Here are seven notes and observations from Week 14 in the AFC East:
Are the New England Patriots putting too much pressure on quarterback Tom Brady? For those who don't believe Brady should be considered for MVP, simply look at how poorly New England's defense played in a 34-27 victory over the Washington Redskins. Brady (357 yards, three touchdowns) kept giving New England the lead and his defense kept giving it back. He made his first real mistake late in the fourth quarter with an interception in the end zone. And when offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien chewed him out, Brady exploded with an uncharacteristic tirade. Pressure busts pipes and I think that had a lot to do with Brady's response. His teammates, particularly on defense, were making mistakes left and right. Yet when Brady has one slip, his coach was all over him about it, and Brady didn't appreciate it at that moment. Cooler heads eventually prevailed. But the bigger picture is the rest of the team needs to do a much better job so New England doesn't require near perfection from Brady.
The AFC East blog wants to send a congrats to Patriots receiver Wes Welker, who reached 100 receptions for the four time in his career. Welker's consistency and production should be applauded. He’s caught at least five receptions in 12 out of 13 games this season. Welker's career high for catches is 123 in 2009. He needs 24 receptions in the final three games to surpass his personal best.
If the playoffs started today, the New York Jets (8-5) would travel to play the AFC South champion Houston Texans (10-3). Houston is the No. 3 seed but is without its starting quarterback Matt Schaub and backup Matt Leinart. New York's defense would face third-string rookie T.J. Yates, who helped the Jets by beating the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. The Texans are strong in other areas. But I think the Jets' defense against Yates in his first playoff game would be a good matchup for New York. It's much better, in my opinion, than the Jets traveling to face Baltimore (10-3) or New England (10-3) in the wild-card round. New York also lost this season to Tim Tebow and the surging Denver Broncos (8-5), who are favorites to win the AFC West.
It's no surprise that Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez puts up better numbers when his offense can run the football. The past three weeks New York has pounded opponents via the run. As a result, Sanchez benefited from less coverage in the secondary and the ability to use play-action, which is one of his strengths. New York has rushed for 399 yards the past three games, and Sanchez has accounted for nine total touchdowns (seven passing, two rushing) and one interception in that span.
The Buffalo Bills (5-8) will miss the playoffs for the 12th consecutive season, which is an NFL high. The Detroit Lions (8-5) have a chance to tie the Bills if Detroit also doesn't qualify. But Buffalo, with six straight losses, clearly has a long way to go. The Bills have a lot of work to do in the offseason, particularly on defense. But the biggest decision was already made at quarterback. Via a $59 million contract extension, Buffalo has agreed to go forward with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick for the foreseeable future. Fitzpatrick was an abysmal 13 for 34 with 176 yards and two interceptions in Sunday's loss to the San Diego Chargers. Fitzpatrick needs to be more consistent and less streaky if he wants to get the Bills to the next level in future seasons.
Aside from quarterback Chad Henne, the Miami Dolphins have been relatively fortunate with major injuries to key players. But that wasn't the case Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Dolphins lost starting quarterback Matt Moore (head), left tackle Jake Long (back) and cornerback Vontae Davis (neck). Miami has talent, but it certainly isn't good enough to sustain losing three of its best players. I'm curious to see how competitive Miami will be if any or all of these players miss significant time.
Finally, I want to offer more thoughts on the Miami Herald's report of the Dolphins planning to fire coach Tony Sparano and keep general manager Jeff Ireland. It's an interesting concept if owner Stephen Ross goes in that direction. Dolphins fans want change and this would not be a complete overhaul. I believe Miami has to make a huge splash at head coach to get fans excited again. But that probably won't happen with Ireland still on board. The Dolphins may have to go the assistant route. They also will have a lot of competition for top coaches this offseason with Kansas City firing Todd Haley and jobs expected to open in San Diego, St. Louis and Jacksonville.