Here are seven notes and observations in the AFC East:
Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland takes a beating from the media and fans in South Florida. But it’s time to give Ireland some props for his productive rookie class. Despite various criticisms, Ireland has always relied on his solid drafting to get him off the hot seat. Ireland again is getting great contributions from his first three picks: quarterback Ryan Tannehill, right tackle Jonathan Martin and defensive end Olivier Vernon. The Dolphins could not beat the St. Louis Rams Sunday without contributions from all three rookies. Fourth-round pick Lamar Miller also contributed earlier this year and has potential. Miami is a young team. But it has good, young players and Ireland deserves a lot of credit.
Speaking of the Rams, they were the first team to do two things to Miami that I haven't seen all season. St. Louis ran the ball well against the Dolphins and stopped the run. The Rams rushed for 162 yards, which is the highest total Miami allowed all season. Miami had a lot of trouble with the zone running plays for St. Louis tailbacks Steven Jackson (52 yards) and Daryl Richardson (76 yards). The Rams also stuffed Miami on the ground. The Dolphins rushed for only 19 yards on 18 attempts. Miami has the bye week to fix what went wrong.
Seattle Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman trash-talked New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. That’s nothing new. But what was interesting is Sherman told reporters that Seattle is a true team and New England is mostly one player: Brady. Although I somewhat disagree with that statement this year, that is the perception around the league. If you disrupt Brady, the Patriots have a slim chance of winning. New England needs to get better at winning when Brady isn't dominant. He's not going to be “Tom Terrific” every week. Brady should be allowed to make some mistakes.
The New York Jets looked like the "ground and pound" team that went to the playoffs in 2009 and 2010 in a 35-9 win over the Indianapolis Colts. The Jets looked as good as I think they can with the talent left on the roster. But can the Jets win consistently playing caveman football in 2012? The Colts were not tough enough to stop the Jets' running game. But upcoming opponents like the Patriots, Dolphins and Seahawks will not allow tailback Shonn Greene to run for 161 yards. The Jets must be more balanced to win those games.
All things considered, the Buffalo Bills are actually in a good spot this week. Many left the Bills for dead after they suffered back-to-back blowout losses to the Patriots and San Francisco 49ers. But a big overtime win over the Arizona Cardinals puts Buffalo at 3-3 with a very winnable game at home against the Tennessee Titans (2-4). The Bills cannot have a letdown against Tennessee. They have a bye week coming up and can enter it with a 4-3 record. Buffalo's schedule gets tough after the bye, when it faces the Houston Texans and Patriots on the road, followed by the Dolphins at home.
Buffalo needs its defensive line to dominate every week like it did against the Cardinals. The Bills registered five sacks and a safety against Arizona. Yes, the Cardinals have arguably the worst offensive line in the NFL. It has resulted in three quarterback injuries already this season between Kevin Kolb (twice) and John Skelton (once). But perhaps this is momentum for Buffalo's defense, which allowed 97 points combined in Week 4 and Week 5. Defensive end Mario Williams was particularly dominant with two sacks and three additional hits on the quarterback.
Finally, I want to open up the forum to our community. We have a four-way tie in the AFC East. So who are the contenders and pretenders in the division? Do the Jets have a shot to win the AFC East? What about the Dolphins or Bills? Or will the Patriots prevail at the end, as usual? Share your thoughts in our AFC East inbox or the comments section below. I'm looking forward to hearing what our AFC East community thinks about these four teams.