Over the past nine seasons the AFC East has belonged to the New England Patriots. The Patriots absolutely dominated the division winning seven of nine division championships since 2001, with the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins each winning one championship during that time. With the Patriots looking more vulnerable than ever, the Dolphins and Jets will clash for the top spot in the division in the best game this weekend.
Sanchez Finds His Swagger
The Jets figure to bring their suddenly potent offense to this game, led by a resurgent quarterback in Mark Sanchez. After struggling to get anything going offensively in the season opener against the Baltimore Ravens the Jets righted the ship last week against long time division rival, the New England Patriots. Out of nowhere, New York’s sophomore signal caller went from completing just ten passes for 74 yards and no scores in week one to setting career highs in completions (21) and touchdowns (3) just six days later against the Pats. While one good outing does not make the Jets a lock for the Super Bowl, it does show that Sanchez and the Jets’ offense are improving.
It also appeared as if the Jets answered questions about one of their perceived weaknesses – a lack of elite receiving options. Sanchez connected with Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery, and Dustin Keller for touchdowns. Now if LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene – neither of which has scored or eclipsed 100 yards in a game – can somehow jump start Gang Green’s running attack, the Jets could boast one of the most threatening offenses in the league. And the Jets will need it as they take on the stout defense of the Dolphins.
New Team to Beat
For all the praise and accolades that Jets are accumulating, the 2-0 Dolphins are still the team to beat in the AFC East, becoming an offensive and defensive force. Chad Henne is starting to develop rapport with his new number one receiver Brandon Marshall (12 grabs for 124 yards through two games) and the ground game has proven even more formidable. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams have racked up 237 yards thus far, and already look like the league’s premier one-two punch. And, of course, the Dolphins can always be counted on for some solid defense.
Miami’s off-season pickup of Brandon Marshall is one of the main difference makers for the new-look Dolphins. Marshall’s mere presence figures to stretch the field and keep opposing defenses honest when attempting to cover the run. It looks like Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie will be asked to cover Marshall, and by all appearances that looks like a matchup that Marshall can win. He is a strong, physical receiver that can mix it up with the contact averse Cromartie all game long. Each player called out of position to support Cromartie in coverage makes the Jets that much more vulnerable.
Tale of the Tape
Both of these teams have playoff contender written all over them, but they will have to get past each other first to truly earn that title. It all starts with this Sunday’s matchup.
For the Jets to win they will need another solid performance from Sanchez. The Dolphins will no doubt be sending pressure in the form of talented young linebacker Cameron Wake. If Sanchez can stay vertical and make accurate passes for scores he will put his team in a good position to win. For the Fins to retain first place in the division they will need to rely on what got the team to where it is in the first place, a gritty run game. Computer projections suggest that if the Miami ground game can surpass the 100 yard mark, then the game is pretty much a lock win for Miami. No matter who wins Sunday, the outcome should reshape the future of the AFC East.