Here are seven notes and observations from Week 13 in the AFC East:
I have a gut feeling the Week 17 matchup between the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins on New Year’s Day is going to be HUGE. The Jets (7-5) are fighting for their playoff lives and have little margin for error. New York has to go at least 3-1 the rest of the way to have a chance, and I can see that final game in Miami being a “win and you’re in” scenario. The Dolphins are 4-1 in their last five games and not going anywhere. Miami is 4-8 overall but could get a lot of joy in sending the rival Jets packing in the final game of the season.
One of the funniest people in Miami's locker room Sunday was linebacker Kevin Burnett. There was a large group of media waiting at Burnett’s locker after he recorded four tackles, a sack and pick six in a 34-14 win over the Oakland Raiders. Burnett walked through the crowd and said jokingly “don’t try to be my friend now.” Burnett, Miami’s big free-agent acquisition, received some heat from the Miami media during the team’s 0-7 start for not making enough plays. Now, Burnett and teammate Karlos Dansby have been one of the NFL’s top linebacker duos in the second half of the season. The pair is key to Miami’s turnaround.
I may be in the minority. But I was more concerned about the New England Patriots' defense in the first couple of drives against the Indianapolis Colts as opposed to the 21 points allowed in the fourth quarter. Colts backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky, the team’s fourth option, completed his first seven passes against New England to start the game. It only led to three points. But it wasn’t a good look for New England against a quarterback who hadn’t started in three years. I think the lesson we really learned in this game is we really won’t know how improved New England’s defense is until the playoffs.
If the season ended today, the Patriots would have the No. 1 seed in the AFC. According to ESPN's Stats and Information, New England holds tiebreakers over the Baltimore Ravens (9-3) with the better conference record and the Houston Texans (9-3) with a better strength of victories. Most likely, all New England has to do is keep winning to force the road to the Super Bowl to go through Gillette Stadium. The Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3) own the head-to-head tiebreaker over New England and probably is the biggest threat to the No. 1 seed. But the Steelers are in second place in the AFC North, currently making them a wild card.
The Buffalo Bills (5-7) are looking more and more like a last-place team in the AFC East. I gave Buffalo a lot of credit for its surprising 4-1 start. But since then the Bills are 1-6 and lost their last five games. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Buffalo finishes 5-11 or 6-10. The Bills will be underdogs in most games the rest of the season, including next week's road game against the San Diego Chargers.
There has been some talk in Buffalo about the contract situation of receiver Steve Johnson. He will be an unrestricted free agent after this season and the Bills have an interesting decision to make. As usual, this will come down to value and money. How much is Johnson worth to Buffalo? Johnson is not quite an elite, No. 1 receiver but will ask for No. 1 receiver money. The Bills also just paid quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick $59 million and have to pay starting tailback Fred Jackson in the offseason. Keep an eye on Johnson's contract talks in the coming months.
Finally, I will give myself a pat on the back for going 4-0 in Week 13. It is my second straight undefeated week and brings my overall record to 8-2 picking AFC East games. I'm going to enjoy it a bit, because I don't know how long this hot streak will last. I hope you don't mind.