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AFC East Preview: Week4

Heading into week 4 of the NFL regular season, the AFC East has surprisingly emerged as one of the more formidable divisions in the NFL. The surging Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots are still undefeated on the year, while the 2-1 New York Jets have shown they’re no pushovers either. The Buffalo Bills are bringing up the rear at 1-2, and even they may be better than their record shows.

In fact, as we get set for Week 4 play, the four AFC East teams have combined to go 6-0 in non-division games, a record they’ll be trying to keep in tact in Week 4,  the first time this season that all four teams will play non-division games in the same week. Let’s look ahead to the matchups in Week 4:

 

Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills, 1pm ET, Sunday

The defending Super Bowl champion Ravens have won two in a row since their opening week loss, but even at 2-1, they have not nearly solved all of their offensive problems. Star running back Ray Rice missed their Week 3 game with a hip injury, but the Ravens easily handled the Houston Texans with a 30-9 victory nonetheless.

Second-year running back Bernard Pierce shouldered the loud in that game, but it’s not very encouraging that both Rice and Pierce are averaging less than 3 yards per carry on the year. That’s something that needs to improve if the Ravens aim to defend their crown in January. The Bills defense may be able to help that, however.

Last week against the Jets, the Bills got gashed by Bilal Powell for a career-high 149 yards at over 5.5 yards per carry, and whether or not Rice plays, it’s reasonable to expect the Ravens to be able to find some running room this Sunday. The Bills don’t want to be 1-3, and they’d like to force Joe Flacco to beat them to give themselves a chance.

On offense, the Bills need to get their own running game going, as C.J. Spiller has had been a disappointment (at least to his fantasy owners) and EJ Manuel is still just a rookie. The Ravens will be road favorites in this game, and it’ll be interesting to see how Manuel navigates a defense that smells blood in the water against a rookie.

 

New York Jets at Tennessee Titans, 4:05 pm ET, Sunday

The J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets have a chance to finish the month of September with a 3-1 record, as they travel to Nashville in a battle of surprising 2-1 teams. Rookie Geno Smith had the finest game of his young career last week, throwing for 330 yards and showing great resolve to bounce back and lead the team to victory.

As mentioned, Bilal Powell had a career day last time out, and the Jets are going to need him to shoulder the load for at least another week, with Chris Ivory dealing with a hamstring injury and fellow running back Mike Goodson serving the final game of his four-game suspension. But the strength of this Jets team, as expected, is the defense.

Rex Ryan’s got his defense humming again, flying to the football and holding opponents to under 50% completions in each of the Jets’ first three games. They’d love to keep that streak going against third-year quarterback Jake Locker, a guy who’s not really known for his accuracy as it is.

The Titans boast a strong pass rush, and they’re an overtime loss away from being undefeated, so there’s no question they’ll be a formidable matchup for Geno Smith and company. The Titans will be favored, and rightfully so, and it’ll be another great opportunity for the Jets to prove that their strong start to the year is no fluke.

 

New England Patriots at Atlanta Falcons, 8:30 pm ET, Sunday

The undefeated Patriots will look to keep their record unblemished against a scuffling 1-2 Falcons team that has not looked nearly like the same team that found themselves in the NFC Championship game last season. The Falcons will again be without Steven Jackson, but they should find ways to move the ball in the passing game.

The Patriots won ugly against the Bills and Jets before easily dispatching the Buccaneers last week, and Tom Brady could get his big tight end Rob Gronkowski back this week, which is not good news for the rest of the NFL. A healthy Gronkowski is one of the most dominant skill position players in the game, with the size and strength to block like an extra offensive lineman, as well as the speed and athleticism to dominate in the passing game as well.

This game has a chance to be a shootout, with an over/under at press time of 49.5, as neither team is exactly a defensive powerhouse and will likely rely on their offense to keep pace with the other. The Patriots are road favorites, and Atlanta is in danger of falling to 1-3 if they can’t find a way to knock off the perennial AFC East champs.

The Patriots don’t have the usual cast of familiar faces on offense, but they’ve found a way to get the job done thus far. With or without Gronkowski, it could be a long day for a Falcons defense that’s given up 23 points or more in every game so far this season. However, this is the NFL, after all. Perhaps there’s an upset brewing.

 

Miami Dolphins at New Orleans Saints, 8:40 pm ET, Monday

Finally, we’ve got ourselves a Monday Night Football matchup worth watching, as two undefeated teams square off at the Superdome in Week 4. The Dolphins and second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill have earned themselves some serious respect with a big road win over the Colts and a home win against the Falcons the last two weeks, and they’ll look to take down an NFC South opponent for the second week in a row here in Week 4.

Tannehill is completing over 66% of his passes so far this season, and he’s mostly carried the load on a Dolphins offense that’s averaging a shade under 25 points per game despite a bottom-five rushing attack on offense. The defense will be facing their toughest test yet, with a high-flying Saints offense that’s averaging over 400 yards per game.

Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles lead the way for New Orleans, who finally appear to have a defense that can keep pace with them, as new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has helped fuel a dramatic turnaround on that side of the ball. A laughing stock last year, the Saints defense is 5th in points per game and 4th in yards per game through three weeks, after they were one of the worst defenses in NFL history last season.

With two undefeated teams playing good football facing off, something’s got to give in this Monday night matchup, and it’ll be interesting to see if the Dolphins can show the entire NFL world that they’re for real, and a legitimate threat to the Patriots in the AFC East, with an upset victory over the favored Saints.

 

Jon Presser is the lead host of NGN’s New York Jets podcast, “Press Coverage: Jets Talk with Jon Presser,” live every Tuesday at 7:30 pm ET. Follow “Press Coverage” on Twitter: @PressCoverNYJ

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Ralph Garcia

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