who can truly dominate and take over a game.
David P. Summers from Menlo Park, Calif., writes: What are the odds Buffalo's defense could improve significantly this year?
Walker: I don't know about significant improvement, David. About midway into the season we have a pretty good feel for strengths and weaknesses. But Buffalo needs to take a page out of the New England Patriots' playbook. The Bills must make small strides defensively week to week. A few weeks ago, New England was just as horrendous on defense. But the Patriots made a few improvements here and there, and now the defense isn't playing bad, despite the overall rankings. Buffalo is an offensive team. That's not going to change this season. But its defense needs to do more to carry its weight if the Bills want to make the playoffs.
Jerry K from Pittsburgh writes: Does losing linebacker Shawne Merriman actually mean anything for the Bills?
Walker: Anytime you lose a starting outside linebacker, I think it hurts. It gives Buffalo one less pass-rushing threat, although Merriman doesn't have the explosiveness he once had. The key is whether the Bills honor the final year of Merriman's contract or release him 2012 coming off Achilles surgery. Linebackers Arthur Moats and Danny Batten are both young and have to learn on the fly in Merriman’s place.
Jeff from London, Ky., writes: James, do you see the Dolphins pursuing Bill Cowher at the end of the season?
Walker: Absolutely, Jeff. It’s no secret that Cowher is on owner Stephen Ross' wish list. I did a blog this week saying Cowher needs to be Ross' top priority. The question is, does Cowher want to coach the Dolphins? There are reasons for and against going to Miami, and Cowher will have his pick of teams if he decides to come back in 2012. Cowher will take the most attractive job where he can win right away. I don't know if winless Miami is that place.
Wayne from Lake Worth, Fla., writes: Why hasn't practice-squad QB Pat Devlin been given any consideration?
Walker: The Miami coaching staff is fighting for their jobs and don't think Devlin is ready, Wayne. He's an undrafted rookie who didn't get any offseason work because of the lockout. Many Dolphins fans are curious. But playing Devlin could send the wrong message to the locker room that Miami is waving the white flag on the season. I've talked to him several times, and he has a good head on his shoulders. He's staying patient. There are 10 games left in the season. So you never know.
Kevin Huxford from Chesapeake, Va., writes: Which do you think is the most likely explanation for New York Jets coach Rex Ryan trying to change to a passing attack without a full offseason?
Walker: Kevin, I think the biggest thing that is New York's coaching staff believed Mark Sanchez was ready for it. He led the team to back-to-back AFC title games, and that most likely had Ryan and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer thinking it was time to take the leash off Sanchez in his third season. Add the fact that New York kept receiver Santonio Holmes and added Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason (since traded), and it probably made sense to the Jets. But that was a mistake and Ryan has admitted as much. Sanchez wasn't ready, Mason was a bust, and Burress is just warming up. Sometime coaches can trick themselves by over-thinking, and this was one of those cases. But I give credit to Ryan for not being stubborn and continuing to throw 40 times a game when it’s not working.
Vin F. from Long Island, NY, writes: Do you think the bye week will help or hurt the Jets?
Walker: Good question, Vin. I always think bye weeks are a good thing. Not only does it give teams two weeks to rest and recuperate from injuries, but it also provides two weeks to prepare for an opponent. But for some odd reason, teams coming off byes are 3-9 this season. I think it's a fluke due to the NFL lockout. But byes have been generally good overall.
Ryan from Waterville, Maine, writes: Do you see the Patriots giving any consideration to adding T.O. this season?
Walker: I don't see it, Ryan. The Patriots have the No. 1 offense in the NFL. Why would they need Terrell Owens? They are better off getting Chad Ochocinco up to speed than spending more money on a receiver coming off a major knee injury.
Brandon Caron from West Haven, Conn., writes: James, when comparing Big Ben and Tom Brady both have tremendous success. But I would be hesitant to put Ben on Tom's level because of the head-to-head struggles he has had?
Walker: I agree, Brandon. I have a lot of respect for the ability of both quarterbacks. But Brady is a better quarterback than Ben Roethlisberger hands down. Both may end up in the Hall of Fame. But only Brady is top-five all-time, in my opinion.
Comment and complaint department
Here are some comments and complaints from our AFC East community:
Zack from Somerville, Mass., writes: Hey James, the Jets are going to grab the wild card coming out of the AFC East this year. The Bills are pretenders, as in past years. The Jets get to play them twice, and the remaining schedule includes the Broncos, Chiefs and Phins, Pats at home and then the overrated Eagles and the Redskins. I'm a Pats fan. But I think the Jets will be there in the end.
Walker: Your projection is not out of the question, Zack. The Jets certainly have the talent and experience to make a playoff push. But I don't expect the Bills to lay down, either. I agree that it will probably come down to one of those two teams. But since I'm staying out of the prediction biz this year, I’m not ready to pick.
Jets fan in NH from Brentwood, N.H., writes: It has been frustrating watching the Jets this year in that every time that there offense starts to get going they seem to change away from what is working, and try some sort of trickery. Why can't Shotty stay focused on just moving the sticks and instead of going for the big strike? Or am I just off on this?
Walker: I see what you're saying, Jets fan. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer does have a penchant for making odd play calls at times. Remember the botched halfback throw against Miami that never got off the ground? Schottenheimer isn't having the best year calling plays. But I don't think he's the biggest issue on offense. I think the offensive line (until last week) put the Jets in a tough spot. If the line couldn't run-block or pass-block, what can an offense really accomplish?
James C. from FL writes: The Dolphin fans are in full on "Suck for Luck mode", but Andrew Luck has turned down a chance at being the No. 1 overall pick once before. With another year of eligibility, and the Dolphins looking like a much worse landing spot in terms of talent than last year’s Carolina team, do you think its possible that Luck would turn his back on the Dolphins if they were to obtain the No. 1 pick?
Walker: This theory has been thrown out several times, James, and I don't see it happening. First off, Miami is not a bad landing spot. The team has talent, particularly on offense with left tackle Jake Long, receiver Brandon Marshall, center Mike Pouncey and running backs Daniel Thomas and Reggie Bush. The new head coach (Cowher?) also will be an upgrade and the city of Miami is one of the top destinations for rich athletes to live. Luck is going to be the No. 1 pick whether he comes out this year or next year. Therefore, he's going to go to the worst team either way. I don't see the team factoring into his thinking.
AFC East Homer of the Week
This week's biggest homer is a Dolphins fan, who has a unique view on how they should handle their quarterback situation in 2012.
Pete from Pompano Beach, Fla., writes: James, am I one of the few Dolphins fans that has been happy with Chad Henne? He has shown vast improvement from his rookie season and hadn't stopped improving right up until he went down with the injury. The offensive problems the Dolphins have seem to be more with the wide receivers, mainly Brandon "Butterfingers" Marshall dropping passes and not necessarily bad passes. I'm not sure the whole "Suck For Luck" campaign is the best idea. He's a great college quarterback, but he could just as easily be the next Ryan Leaf or the next Peyton Manning. Why not go ahead and give Chad Henne another couple of years and see what his potential turns into?
Walker: Wow, Pete. You might be the only Dolphins fan who wants Henne over Luck. Henne had four years to show what he can do. You want to give Henne two more years to prove himself to Miami? That's not going to happen. Henne was the quarterback to the old regime of general manager Jeff Ireland and coach Tony Sparano. The new regime will not take on someone else's drafted, unproven quarterback who is coming off a season-ending shoulder injury. Congrats on being our "Homer of the Week" for Henne.
AFC East Haters of the Week
But we're not done...
Tim Ernest from Ft. Myers, Fla., writes: You elite think-you-know it all, college-educated media people are UNBELIEVABLE! Unless I was misinformed, when I played football the object of the game is to WIN!!! Did the Denver Broncos win in Miami, with the eyes of the ENTIRE world watching, with Tim Tebow, as their quarterback? In case you were too caught up evaluating his footwork or throwing motion, the answer to the question is a BIG FAT EMPHATIC YES!!!!!!!! No matter what you say Tim Tebow is a WINNER!
Dan from Rockledge, Fla., writes: Hmmm, you’ve been drinking with Merril Hoge and that Hall of Famer Trent Dilfer? Tebow will get better because he is a winner. But then again you went to Temple. You wouldn’t know about winning SEC, big boy football. Keep bashing. Keep sending subtle little digs. You too will look stupid in hindsight.
Walker: We received a lot of e-mails like these. Some had a lot worse language and were unprintable. The strange thing is I thought my Tebow column was pretty balanced. It provided pros and the cons that he fed into his legend and myth. "After watching Tebow on Sunday, I don't have a clear answer. Neither do the Denver Broncos," I wrote in the third graph. Some took away that I only ripped Tebow’s throwing mechanics and awful play for three-plus quarters. But I also praised his heart and ability to lead a huge comeback. Dan and Tim, thanks for being our AFC East blog "Haters of the Week."
If you have any questions, complaints, homer or hater comments, send them to our AFC East inbox.