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NFL Week 9: Previewing the AFC East Matchups

Another week, another twist and turn on the roller coaster that’s been the AFC East race throughout the 2013 NFL season.

When we last left the AFC East, heading into Week 8, the New York Jets had begun to close the gap on the division-leading New England Patriots, beating them head-to-head to pull within a game of first place.

Unfortunately, that hard work was undone with a Jets loss in Week 8, and a Patriots win over the Miami Dolphins to put some extra breathing room between New England their AFC East foes once again.

With the Buffalo Bills also losing their game last weekend, the Patriots were able to gain ground on all three of their divisional opponents, and they’re in prime position to control their own destiny over the second half of the season. The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same in this division.

Here’s how the AFC East standings look entering Week 9:

New England Patriots — 6-2 
New York Jets — 4-4
Miami Dolphins — 3-4
Buffalo Bills — 3-5

No intra-division games this week, so let’s look ahead to the four AFC East matchups in Week 9:

 

Cincinnati Bengals at Miami Dolphins, 8:25 pm ET, Thursday

The Dolphins return home this week after blowing a 14-point lead to the Patriots on the road last week, dropping their fourth straight game to fall to 3-4 after a 3-0 start. It’s not going to get any easier for Miami this week, as the 6-2 Bengals come to town, a team I believe is the second-best team in the AFC.

The two teams have gone in complete opposite directions lately, with the Bengals winning four straight and the Dolphins losing four in a row. I think those respective streaks will continue for at least another week. Cincinnati has as deep a roster 1 through 53 as any team in football, and the only thing keeping them being a legitimate Super Bowl contender is the inconsistency of third-year quarterback Andy Dalton.

If Dalton can continue playing the way he’s played the last few weeks, the sky is the limit as to how far the Bengals can go this season. The Dolphins’ offensive line will struggle mightily with this Cincinnati defensive front, and the Bengals should be able to rely on their running game a little more this week with rookie Giovani Bernard leading the way.

 

Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills, 1pm ET, Sunday

The Chiefs are 8-0, the last remaining undefeated team in the NFL. Outstanding defense and special teams has been the biggest factor in Kansas City’s success, especially the dynamic pass rush duo of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. The Bills have played well at home, but I don’t foresee an upset here.

Fred Jackson has been a bright spot for Buffalo, having emerged as the lead back with C.J. Spiller injured and/or ineffective for the majority of the season. With some disarray at the quarterback position as well, the Bills’ offense hasn’t had a chance to really get on track.

The Chiefs stifling defense isn’t likely to aid that cause. They shouldn’t have any trouble keeping the Bills’ offense in check. Meanwhile, Andy Reid and Alex Smith should be able to get their ninth win of the year with the same formula that’s worked for them all season. Lean on MVP candidate Jamaal Charles, protect the football, and let that defense punish the opposition.

 

New Orleans Saints at New York Jets, 1pm ET, Sunday

One step forward, one step backward. That’s been the story of the Jets’ 2013 season in a nutshell. After a crushing defeat at the hands of the Bengals last week, they’ve now somehow managed to alternate wins and losses every week over the first eight weeks of the season.

Well, for their sake, they’d love to keep that trend going for at least another week. But as we discussed in depth on NGN’s “Press Coverage” podcast, that’s going to be a daunting task against a 6-1 Saints team that’s arguably played like the best team in the NFC this season. There’s no way around it. For the Jets to win this game, they’re going to have to play their best game of the season in all three phases.

At times, the Jets have played extremely well. Their wins over the Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons were impressive performances, but they’ll need to be even better if they want to get to 5-4 heading into their bye week. That being said, being 4-4 at this point of the season is a heck of a lot better than most prognosticators believed they’d be, and that’s a victory in and of itself.

Nevertheless, the Jets are in a tough spot, as they’re trying to win games and develop young players at the same time. It can be hard to balance the long- and sh0rt-term goals of an organization, especially with a head coach in Rex Ryan who’s fighting for his future. However, as a Jets fan, there’s no coach I’d rather have than Rex Ryan, and no doubt he’d love to beat twin brother Rob and the Saints on Sunday.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots, 4:25 pm ET, Sunday

After an 0-4 start, the Steelers had to be feeling good about winning two in a row, but an ugly loss to the Oakland Raiders last week dropped them to 2-5 on the year, in danger of falling completely out of the AFC playoff race. Pittsburgh is in last place in the AFC North, and their window is rapidly closing.

Now, they have to go to Gillette Stadium to face one of their postseason nemeses, the Patriots. Even though Tom Brady has looked pretty mortal this season, the Patriot defense has picked up the slack, and if you are what your record says you are, the Patriots are 6-2 and in first place. Nothing new there.

For Pittsburgh to win this game, they’ll probably need to get their running game going and play a little bit more like the team that beat the Jets on the road a few weeks ago. If rookie running back Le’Veon Bell can get going, that should help take the pressure off Ben Roethlisberger and the struggling offensive line.

Do the Steelers have it in them to upset the Patriots in New England? The rest of the AFC East sure wouldn’t mind it, but it’s going to be tough. These aren’t the same Steelers who were competing for Super Bowls not so long ago. I think the Patriots will get to 7-2 and extend their division lead.

 

 

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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