2014 DRAFT GUIDE
Brady, Patriots lead way - surprise! - in AFC East

    2013-11-06 13:37

(Eds: With AP Photos.)
By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
AP Sports Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - These aren't the same New England Patriots everyone's used to seeing.

Sure, it's still Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, but who are those receivers? And, with all the injuries, who are some of those guys on defense?

Well, it doesn't matter.

The Patriots are still the class of the AFC East, despite new faces all around the field and a few key players out for the season with injuries. At 7-2, it appears New England is heading for its 10th division title in 11 years.

It's a remarkable stretch that could be capped by one of Belichick's best coaching jobs. Think about it: Brady's top receivers are Julian Edelman, oft-injured Danny Amendola, rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, and a just recently returned Rob Gronkowski. The defense has also had to deal with season-ending injuries to Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, and top cornerback Aqib Talib has been sidelined nearly a month.

''I feel like the players have worked hard this year,'' Belichick said. ''We have a lot of football left, a lot of big games.''

It seems as though the real race in the division is for second place, currently held by Rex Ryan's surprising Jets (5-4). Despite alternating wins and losses with up-and-down rookie quarterback Geno Smith, New York is very much in the playoff hunt.

So are the Miami Dolphins (4-4), who will have to overcome an ugly harassment case in which the league is investigating the relationship between suspended guard Richie Incognito and offensive linemate Jonathan Martin.

''We're not really going through too much as a team,'' defensive lineman Jared Odrick said, ''other than trying to win football games.''

Things are looking up a bit for the Buffalo Bills (3-6), who are getting rookie quarterback EJ Manuel back from a sprained right knee. Manuel has missed four weeks and the Bills have struggled after having to start undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel and journeyman Thad Lewis in his place.

Here are five things to know about the AFC East going into the second half:

FANTASTIC FINISH: It's difficult to imagine the Patriots not ending up on top again, not with a two-game lead. But the NFL's schedule makers provided a bit of intrigue for the second half.

In December, the Dolphins play each of their AFC East rivals, including the Jets twice. Miami is at New York in Week 13, then hosts New England in Week 15 and is at Buffalo the following week. If New York and Miami keep pace with each other, Week 17 could be the equivalent of a play-in game as the Jets are at the Dolphins to wrap up the regular season.

BRADY'S BUNCH: Brady is having one of his more underwhelming seasons with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions, but provided a reminder of just how dominant he can be last Sunday. With Gronkowski and Amendola on the field together and healthy, Brady threw for over 400 yards and four touchdowns in a 55-31 rout of Pittsburgh. Brady's first two TD tosses? To Amendola and Gronkowski.

Shane Vereen might be back soon from a broken left wrist, bolstering the Patriots' backfield and providing Brady with another playmaker.

Just what the rest of the division needs.

JEKYLL-AND-HYDE JETS: They win one, then lose one. Win one and lose one. And, repeat.

They joined the 2005 Patriots as the only teams to alternate wins and losses through their first nine games, but they know they need to start ripping off some wins - consecutively - if they still plan to make the playoffs.

New York holds the No. 6 spot in the AFC race, an improbable position considering many had the Jets ranked among the NFL's worst heading into the season. Smith has also gone back and forth between game-winning performances and turnover-filled disappointments while trying to establish himself as the future of the franchise.

DOLPHINS IN TURMOIL: Some considered Miami to be the one team capable of knocking New England from the top of the division, but second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins have been inconsistent.

Now, they're dealing with a situation that has rocked the NFL as Martin left the team last week because of emotional issues, while Incognito was suspended indefinitely last Sunday by coach Joe Philbin for his treatment of Martin.

On the field, Miami is trying to build off a 22-20 overtime victory over Cincinnati that ended a four-game skid and was the Dolphins' first win in 39 days.

BILLS BOUNCEBACK?: Buffalo was off to a 2-2 start before Manuel was injured for the second time in two months. He's coming back, and the schedule is favorable, too, with the Bills' remaining opponents combining for a 20-38 record, including back-to-back matchups with currently winless Tampa Bay and Jacksonville in December.

But with six losses already, the Bills might need to go 6-1 the rest of the way to even have a shot at the postseason. Otherwise, the NFL's longest active playoff drought will reach 14 seasons.

PREDICTED WINNER: Patriots.

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Giovani BernardOct 31 11:12a

Cincinnati Bengals RB Giovani Bernard (hip, shoulder) is unlikely to play in Week 9.

Trent RichardsonOct 31 10:32a

Indianapolis Colts RB Trent Richardson (hamstring) is not on the injury report for Week 9, and should be able to play Monday, Nov. 3.

Rashad JenningsOct 31 10:12a

New York Giants RB Rashad Jennings (knee) is aiming to return for the Week 10 game against the Seattle Seahawks.

Ronnie HillmanOct 31 09:12a

Updating previous reports, Denver Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman (shoulder) is expected to have his normal workload in Week 9, despite his limited practice repetitions.

DeAngelo HallOct 31 08:52a

Washington Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall (Achilles') tore his Achilles' again at home and had surgery to repair it Thursday, Oct. 30.

Ron JohnsonOct 30 08:22p

Seattle Seahawks CB Richard Sherman (back), DE Michael Bennett (toe), C Stephen Schilling (knee), CB Tharold Simon (knee), CB Byron Maxwell (calf), LB Malcolm Smith (groin), DT Jordan Hill [ More ]

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San Francisco 49res CB Tramaine Brock (toe) and LB Patrick Willis (toe) were limited in practice Thursday, Oct. 30. S Jimmie Ward (quadriceps) and CB Chris Culliver (hamstring) practiced in full.

Chris MatthewsOct 30 07:42p

The Seattle Seahawks re-signed WR Chris Matthews and TE Brett Brackett to their practice squad Thursday, Oct. 30.

Scott WellsOct 30 07:42p

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Luke JoeckelOct 30 07:22p

Jacksonville Jaguars OT Luke Joeckel (concussion) has recovered nicely from the concussion he suffered in Week 8, and he could play in Week 9 against the Cincinnati Bengals. Joeckel [ More ]

Pierre ThomasOct 30 07:22p

New Orleans Saints RBs Khiry Robinson (forearm) and Pierre Thomas (shoulder) are both inactive in Week 9 against the Carolina Panthers Thursday, Oct. 30.

Arian FosterOct 30 07:12p

Houston Texans RB Arian Foster (knee) was limited in practice Thursday, Oct. 30.

Johnathan JosephOct 30 07:12p

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David HawthorneOct 30 07:12p

The New Orleans Saints have declared LB Austin Johnson, LB David Hawthorne, C Jonathan Goodwin, RB Khiry Robinson, WR Nick Toon, RB Pierre Thomas, CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste inactive for Week 9.

Amini SilatoluOct 30 07:12p

The Carolina Panthers have declared OG Amini Silatolu, CB Bene Benwikere, OT Byron Bell, RB Fozzy Whittaker, WR Philly Brown, FS Thomas DeCoud, OG Trai Turner inactive for Week 9.

Justin TuckOct 30 06:42p

Oakland Raiders TE David Ausberry (foot), WR Vincent Brown (hamstring), CB Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring), CB Keith McGill (groin), CB Carlos Rogers (knee) and WR Kenbrell Thompkins (non-injury) did not [ More ]

Anthony CollinsOct 30 06:42p

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Minnesota Vikings DT Shariff Floyd (ankle, knee), TE Chase Ford (foot), CB Jabari Price (hamstring), CB Josh Robinson (ankle) and DE Brian Robison (glute) were limited in practice Thursday, [ More ]

Louis VasquezOct 30 06:22p

Denver Broncos S Quinton Carter (hamstring) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. LB Lamin Barrow (concussion), TE Virgil Green (calf), LB Steven Johnson (ankle) and OG Louis Vasquez (illness) [ More ]

Ronnie HillmanOct 30 06:22p

Denver Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman (shoulder) was limited in practice for the second straight day Thursday, Oct. 30.

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Jordan CameronOct 30 06:12p

Cleveland Browns TE Jordan Cameron (concussion) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30.

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Tom CrabtreeOct 30 06:02p

The New Orleans Saints waived TE Tom Crabtree Thursday, Oct. 30.

Patrick PetersonOct 30 05:42p

Arizona Cardinals S Tony Jefferson (head) and TE Troy Niklas (ankle) were limited in practice Thursday, Oct. 30. DE Calais Campbell (knee), LB Kenny Demens (knee), S Rashad Johnson [ More ]

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Kansas City Chiefs CB Jamell Fleming (hamstring) and LB Josh Martin (hamstring, knee) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. S Eric Berry (ankle) and CB Christopher Owens (knee) were [ More ]

Demario DavisOct 30 05:22p

New York Jets CB Darrin Walls (calf, knee) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. OT Oday Aboushi (shoulder), CB Phillip Adams (groin), LB Antwan Barnes (knee), OG Willie Colon [ More ]

Keenan RobinsonOct 30 05:12p

Washington Redskins S Ryan Clark (ankle, shoulder) and OT Trent Williams (knee) were limited in practice Thursday, Oct. 30. LB Ryan Kerrigan (wrist), LB Trent Murphy (knee), CB Tracy [ More ]

R. Griffin IIIOct 30 05:12p

Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III (ankle) practiced in full for the second straight day Thursday, Oct. 30.

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Mike PounceyOct 30 05:02p

Miami Dolphins OG Daryn Colledge (illness, back) LB Chris McCain (foot) and TE Dion Sims (toe) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. OG Nate Garner (neck), LB Koa Misi [ More ]

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