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

Reggie BushNov 22 05:32p

Detroit Lions RB Reggie Bush (ankle) is likely out for Week 12 and is targeting the Thanksgiving Day game Thursday, Nov. 27, to return.

Marcel ReeceNov 22 04:42p

Oakland Raiders FB Marcel Reece earned more carries after his performance in Week 12 Thursday, Nov. 20. Reece rushed for 46 yards during a crucial 17-play, 80-yard drive late [ More ]

Arian FosterNov 22 04:22p

Houston Texans RB Arian Foster (groin) is highly unlikely to suit up Sunday, Nov. 23, for Week 12.

Josh GordonNov 22 01:32p

Cleveland Browns WR Josh Gordon was officially activated from the exempt/commissioner permission list Saturday, Nov. 22. In a subsequent move, the team waived LB Keith Pough.

A.J. JenkinsNov 22 12:42p

The Kansas City Chiefs have placed WR A.J. Jenkins (shoulder) on the Reserve/Injured list.

Charles ClayNov 21 05:52p

Miami Dolphins TE Charles Clay (knee) did not practice Friday, Nov. 21, and he is doubtful for Week 12 against the Denver Broncos. Clay suffered a setback in practice [ More ]

Arian FosterNov 21 05:32p

Houston Texans RB Arian Foster (groin) did not practice Friday, Nov. 21, and is questionable for Week 12 against the Cincinnati Bengals. Head coach Bill O'Brien said Foster would [ More ]

Jason AvantNov 21 04:52p

The Kansas City Chiefs will sign free-agent WR Jason Avant (Panthers), according to a source. Avant worked out for the team Friday, Nov. 21.

Delanie WalkerNov 21 03:32p

Updating a previous report, Tennessee Titans TE Delanie Walker (concussion) fully participated in practice Friday, Nov. 21, and is listed as probable for Week 12.

Larry FitzgeraldNov 21 03:12p

Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee) is considered a game-time decision for Week 12, according to head coach Bruce Arians.

Adrian PetersonNov 21 03:02p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson's appeal hearing is scheduled to occur Dec. 2, and commissioner Roger Goodell will not be in charge of the hearing. Former NFL employee Harold [ More ]

Larry FitzgeraldNov 21 02:22p

Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee) was not participating during the media-access portion of practice Friday, Nov. 21. Fitzgerald was working on the side during that part of practice.

Delanie WalkerNov 21 02:22p

Tennessee Titans TE Delanie Walker (concussion) has passed his concussion test and is good to go in Week 12 against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Giovani BernardNov 21 02:12p

Cincinnati Bengals RB Giovani Bernard (hip, clavicle) fully participated in practice Friday, Nov. 21, and is probable for Week 12.

Julius ThomasNov 21 02:12p

Denver Broncos TE Julius Thomas (ankle) is listed as questionable for Week 12 against the Miami Dolphins after putting in a limited practice Friday, Nov. 21.

Emmanuel SandersNov 21 02:02p

Denver Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders (concussion) practiced in full Friday, Nov. 21, and is probable for Week 12 against the Miami Dolphins, according to head coach John Fox.

Julius ThomasNov 21 01:52p

Denver Broncos TE Julius Thomas (ankle), who appeared limited during practice Friday, Nov. 21, figures to be a game-time decision against the Miami Dolphins in Week 12. Thomas said [ More ]

Dwayne AllenNov 21 01:32p

Indianapolis Colts TE Dwayne Allen (ankle) has been ruled out for Week 12 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Jonas GrayNov 21 01:22p

New England Patriots RB Jonas Gray (undisclosed) was a no-show at practice Friday, Nov. 21.

Jordan ReedNov 21 01:12p

Washington Redskins TE Jordan Reed (hamstring) missed his third straight day of practice Friday, Nov. 21, and head coach Jay Gruden said Reed has been ruled out for Week [ More ]

Emmanuel SandersNov 21 01:12p

Denver Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders (concussion) is participating in practice Friday, Nov. 21.

Adrian PetersonNov 21 11:02a

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson said he'll gladly return this season if he wins the appeal of his indefinite suspension. If he loses his appeal and has to sit [ More ]

Latavius MurrayNov 21 10:32a

Oakland Raiders RB Latavius Murray (concussion) has earned himself a larger role in the offense, according to interim head coach Tony Sparano. His concussion, obviously, will dictate when that [ More ]

LeGarrette BlountNov 21 10:32a

New England Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount was not signed by the team to replace RB Jonas Gray as the between-the-tackles runner. Blount's presence gives the team another tough inside [ More ]

Jeremy HillNov 21 10:02a

Cincinnati Bengals RB Jeremy Hill will be the leader in a 65-35 split of the carries with RB Giovani Bernard in Week 12, in the opinion of beat writer Paul Dehner Jr.

Emmanuel SandersNov 20 07:42p

Denver Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders (concussion) has done conditioning work and will be evaluated again Friday, Nov. 21.

Eric KushNov 20 07:03p

The Kansas City Chiefs have declared WR A.J. Jenkins, QB Aaron Murray, CB Christopher Owens, WR Donnie Avery, C Eric Kush, CB Jamell Fleming, OT Laurent Duvernay-Tardif inactive for Week 12.

Matt McGloinNov 20 07:03p

The Oakland Raiders have declared CB Carlos Rogers, TE David Ausberry, OG Gabe Jackson, SS Jonathan Dowling, QB Matt McGloin, OG Tony Bergstrom, CB Travis Carrie inactive for Week 12.

Charles ClayNov 20 06:42p

Miami Dolphins TE Charles Clay (knee) did not practice Thursday, Nov. 20, after being limited Wednesday, Nov. 19.

Tauren PooleNov 20 06:42p

The New Orleans Saints released RB Tauren Poole Thursday, Nov. 20.

Jordan CameronNov 20 06:12p

Cleveland Browns TE Jordan Cameron (concussion) did not practice for the second straight day Thursday, Nov. 20.

Arian FosterNov 20 05:52p

Houston Texans RB Arian Foster (groin) did not practice Thursday, Nov. 20, after being limited the previous day.

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