Matthews: Is The AFC East Is Up For Grabs?

IS THIS THE YEAR THE AFC EAST FINALLY IS UP FOR GRABS?...

PAYBACK TO THE PATRIOTS WOULD BE SWEET 

The AFC East standings through three weeks of this 2018 NFL season aren’t quite what most of us expected:

Miami 3-0

New York Jets 1-2

Buffalo Bills 1-2

New England Patriots 1-2.

I listed the Patriots last because it looks good and makes me feel good.

The Dolphins unloaded a few bad apples in the offseason and are playing loose and with confidence. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s left knee has held up so far and third-year coach Adam Gase has opened up the offense.

Are the Dolphins a far-above average NFL team? Probably not. But a team might not need to be much better than average to win this division.

The Jets and Buffalo figure to have their ups and downs with rookie starting quarterbacks.

The Patriots have overcome sluggish starts before and usually play their best football from November-through-postseason.

But this season could be different for New England. Tom Brady is 41 and even he can’t perform at the highest level forever. The Patriots appear to lack playmakers on defense.

The aura of dominance could be on the wane.

The Bills? Who knows?

They went from the laughing stock of the NFL after two season-opening lopsided losses to a shocking 27-6 upset over Minnesota last week – the league’s biggest upset in 24 years.

Can Buffalo win as mere 10-point underdogs in Green Bay this Sunday? Well, Packers super quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a wobbly knee an after last week’s football miracle in Minnesota, I’ll never say never again regarding the Bills.

PATRIOTS HAVE DOMINATED FOR WAY TOO LONG...RIGHT?

The New England Patriots have dominated the NFL since 2001 – when Tom Brady became the team’s starting quarterback. Much of the credit for the success of the Pats is the mediocrity – and that’s being generous – of the rest of the division.

Need a refresher? Here are the sad details (AFC East 2001 through 2017):

Regular-season records – Patriots 209-63 (+146)...Jets 128-144 (-16)...Dolphins 126-146 (-20)...Bills 113-159 (-46).

Winning seasons – Patriots 17...Jets 7...Dolphins 6...Bills 3.

Trips to the playoffs – Patriots 15...Jets 6...Dolphins 3...Bills 1.

Post-season records: Patriots 28-10...Jets 6-6...Dolphins 1-3...Bills 0-1.

Super Bowl wins – Patriots 5.

Super Bowl losses – Patriots 3.

SOME MAJOR SHOWDOWNS IN BASEBALL’S FINAL FIVE DAYS...HAVE YOU NOTICED?

When baseball really was America’s National Pastime, there would’ve been much more interest in these last five days and nights of the 2018 regular season.

In the National League, two division titles and the two wild-card playoff berths are at stake.

The Atlanta Braves arrived a year of two ahead of schedule and have clichéd the NL East...In the NL Central. The Chicago Cubs have a ½-game lead over Milwaukee and a 4 ½-game lead over St. Louis...In the NL West, the Los Angeles Dodgers have a ½-game lead over Colorado.

In the NL wild-card battle, Milwaukee is 3 ½ games up on Colorado and St. Louis trails the Rockies by ½ game.

In the American League, the three division champions have been crowned – AL East Boston, AL Central Cleveland and AL West Houston. The only thing to be decided is the home field for the AL wild-card game next Wednesday night – ay Yankees Stadium or at Oakland?

Here are the important games remaining on the schedule:

Wednesday – Milwaukee at St. Louis...Pittsburgh at Cubs...Phillies at Colorado...LA Dodgers at Arizona...Yankees at Tampa Bay...

Thursday – Phillies at Colorado...Pirates at Cubs...Yankees at Tampa Bay.

Friday – St. Louis at Cubs...LA Dodgers at San Francisco...Detroit at Milwaukee (good schedule break for the Brewers)...Washington at Colorado...Yankees at Boston...Oakland at LA Angels.

Saturday – St. Louis at Cubs...LA Dodgers at San Francisco...Detroit at Milwaukee...Washington at Colorado...Yankees at Boston...Oakland at LA Angeles.

Sunday – LA Dodgers at San Francisco...Detroit at Milwaukee...Washington at Colorado...St. Louis at Cubs...Yankees at Boston...Oakland at LA Angels.

MORE BASEBALL THOUGHTS AND FACTOIDS

+++How much does the home-field advantage mean in baseball’s wild-card do-or-die playoff games?  History says, not much.

Going back to 1995, when the original wild-card format was introduced, the home team is 27-31 in the 58 games.

Since the format changed from one to two wild-card team per league in 2012, the home teams are 5-7 (including both teams last season).

+++The New York Yankees had three more home runs Tuesday night in a win at Tampa Bay and now have a MLB-most 255 HRs with five games remaining this season. They need 9 more HRs to break the MLB-record 264 HRs by the 1997 Seattle Mariners.

+++The Yankees might not have the 2018 American League’s top rookie Year after all. Here are the results In the final poll of the 36 MLB.com members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for AL League Rookie of the Year:

1-Shoehei Ohtani (LA Angels OF/DH/P): 154 total voting points (26 of the 36 first-place votes)

2-Miguel Andujar (NYY 3B): 93 points (9)

3-Gleyber Torres (NYY 2B/SS): 71 points (1).

Atlanta OF Ronald Acuna Jr. outpolled Washington OF Juan Soto by a wide margin for NL Rookie of the Year.

+++Minor League Baseball attendance reached a 14-year low in 2018: 40,450,337 – a drop of 1,382,027. But revenues continue to increase due to merchandise sales and better concessions.

Rochester was slightly down in total paid attendance (437,974) and slightly up in average paid attendance (6,537) in 67 openings in 2017 compared to 445,581/6,553) in 68 openings in 2017.

FITZ OR JAMEISWINSTON? SEEMS OBVIOUS TO ME...HOW ABOUT YOU?

A hot topic in the NHL this week is who should start at quarterback for Tampa Bay Sunday at the Chicago Bears – former 250th NFL draft pick out of Harvard, Ryan Fitzpatrick, a 35-year-old red-hot journeyman.  or former No. 1 overall draft pick out of Florida State Jameis Winston, who is coming off a three-game suspension to start this season?

Fitz is the main reason the Buccaneers. He has three consecutive passing games of 400-plus yards. He’s the first NFL quarterback to ever do that.

He’s also the main reason Tampa lost to Pittsburgh, 30-27, at home Monday night. He had a brutal second quarter as the Buccaneers fell behind 30-10. He helped his team rally in the second half – but too little too late.

Winston is in football shape and ready to play --- but....

This is a no-brainer to me...Start Fitzpatrick Sunday in Chicago. Play the hot hand. But if he struggles, put in Winston in the second half.

The Buccaneers have a bye week next. I’d start Winston October 14 at Atlanta. He’s paid to be a starter and is a better bet than Fitz to help their team make the playoffs.

IS TIGER WOODS THE FAVORITE FOR MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR?

I wonder if Tiger Woods is the new favorite for Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, and ESPN and Sports Illustrated Sports Person of the Yea. And is his amazing golf comeback the Sports Story of the Year.

A decent showing in this weekend s Ryder Cup would further boost his chances.

Tiger would be the first five-time AP Male Athlete of the Year – breaking a tie for the most with disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong. Armstrong was honored in 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2006. Armstrong won the award in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005.

One might argue that Woods isn’t even the top Athlete of the Year candidate in his own sport. Brooks Koepka won the Masters and the U.S. Open. But Tiger was the one who drove up TV ratings for last weekend’s Tour Championship by 200 percent and he’ll have another huge impact on the TV numbers for the Ryder Cup

PHIL PRAISES TIGER

Here’s an interesting  tweet posted Tuesday by Phil Mickelson:”I just played with Tiger (wppds) today and it is the best I’ve ever seen him swing the club. It’s so on plane and solid. I’ll be asking for a shot a side for our Thanksgiving match. I doubt  I’ll get it though.”

NEW STARTING QB FOR CLEMSON VS. SYRACUSE SATURDAY

Kelly Bryant was 16-2 as starting quarterback for the Clemson Tigers in 2017-18. His only two losses were last season, 27-24 at Syracuse and to Alabama in the CFB semifinals.

He won’t have a chance to avenge those defeats because he plans to transfer after being demoted Monday by coach Dabo Swinney in favor of true freshman Trevor Lawrence. Their performance lines this season:

Bryant – 36-of-54 (.667) for 461 yards passing; 2 TD passes; 1 INT; 191.8 Rating; 30 carries for 130 yards and 2 TDs.

Lawrence – 39-of-60 (.650) for 600 yards passing; 9 TD passes; 2 INTS; 146.9 Rating; 9 carries for 24 yards.

In last season’s upset loss at Syracuse, Bryant was 12of-17 for 116 yards, with 0 TD passes, 0 INTs and minus 8 yards on 4 carries.

Trevor Lawrence will start Sunday against Syracuse. The Tigers will be out to avenge last year’s loss and are favored by 24 points.

 BOB’S “BEST BET” THURSDAY: RAMS (-7) OVER THE VIKINGS

The Minnesota Vikings were embarrassed last week in a 27-6 home loss to 17-point underdog Buffalo. They almost have to play better in prime time Thursday night at the 7-point favored Los Angeles Rams.

Injuries to Rams star cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters are another plus for Minnesota. So are a 20-7 against the spread as an underdog and 17-8 ATS off a loss under coach Mike Zimmer.

That’s a lot to overcome for the Rams but they have outstanding talent on both sides of the football. Also, teams flying from the Central Time Zone to  the Pacific TimeZone for a Thursday night game in the past 12 years are 0-13 straight up and 0-13 ATS. That jet lag trend factor is tough to ignore.

Bob’s Thursday night “Best Bet: LOS ANGELES RAMS (-7) 27, Minnesota 15.

SHORT SHOTS

The Las Vegas oddsmakers obviously expect the revenge factor  tobe  huge for Clemson in Saturday’s noon home game against Syracuse. The Tigers crushed visiting SU 54-0 in 2017 and was favored by 24 at Syracuse last season. The Orange won 27-24. SU is 4-0 but Clemson is favored by 24 again this season.

The New York Mets have agreed to extend the current lease at Syracuse’s’ NBT Bank Stadium through 1943, according to The Post-Standard. The deal is contingent on Onondaga County making around $235 million in improvements to the stadium.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...

Wednesday, September 26

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 25...Chris Archer 30...Sean Dolittle 32...Serena Williams 37...Brooks Orpik 38...Henrik/Daniel Sedin 38...T.J. Houshmandzadeh 41...Larry Izzo 44...Brian Shouse 50...Craig Janney 51...Rich Gedman 59..Dave Casper 67....Lucius Allen 71. Jim Caviezel 50 and Olivia Newton-John 70 are invited to the birthday party.

Thursday, September 27

Simona Halep 27...Anthony Morrow 33...Jay Bouwmenster 35....Jon Garland 39...Jon Rauch 40...Alonzo Spellman 47...Rob Moore 50...Steve Kerr 53...Beth Heiden 59...Wally Boyer 81. April Lavigne 33, Lil Wayne 36, Gwyneth Paltrow 46 and Meat Loaf 71 are invited to the birthday party.

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