Here are seven notes and observations from Week 8 in the AFC East:
There may be extra motivation for Miami Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill to return from his knee and quad injury next week. Tannehill, the No. 8 overall pick, gets a chance to play against No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. This is a chance for Tannehill to further prove he belongs in the conversation with the likes of Luck and Robert Griffin III. Luck and Tannehill have both of their respective teams ahead of schedule. Miami (4-3) and Indianapolis (4-3) are in position to push for an AFC wild-card spot in the second half of the season.
An underrated improvement that I noticed after the bye week from the Dolphins was its secondary play. Miami’s inconsistent group played one of its better games in a 30-9 victory over the New York Jets. Defensive backs Nolan Carroll and Jimmy Wilson made big plays and safety Chris Clemons picked off Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. New York got most of its passing yards in garbage time but couldn’t do much when it mattered.
It turns out the Jets are full of hot air. The Jets returned to their trash-talking ways last week against Miami and they set themselves up for a mighty fall. New York simply isn’t very good this season and seemed to be the only ones who didn’t know it. Sunday’s game was a reality check. New York is projected to be $7 million over the cap next year, according ESPN.com's John Clayton. It’s time for New York to make some big decisions and start the rebuilding process.
Jets coach Rex Ryan immediately backed Sanchez over Tim Tebow Sunday evening. But Ryan must be careful not to hold onto Sanchez too long before it starts to impact the coach’s job security. Ryan is not on the hot seat this year. If the Jets don’t make the playoffs (and they won’t) it does not impact Ryan’s job security. He has enough equity after going to back-to-back AFC title games. But Sanchez had four years and now appears to be a lost cause when it comes to developing into and elite franchise quarterback. Tebow may not be any better. But the longer Ryan stands behind his struggling quarterback, the more likely Sanchez can take his coach down with him.
The New England Patriots’ offensive line deserves a lot of credit following a dominant performance against the St. Louis Rams. Patriots running back Stevan Ridley rushed for 127 yards and had 99 of those yards before contact, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Ridley had a lot of big holes to run through. St. Louis’ defensive line is pretty good, and the Patriots easily manhandled them across the pond.
The Patriots are in the easy part of their schedule. They have a bye week and two consecutive home games: against the Buffalo Bills (3-4) and Indianapolis Colts (4-3). New England should be 7-3 heading into their Thanksgiving Day game at the Jets (3-4), which could also be an easy game with the way New York is playing. It is very possible New England could be 8-3 by the end of November.
Did the Bills improve their defense during the bye? We’re about to find out quickly. The Bills face one of the NFL’s best offenses on the road over the next two games. First, Buffalo will play the Houston Texans (6-1), who can beat you on the ground and through the air. Then, the Bills will play the Patriots, who dropped 52 points on Buffalo in September. There is a lot of pressure on defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt to fix things, and he will not get any easy assignments.