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

Julius ThomasNov 27 07:52p

Denver Broncos TE Julius Thomas (ankle) was limited during practice Thursday, Nov. 27.

Anthony DavisNov 27 07:23p

The San Francisco 49ers have declared OT Anthony Davis, WR Bruce Ellington, DL Glenn Dorsey, QB Josh X. Johnson, WR Quinton Patton, CB Tramaine Brock, TE Vance McDonald inactive for Week 13.

Arian FosterNov 27 07:12p

Houston Texans RB Arian Foster (groin) was limited during practice Wednesday, Nov. 27.

Allen BradfordNov 27 07:12p

The Seattle Seahawks have declared LB Allen Bradford, TE Cooper Helfet, CB Jeremy Lane, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, C Max Unger, TE Rashaun Allen, DL Travian Robertson inactive for Week 13.

Jordan CameronNov 27 06:32p

Cleveland Browns TE Jordan Cameron (concussion) was limited during practice Thursday, Nov. 27.

Latavius MurrayNov 27 04:52p

Oakland Raiders RB Latavius Murray (concussion) was limited during practice Thursday, Nov. 27.

Larry FitzgeraldNov 27 04:02p

Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee) did not participate in practice Thursday, Nov. 27.

Tony HillsNov 27 03:22p

The Dallas Cowboys have declared LB Dekoda Watson, OG Donald Hawkins, QB Dustin Vaughan, FS Jeff Heath, DL Joshua Brent, OT Tony Hills, CB Tyler Patmon inactive for Week 13.

Taylor HartNov 27 03:12p

The Philadelphia Eagles have declared OT Dennis Kelly, DB Jaylen Watkins, WR Jeff Maehl, OG Julian Vandervelde, QB Nick Foles, CB Rashad Carmichael, DE Taylor Hart inactive for Week 13.

Jordan ReedNov 27 03:02p

Washington Redskins TE Jordan Reed (hamstring) was limited in practice Thursday, Nov. 27.

Dwayne AllenNov 27 02:32p

Indianapolis Colts TE Dwayne Allen (ankle) did not participate in practice Thursday, Nov. 27.

Kyle FullerNov 27 11:32a

Chicago Bears CB Kyle Fuller (knee) will play in the team's Week 13 game against the Detroit Lions. Fuller had been questionable during the week.

Lance BriggsNov 27 11:22a

The Chicago Bears have declared WR Chris X. Williams, LB Darryl Sharpton, OT Eben Britton, DL Jeremiah Ratliff, LB Lance Briggs, CB Terrance Mitchell, DL Trevor Scott inactive for Week Week 13.

Reggie BushNov 27 11:12a

The Detroit Lions have declared QB Kellen Moore, OG Larry Warford, DE Larry Webster, DL Nick Fairley, RB Reggie Bush, OT Riley Reiff, WR Ryan Broyles inactive for Week 13.

Reggie BushNov 27 11:12a

Detroit Lions RB Reggie Bush (ankle) is inactive Thursday, Nov. 27, for Week 13.

Reggie BushNov 27 10:12a

Detroit Lions RB Reggie Bush (ankle) is out for Week 13 Thursday, Nov. 27. His ankle isn't responding well enough, but the hope is to return for Week 14.

R. Griffin IIINov 27 09:53a

Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III is highly unlikely to return to the team next season, sources within the organization said. Head coach Jay Gruden convinced owner Daniel Snyder [ More ]

Jimmy StatenNov 26 09:43p

The Seattle Seahawks signed free-agent DT Jimmy Staten (Seahawks) to their practice squad Wednesday, Nov. 26. The team also released OT Andrew McDonald from their practice squad.

Marcus ThigpenNov 26 09:03p

The Buffalo Bills claimed WR Marcus Thigpen off waivers from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Wednesday, Nov. 26. The team also waived DE Bryan Johnson.

Richard GordonNov 26 09:03p

The Tennessee Titans waived TE Richard Gordon Wednesday, Nov. 26.

Larry FitzgeraldNov 26 08:33p

Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Nov. 26.

Dwayne AllenNov 26 07:33p

Indianapolis Colts TE Dwayne Allen (ankle) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Nov. 26.

C. PattersonNov 26 06:23p

Minnesota Vikings WR Cordarrelle Patterson (knee) did not practice Wednesday, Nov. 26.

Jerick McKinnonNov 26 06:13p

Minnesota Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon (back) did not practice Wednesday, Nov. 26.

Brandon LaFellNov 26 06:03p

New England Patriots WR Brandon LaFell (shoulder) was limited during practice Wednesday, Nov. 26.

Jace AmaroNov 26 05:13p

New York Jets TE Jace Amaro (head) is not expected to play in Week 13, because he is going through the concussion protocol.

Reggie BushNov 26 04:53p

Detroit Lions RB Reggie Bush (ankle, back) was limited in practice for the third straight day Wednesday, Nov. 26, and is questionable for Week 13 against the Chicago Bears.

Jordan CameronNov 26 04:43p

Cleveland Browns TE Jordan Cameron (concussion) remains day-to-day, but the team is looking for him to practice symptom-free this week, according to head coach Mike Pettine.

Jordan ReedNov 26 04:13p

Washington Redskins TE Jordan Reed (hamstring) was limited in practice Wednesday, Nov. 26, according to head coach Jay Gruden.

R. Griffin IIINov 26 02:53p

Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III needs more seasoning, and he'll likely do it from the bench for the rest of this season, according to head coach Jay Gruden. [ More ]

Arian FosterNov 26 02:33p

Houston Texans RB Arian Foster (groin) has an excellent chance to return in Week 13 against the Tennessee Titans after missing the last two games.

Mark SanchezNov 26 02:23p

Philadelphia Eagles QB Mark Sanchez has thrown six interceptions this year, but all of them haven't been game-changing turnovers. In Week 12 against the Tennessee Titans, Sanchez thrived on [ More ]

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