(Sports Network) - The New York Jets are banking that a stirring victory from last week signals a changing of the guard in the AFC East. So are the Miami Dolphins.
In an early-year clash that could have significant late-season ramifications as well, the Jets and Dolphins renew their bitter rivalry this Sunday in a primetime showdown between divisional foes that both harbor lofty expectations.
After failing to live up to their considerable hype in an ugly 10-9 home loss to the equally-optimistic Baltimore Ravens in Week 1, the Jets were able to back up their preseason braggadocio with an extremely impressive win last Sunday. Getting a shutdown performance by its highly-regarded defense and a coming-of-age effort from young quarterback Mark Sanchez, New York soared past defending AFC East champ New England in a 28-14 verdict that once again forced everyone to take notice.
The Jets scored 21 unanswered points to overcome a 14-7 second-quarter deficit and overwhelmed the Patriots' dangerous offense over the game's final 30 minutes, limiting Tom Brady and company to a paltry 80 total yards and intercepting the superstar signal-caller two times after halftime.
Six days after mustering an anemic 74 passing yards against a rugged Baltimore defense, Sanchez outplayed his more-decorated counterpart by completing a sharp 21-of-30 throws for 220 yards and a career-high three touchdowns versus a New England team that's finished atop the AFC East in six of the past seven seasons.
The win did come at a price, however, as standout cornerback Darrelle Revis aggravated an injury to his left hamstring that will sideline the training- camp holdout for Sunday's test.
Wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who caught one of Sanchez's three scoring strikes against the Patriots, is expected to play this week despite an arrest for drunken driving early Tuesday morning, though Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said the inconsistent sixth-year pro would be held out of the starting lineup.
While the Jets have grabbed most of the headlines among the AFC East contingent, it's the still-unbeaten Dolphins that actually stand atop the division at the moment. Tony Sparano's troops were able to raise a few eyebrows with their most recent result, a 14-10 triumph on the road over Brett Favre and the suddenly-slumping Minnesota Vikings this past Sunday.
Miami showed it could play a little defense as well in that one, intercepting a rusty Favre three times and producing three sacks of the legendary quarterback, one of which caused a fumble that rookie linebacker Koa Misi recovered in the end zone for the Dolphins' only touchdown.
The unit's opportunistic display helped compensate for a less than desirable output from a Miami offense that's still trying to find its way in the season's initial stages. Following a ho-hum showing in a 15-10 win at lowly Buffalo in the season-opener, the Dolphins managed only 226 total yards and 12 first downs against the Vikings.
Miami hopes to better those numbers when it faces an aggressive New York defense that now counts longtime Dolphin Jason Taylor as a member. The 36- year-old former NFL Defensive Player of the Year spent 12 of his first 13 professional seasons with the Fins and is the franchise's all-time leader with 124 sacks.
The Jets hold a 46-41-1 lead in their all-time regular season series with Miami, but were swept by their longtime AFC East rival in last year's home- and-home. The Dolphins took a 31-27 home decision when the teams met for a Monday night matchup in South Florida in Week 5, and completed the sweep with a 30-25 decision at the Meadowlands in Week 8. It was the first sweep of the Jets by the Dolphins since 2003. The Jets' most recent win over the Fins came at Dolphin Stadium in 2008, a Favre-led 20-14 victory in the regular season opener.
With a win on Sunday, the Dolphins will own their first four-game winning streak over the Jets since 1996-97.
In addition to their regular season history, the Jets and Dolphins met in the 1982 AFC Championship, which went to Miami by a 14-0 score.
Sparano is 3-1 against the Jets as a head coach, while New York's Rex Ryan is 0-2 against both Sparano and Miami as a head man.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
After employing an overly conservative philosophy in the opener, the Jets opened up the playbook against the Patriots and wound up being rewarded for the decision. Sanchez (294 passing yards, 3 TD) delivered the fourth-highest yardage total of his 17-start NFL career and showed far more confidence and decisiveness in the pocket as compared to the Baltimore game, and it didn't hurt that the offensive line gave the sophomore field general strong protection throughout the day. Tight end Dustin Keller (9 receptions, 128 yards, 1 TD) was the receiving star in Sunday's big win, amassing a personal- best 115 yards on seven catches, and the former first-round pick could be Sanchez's top target once again this week with an uncertain situation at wide receiver. With offseason pickup Santonio Holmes still serving a suspension for a personal conduct violation, veteran Jerricho Cotchery (6 receptions) looms as the lone proven wideout for as long as the team decides to hold Edwards (6 receptions, 1 TD) out, which may not be long. Look for rejuvenated running back LaDainian Tomlinson (138 rushing yards, 6 receptions), who's averaged an eye-opening 6.3 yards per rush thus far, to play a greater role in the passing game in addition to splitting ball-carrying duties with young bruiser Shonn Greene (70 rushing yards, 2 receptions).
Expect the Jets to attempt to establish the run on a Miami defense that had a tough time handling Vikings star Adrian Peterson a week ago, with the All-Pro back powering his way to 145 yards and a touchdown on 28 attempts, and won't have one of its regular down lineman available with rookie end Jared Odrick still dealing with a hairline fracture in his leg. Inside linebacker Channing Crowder does appear ready to return from a groin strain that's kept him out of the first two games, and his presence should aid running mate Karlos Dansby (17 tackles, 1 sack) and strong safety Yeremiah Bell (20 tackles) in their attempts to keep the ground game in check. Sanchez figures to face a challenge, as the Dolphins rank fourth in pass efficiency defense and frustrated Favre with a persistent pass rush and strong coverage last Sunday. Misi (6 tackles, 1 sack) and fellow outside linebacker Cameron Wake (7 tackles, 2 sack), who forced the Minnesota quarterback's game-changing fumble, will be in charge of bringing the heat from the team's 3-4 look, while physical cornerback Jason Allen (17 tackles, 4 PD) is coming off a two-interception outing against the Vikes.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL
The Dolphins love to pound the football behind a big offensive line that paves the way for the high-quality two-back tandem of Ronnie Brown (145 rushing yards, 1 TD, 3 receptions) and Ricky Williams (92 rushing yards). It's a simple yet effective plan, as the duo is averaging close to 120 rushing yards a game and the team has rarely found itself in third-and-long situations. Miami would still like to get more out of an aerial attack that's ranked 28th in the league (148.0 ypg) at the moment, though. The team has taken few shots downfield despite possessing a strong-armed quarterback in Chad Henne (296 passing yards, 1 TD) and a big-time wideout in offseason acquisition Brandon Marshall (12 receptions, 124 yards), who did come up with a 46-yard catch that set up a touchdown last week. The ex-Bronco has been getting extra attention from opposing defenses, but the rest of the receivers haven't taken advantage. Sophomore Brian Hartline (3 receptions, 1 TD) and slotman Davone Bess (7 receptions) haven't shown much ability to stretch the field, while tight end Anthony Fasano (3 receptions) is more renowned for his blocking skills. Henne has yet to commit a turnover in the opening two games, but both Brown and Williams lost a fumble against Minnesota.
Even with the season-ending loss of mammoth nose tackle Kris Jenkins to an ACL tear in Week 1, the Jets defense will present a stern test for Miami's powerful running game. New York smothered the Patriots in that department last Sunday, yielding a minuscule 52 yards on 20 rush attempts, and still sports a pair of excellent interior pluggers in linemen Sione Pouha (13 tackles) and Mike Devito (12 tackles). The team was even able to withstand the absence of Revis, considered the premier cover man in the league right now, in the New England game, with corners Antonio Cromartie (6 tackles, 2 INT, 3 PD) and Kyle Wilson (7 tackles, 3 PD) each stepping up their play in the second half to help slow down the formidable Pats. Veteran end Shaun Ellis (8 tackles, 1 sack) and outside linebacker Brian Thomas (10 tackles, 1 sack) each did their part as well by continually getting in Brady's face and disrupting his rhythm, and expect Ryan to dial up his share of blitzes designed to get Henne off his game come Sunday.
Both defenses have been terrific in the early going and figure to take center stage once again this week, making each a good candidate for your starting lineup. There aren't many no-brainer individuals to choose from, however, with Marshall standing as close as a sure thing as you'll get from this matchup. Cotchery and Keller get an uptick in value due to the Jets' lack of certain available receiving options, and both merit strong consideration here as well. Sit Edwards, who's a fringe fantasy player anyway, and Greene is now carrying a great deal more risk than initially believed. Tomlinson has become the better choice in the New York backfield, though the former league MVP is still no better than a flex play. Brown is usually a solid selection at running back whenever he's healthy, with Williams offering some potential at the flex spot. Stay away from any Dolphins receiver other than Marshall, and look elsewhere for a quarterback among these two participants.
This one has the makings of a real knock-down, drag-out fight between two teams that really don't care for one another very much. Both defenses seem to be further ahead then either offense at this stage, so expect a low-scoring affair that could come down to the kickers or one or two tide-turning plays. The Dolphins were able to come up with those momentum-changers last week, but luck may not be on the home team's side this time around. Miami will hit for a couple of big gains on New York's gambling defense, but won't have any sustained success on the ground. The Jets seem to have a wee bit more balance on offense than their rival right now, and that edge may lead to one more scoring opportunity that decides the outcome of a game that could really swing in either direction.