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The rest of the AFC East keeping the Patriots on top

The Patriots have been inconsistent so far in 2005 but thanks to the other teams in their division, the defending champs still sit atop the AFC East after seven weeks.

The Patriots have been far from perfect this season. They haven't established a consistent running game, have given up too many big plays on defense, lost key players at virtually every position and haven't been able to win consecutive games yet this year. Still, after all that, the Patriots are 3-3 and in first place in the AFC East.

While the Patriots are currently leading their division, a lot of the credit needs to go to the other three teams in the AFC East: Buffalo, Miami and New York. With the Patriots stumbling out of the gate, none of these teams has been able to take advantage of the situation.

There are two reasons why the Bills, Dolphins and Jets all have losing records: playing poorly on the road and inconsistent play at the quarterback position.

Going into the Jets Monday night game with the Falcons, the Patriots rivals in the AFC East are a combined 0-9 on the road. All three teams currently have veteran journeymen starting at quarterback. They were forced into this dilemma for the most part. The Jets lost their starter for the year, the Bills suffered from ineffective play by a young signal-caller and the Dolphins simply don't have any other options at the position.

In contrast, the Patriots are 2-2 on the road this season and have Tom Brady playing quarterback.

The Dolphins started the season 2-1 but have now lost three games in a row, including a 30-20 loss to the Chiefs this past weekend at home. The Chiefs rolled up a season-high 462 yards on the Dolphins, with 183 yards coming on the ground. Dolphins quarterback Gus Frerotte misfired on two potential touchdown passes and went 11 for 25 for only 125 yards. For the season, Frerotte's completion percentage is a lowly 51.2 percent. After their strong start, the Dolphins now find themselves in last place in the division at 2-4 and sinking fast.

The Bills had a chance to come into Gillette Stadium as the division leaders this week but they were drilled by the Raiders 38-17 and now find themselves at 3-4, a half game behind New England. Raiders running back LaMont Jordan ran through the Bills defense for 122 yards and three touchdowns. The loss of linebacker Takeo Spikes has really hurt the Bills, who are at the bottom of the NFL rankings in defending the run.

Quarterback Kelly Holcomb threw two touchdown passes but one was late in the fourth quarter when the game was already decided. Holcomb finished the game 19-of- 27 for 159 yards. The veteran is 2-1 as the Bills starter since taking over for J.P. Losman but if opponents can shut down Willis McGahee like the Raiders did, the Bills are going to have a hard time beating the better teams on their schedule.

When talking about quarterback problems, there is no better place to start than in New York. The Jets lost starting quarterback Chad Pennington for the season with a shoulder injury earlier in the year. After one lackluster start by Brooks Bollinger, the team signed 41-year-old Vinny Testaverde. In two games, the veteran has thrown for 325 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. Testaverde played all right in his debut against the Buccaneers but struggled in his second start on the road against the Bills. In that game, Testaverde went 12-of-26 for 161 yards and two interceptions.

If the Jets fall to a Falcons team that is 10-2 at home under Jim Mora, the Jets, Bills and Dolphins will drop to 0-10 on the road. Even with all the problems the Patriots are trying to work through, it will be difficult for any of these teams to seriously challenge the defending champions if they don't get more consistent play at the quarterback position and start playing better on the road.

The Patriots first division game is this Sunday night against the Bills. Buffalo is currently 2-0 in the division. The Patriots control their own destiny, playing the Bills, Jets and Dolphins six times in their last ten games. If the Patriots win this Sunday, they will have a game and a half lead on the Bills and be well on their way to winning a third straight AFC East title.

However, unlike previous seasons, if the Patriots win the division in 2005, it could have more to do with the other teams in the AFC East than the Patriots themselves.

NotesThe Patriots defense has gone 14 quarters without forcing a turnover…Opponents have scored touchdowns 79 percent of the time against the Patriots inside the red zone this season…Brady has 228 pass attempts and is on pace to throw the ball 608 times this season…The Patriots are converting 37.3 percent on third downs. Last season the team moved the chains 45 percent of the time…The Patriots have given up 125 rushing yards per game this season. That number really isn't bad when you consider the Patriots have faced four of the NFL's top ten rushing teams in Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh and San Diego.

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