BOSTON (CBS) – For a week, at least, the AFC East is precisely what everyone thought it could be. Four wins. No losses. And enough evidence – at least for now – to suggest that someone might actually be able to challenge the Patriots for the division championship.
OK, so let’s not go that far.
But you get the point: one week into the 2015 NFL season, take a good look at those point differentials. The numbers in the AFC East look like the scoreboard at the US Open golf championship:
New England Patriots +7
Miami Dolphins +7
Buffalo Bills +13
New York Jets +21
Pretty good, right?
Whether this means anything has truly changed remains to be seen, but we all understand the score.
During the offseason, defense became chic in the most singularly dominated division in football over the last 15 years. The Bills (Rex Ryan) and Jets (Todd Bowles) changed coaches, the Dolphins signed Ndamukong Suh. All at once, the defensive lines of the Bills, Jets and Dolphins seemingly sought to become the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970’s, which may (or may not) threaten the reign of quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Will it work? Time will tell. But maybe now we have another reason for Bill Belichick keeping all of those small, quick backs and disposing of the blockier Jonas Gray.
The Patriots aren’t likely to run between the tackles much against these teams.
If they run at all.
Before Patriots fans start to get their backs up, let’s acknowledge the obvious: the Jets beat the perennially dreadful Cleveland Browns, the Dolphins won over the pathetic Washington Redskins. Only Miami was on the road. True NFL standing is determined in November, December and January, not September, particularly in the first week.
As for the Bills, well, they looked an awful lot like Ryan’s best from his Jets days, which is both good and bad. The Bills got an extremely well-managed game from quarterback Tyron Taylor, a consistent running game and a physical, in-your-face defensive performance against one of the conference favorites, Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. In true Ryan fashion, the Bills also accumulated 11 penalties for a whopping 113 yards, though, after last year, even Patriots fans should acknowledge that some yellow flags are the cost of a ferocious defense.
The Bills were called for three personal fouls and one facemask penalty, after all, though that is only part of the story. They were also called four times for offensive holding, once for delay of game, once for running into the kicker (declined). They played with the usual recklessness that Ryan’s teams generally play, which is, of course, the Ryan conundrum.
Tough and nasty. But stupid and undisciplined.
Is Ryan prepared to again challenge Bill Belichick and the Pats, as Ryan did for a time during his tenure with the Jets? We find out in Week 2, with the Pats going to Buffalo. Quarterback Taylor will encounter a real coach this time. (Chuck Pagano looks more like a clown with each passing day.) And, unlike Thursday in Foxboro, the Patriots will encounter a real defense.
Whether the Pats encounter a true threat is what remains to be seen.