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Wednesday's 60-second rant: Who is the second-best team in the AFC East?

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Recent posts by Kevin Fishbain

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By Kevin Fishbain

The Patriots haven’t looked pretty by any means in a 4-3 start to the season, but they can rest comfortably on their perch as they watch the battle for second place in the AFC East.

Granted, the division appears much closer than it did in the preseason because of New England’s struggles, but the Patriots still appear to be ahead of the class in the division. 

In a muddled AFC where only the Texans have set themselves apart from the pack, wild-card spots are to be had. Certainly, a 9-7 or 8-8, or even a 7-9 team could be in contention at the end, based on the first seven weeks. With that in mind, second place in the AFC East is crucial.

Trying to decipher who exactly is the second-best team in the division can be as difficult as answering this: With the game on the line, would you rather have Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mark Sanchez or Ryan Tannehill as your quarterback?

Of the three, Fitzpatrick has the best passer rating (86.1) and most touchdown throws (15), but he has thrown the most interceptions (nine). Tannehill has looked the best in the past two games, but he’s also a rookie who has more interceptions than TD passes. Sanchez might have the best résumé when it comes to late-game heroics, but we haven’t seen that in a while.

Comparing the three QBs, at this point in the season, reeks of a “tallest mountain in Kansas” type of argument — the best of the worst, and it also doesn’t help decide which team is second fiddle to the Patriots at this point, since usually in these instances one can simply pick the team with the best man under center.

The obvious answer to this question is that we’ll know it on Sunday following Round Two of Dolphins-Jets, since the Bills’ horrid defense and Fitzpatrick’s turnover-prone play have knocked the Bills to the cellar.

As bad as the Jets looked in their loss to the 49ers, they have had spirited efforts in the past three weeks. Their record is 1-2, but the two losses were by one score to arguably the conference’s best teams, the Texans and Patriots.

Miami had the look of the division’s next-best team the way it played heading into the bye, with back-to-back wins over the Bengals and Rams in games in which its run game struggled.

If someone who has never seen the NFL before wants to watch a game, game tape from the Dolphins-Jets meeting from Week Three is not recommended viewing. The Jets survived in overtime of an ugly game that the Dolphins let slip through their fingers because of turnovers, a missed field goal in overtime and defensive breakdowns late.

The Jets’ star in that game, Santonio Holmes, is out for the season, but Jeremy Kerley has come on strong and had a big catch in the Miami contest. Gang Green also will have TE Dustin Keller for Week Eight (he missed the teams' previous meeting) and its defense has looked better.

The Dolphins are coming off a bye, which should give the offense time to improve. Miami’s formidable run defense puts the pressure on Sanchez, which also could work in Miami’s favor.

A Jets win on Sunday would allow them to procure the “title” of second-best in the division, at least until anyone can take down the Patriots. And then there are the Bills, who limp into a bye and need a vast improvement from the defense to join the conversation, but Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller could help keep the race interesting.

At this point, the Dolphins’ winning ways (turnover-free football and the league’s best third-down defense) make them the most comforting horse to ride, even with a rookie at quarterback. While we might gain more clarity on Sunday, this “battle for second” (a battle no team wants to be in, but such is life in the same division as the powerful Patriots) likely won’t be decided until December, and if one of the three quarterbacks elevates his game in the second half of the season, that could be the difference.

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