By Rikki GreenbergÂ
Â So who’s going to be in, and who’s going to be left out in arguably the strongest division in football? Should they seriously just disband the AFC West, so we don’t end up with another situation like this again? We’ll sort it out for you…
New York Jets (9-5)
In a three-way tie with the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins in the AFC East, the Jets have to win the next two games and Miami and/or the Patriots have to lose one of their two games in order for Gang Green to take first place in the division. Grandpa Jett Favre will have to take down the Seattle Seahawks (3-11) first before they get to the season-ending showdown with fellow division leaders, the Miami Dolphins (9-5). The Seahawks are out of playoff contention and this could be a potentially dangerous situation for the Jets because Seattle has nothing to lose and may give the Green and White a tougher time than initially conceived.
The real test for Mangini and his merry men in spandex is the meeting with former Jets quarterback Chad Pennington and the red hot Dolphins. The last time these two teams met was at Dolphin Stadium in the season opener. Pennington had just been released from the Gang Green a month prior and the former King of Cheese was victorious in his place. Now Pennington looks to even the score by slinging out to former Ohio State wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (50 catches for 675 yards, one touchdown) or dump it off to veteran running back Downtown Ronnie Brown (195 carries for 827 yards, 10 TD and 4.2 yards per carry average) in the backfield.
Miami Dolphins (9-5)
The Miami Dolphins have to win the last two games (including the season finale vs. New York) in order to take first place in the AFC East. Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington and the rest of the gang will have to get over the Kansas City (2-12) hump before they meet with New York at Giants Stadium in Week 17. The Chiefs may not boast an intimidating record, but they do have dangerous offensive weapons like former Penn State running back Larry Johnson and Nine-time Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez. It will be up to Miami’s 11th ranked defense to contain Johnson and provide ample coverage on Gonzalez.
The stakes get higher for Miami when they make an appearance in New York the following week. Pennington has become a leader for the Miami offense and his numbers have increased dramatically (2007: 179-of-260 for 1,765 yards, 10 TD, 9 INT vs. 2008: 273-of-412 for 3,218 yards, 14 TD, 6 INT) from last season’s Green and White playing days.Â Pennington also has a new arsenal of offensive weapons in Ginn Jr., Brown and former Texas running back Ricky Williams (138 carries for 575 yards, 3 TD and 4.2 yards per carry average). With both teams vying for first-place, this game should bring a whole lot of sizzle to a freezing December match up.
New England Patriots (9-5)
In order for the Patriots to take first place in the AFC East, they must win the last two and the Dolphins and/or the Jets have to lose one. Unlike the Jets and the Dolphins, the Patriots face a tougher Week 16 opponent in the form of first-place NFC West leaders, the Arizona Cardinals (8-6).If the Patriots can take advantage of the dismal weather conditions (rain/snow, wind and cold) at Gillette Stadium this Sunday and the weakened Cardinals receiving corps (superstar wide receiver Anquan Boldin will be a game-time decision against the Patriots due to a shoulder), the Patriots will keep their wild card hopes alive.
The next week the Patriotsâ€™ 16th ranked run defense will be put to the test with the one-two punch of Bills second season running backs Marshawn Lynch (239 carries for 1,002 yards, 7 TD and 4.2 yards per carry average) and Fred Jackson (93 carries for 392 yards, 2 TD and a 4.2 yards per carry average). The Bills also poses a potentially threatening passing game with speedy wide receiver Lee Evans and veteran big-play wide receiver Josh Reed.
Team with 11 wins staying home
If the Patriots, New York, Miami and Baltimore end the season with an 11-5 record, then the NFLâ€™s elaborate tie-breaking procedures kick in. Since only six teams can make it to the playoffs, it is possible that an 11 win team stays home, which has only happened once in league history.Follow paulmbanks