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Quick! Take the snapshot now! The Dolphins are atop the AFC East. It must be October, right? With the exception of a trip to Minnesota, the remaining schedule has virtually no "soft spots" and you just know the race for the division crown will go to the wire, even if the Dolphins play well every week. It's tempting to scan the Miami schedule and try to pick the wins and losses, but that doesn't work real well in my experience. The results of the season this far are a pretty good illustration: Pretend that it's late August again and then try to predict how the Dolphins would reach 4 - 1. Would you have had their only loss as being the game against the Chiefs?
So what's one to think about this division? The Patriots are too solid to simply go away. They have stumbled these last two weeks but that will be quickly forgotten if they rebound against Green Bay and Miami gets knocked down by the Broncos. This is a terrible year for the AFC East to have drawn the AFC West as their primary intraconference opponents. That division is a terror. The Pats have already dropped a game to San Diego - that makes Miami's loss to the Chiefs more palatable - and the outlook for the remaining AFC-W match-ups is rather ugly. While there may be exploitable weakness in San Diego and Kansas City, that hardly seems the case with Oakland or Denver. Be sure that one date that is circled in red on the Raider's 2002 calendar is November 17th when they host New England. You might want to mark it on yours.
While the Patriots are the most significant rival the Dolphins have for the division crown, the joker in the AFC-E deck is Buffalo. The Bills are playing much better than their W/L record would suggest. This team does not quit and you can bet they will give both Miami and the Patriots fits. It is very unlikely that the Bills will be swept by any division rival as long as Bledsoe can take the field. It is also reasonable to assume that Drew Bledsoe will be especially pumped-up when it comes to facing off against his former Patriot pals. He's been a demon so far this season, if he plays any better he might just explode. You have to like Buffalo's chances against the Pats in both games if Drew is still healthy when those games roll around - he's getting battered every week.
Whether the Jets can muster enough guts to win another division game the rest of the year is questionable. Their one and only win was against the Bills and even that was a gift. Be certain that the echoes of "The Streak" remain in the minds of the Dolphins. They must face these guys and attempt to start their own streak by beating them in the Meadowlands on November 10th. A Dolphin sweep of the Jets, a split with the Pats and a split with the Bills might just be good enough to secure the AFC-E for Miami, but only if the Bills can pull the rug from beneath the Pats. I figure that's a real plausible scenario.
We can be pretty sure the Dolphins will reach the playoffs. What we're all dying to know is whether they'll be more than a doormat when they get there.