AFC East fit to be tied with 4 in first - and last


AFC East fit to be tied with 4 in first - and last

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) First is also worst right now in the unpredictably equal AFC East.

The New York Jets, New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills are all 3-3, a rare logjam this far into the season that has coaches and players unsure if they should be happy or concerned - or both.

``It's good news, bad news,'' Jets coach Rex Ryan said. ``Let's face it, we're tied for first in our division, so that's great. We're also tied for last. It's a little depressing.''

Since the NFL merger in 1970, this marks only the fourth time every team in a division has the same record after Week 6 or later, and first since the AFC East was knotted up at 5-5 after Week 10 in 1987, according to STATS LLC. The division was also all tied up at 4-4 in Week 8 that same season - but things were already a bit wacky because one week was canceled because of a players strike, and Weeks 4-6 were played mostly by replacements.

The only other time it has happened was in the AFC Central after Week 9 in 1985.

``It's crazy,'' Jets tight end Dustin Keller said. ``The whole division is just crazy right now.''

The gridiron gridlock will clear a bit this weekend, though, with the Jets and Patriots set for a division showdown at Foxborough. The Bills host the Tennessee Titans, while the Dolphins are on their bye-week break.

``At this point going forward, they're all going to be important (games) and the thing about football is the next game is always more important than the previous game in the NFL,'' Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. ``So a division opponent is critical.''

Next weekend should shake things up a little more with Buffalo off, New England playing St. Louis in London, and New York hosting Miami in another AFC East matchup.

``I guess the old saying about the parity in the NFL is true, at least through six weeks of the NFL season,'' Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. ``I really haven't watched that. I don't go home and watch a lot of football. I don't really study other teams. I'm more focused on our own (team and) where we're at. I think it just speaks to the, at this stage, the parity that exists, especially in the AFC.''

Some might say it's a clear display of mediocrity in the division - the AFC Least, some are calling it - with no teams standing out nearly halfway into the season.

But then again, it's not just the AFC East. Eleven of the 32 NFL teams have 3-3 records, including Green Bay, which is No. 7 in the AP Pro32 NFL Power Rankings and Buffalo, ranked 24th. What's more, 20 teams are at .500 or better - and that doesn't even include Pittsburgh, Detroit or Dallas, all at 2-3.

``It looks like the NFL has achieved what they set out to do,'' Bills coach Chan Gailey said. ``You hope there's parity and people have to fight their way to the top and that's what you try to do. It looks like it's worked out.''

Despite having three losses, Bill Belichick's bunch isn't far from being undefeated. Four points, to be exact.

The Patriots lost to Arizona 20-18 in Week 2 and 31-30 to Baltimore the following week, followed last Sunday by a 24-23 last-minute stunner in Seattle.

``The season's still early,'' wide receiver Deion Branch said. ``That's why you have to just take advantage of the games that you have at hand. We all can sit back and say we let a few slip through our hands, which we did. But it is what it is. We're 3-3 and now we just got to move forward and try not to allow those things to happen again so that we won't find ourselves in this position down the road.''

It's unfamiliar territory for the Patriots, who lost only three times in the regular season a year ago on their way to going to the Super Bowl. They also went 14-2 the previous year, so three losses through six games has raised some eyebrows.

``They're usually a lot better than that at this point in the year,'' Keller said. ``But they could turn around at any moment, so we have to be playing our `A' game, otherwise we won't be able to pull it off.''

Ryan has already declared that he thinks the Jets will go to New England and beat the Patriots on Sunday - a bold statement considering many were wondering a week ago if New York's season was about to spiral out of control. All the talk centered on the quarterbacks as Mark Sanchez struggled and many called for the popular Tim Tebow to get more playing time or maybe supplant him as the starter.

A dominant 35-9 win over Andrew Luck has tempered all that talk, for a week at least. The Jets are 2-0 in the division and in this position despite losing arguably their two biggest playmakers to season-ending injuries in cornerback Darrelle Revis and wide receiver Santonio Holmes.

``You knew it was going to be a slugfest all the way,'' Ryan said. ``Really, it's a 10-game season now. Whoever comes out of it the best will win our division. We're going to keep slugging.''

Miami, the only team other than New England to win the AFC East in the last nine seasons (in 2008), started off shaky this season with a 30-10 loss to Houston, but nearly pulled off victories in its other two losses. The Dolphins missed a field goal in regulation and then overtime before losing to the Jets 23-20 in Week 3, and then lost by another field goal in overtime the following week at Arizona.

So, a few more breaks and the Dolphins could be 5-1 - with a rookie head coach in Philbin and rookie quarterback in Ryan Tannehill.

``I can remember answering questions about how we can salvage the season, and now you look a couple weeks later and we're tied for first place,'' running back Reggie Bush said. ``That's the way it goes. That's why we love this league so much because every Sunday is extremely vital. ... It's hard to win games in this league. I don't care if you've beaten the worst team or the best team - a win is a win no matter how you get it.''

Buffalo is 0-2 in the division after blowout losses to the Jets in the season opener and the Patriots three weeks later. But the Bills also had convincing victories over Kansas City and Cleveland, and pulled off an overtime win at Arizona last Sunday.

While the .500 record might not have been the objective, the Bills are right in the thick of things - just as they hoped.

``The three games that we lost have felt like we're a much worse team than 3-3,'' quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. ``And, so, to be here and also to have the other teams be 3-3 in the AFC East and everybody kind of knotted up, all of a sudden you start looking at it as we've got 10 games left to go, and we've got a real shot at this thing. We've got to come out and play.''

After all, the AFC East is anybody's - and everybody's - division to win.

``I think it's too early in the year to get bent out of shape about it,'' Gailey said. ``You can't fall too far behind, as we all know, but at the same time when you're sitting there, it does, it helps, and you know that you're in charge of your own destiny. When you can be in charge of your own destiny, that's all you can ask for in this business.''


AP Sports Writers Jimmy Golen in Boston, Howard Ulman in Foxborough, Mass., John Wawrow in Orchard Park, N.Y., and Steven Wine in Miami contributed to this report.


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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 18, 24 days before NFL free agency starts.

Tandler’s Take

The topic for today’s post comes from Twitter:

When I asked for topics for this post, the subject of the running game came up with several of them. And since John brought up the draft, let’s look at that as a potential solution.

Let’s first establish that the Redskins’ running game was not good enough last year. I don’t need to spend a bunch of time on this but here are some numbers. They were 28th in rushing yards and 29th in yards per carry. If you like to weigh more complete metrics, they were 28th in rushing DVOA. If you want to look at a key situation, they were last in the league in yards per first-down rushing attempt. Last year a team gained 100 yards rushing or more 274 times. The Redskins got there five times.

I’m going to leave it at that here since, again, if you’re reading this you probably watched a lot of their games and you don’t need to be persuaded that the running game was largely unproductive. Yes, there were injuries that had the offensive linemen playing snaps just days after being signed and the broken leg suffered by Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley’s various ailments. But the Redskins haven’t ranked higher than 19th in rushing yards since Jay Gruden became the head coach. Rushing game struggles are an ongoing issue.

I am going to work on the premise that those who advocate having the Redskins improve their running game via the draft are talking about drafting a running back in the first or second round. That may be overgeneralizing but that gives me a good-sized chunk of data to work with and still be able to analyze it in the 1000 words or so I am allotted here.

I’m also going to call a 1,000-yard season the minimum that would be expected out of a back drafted in the first two rounds. There are other ways a back can contribute, of course, and we can deal with them separately.

From 2010-2017, there were 45 thousand-yard rushing seasons by players who entered the league during those years (all data via the indispensable Pro Football Reference unless noted). Twelve of them were accomplished by players drafted in the first round. Six came from second-round picks, six from third-rounders, four from the fourth, three from the fifth, four from the sixth and none from the seventh. Oh, and there were 10 thousand-yard seasons that came from undrafted players.

It should be noted that four of those seasons from undrafted players came from the Texans’ Arian Foster. And two each came from LeGarrette Blount and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. So those 10 thousand-yard seasons should not be seen as an indication that there is a treasure trove of running back talent going undrafted every year.

Back to the first and second rounders, the combined 16 thousand-yard seasons doesn’t mean much in isolation. How many backs were drafted in the first two rounds in that time? How many opportunities have they had to post big seasons?

In the past eight drafts, 34 running backs were drafted in the first and second round. That group has had 170 opportunities to post a 1,000-yard season. What I mean by opportunities is the number of seasons that have elapsed since the player was drafted. The six backs drafted in the first two rounds in 2010 have each had eight chances to gain 1,000 yards in a season so they have combined for 48 opportunities (6*8). There were five backs drafted in the first and second seven seasons ago, so there have combined for 35 opportunities, and so on. Through the eight years that adds up to 170 seasons.

The combined 16 thousand-yard seasons in 170 opportunities comes to a success rate of 9.4 percent when it comes to reaching the bar that most fans would set as the minimum.

A couple of things need to be pointed out here. There are some backs like Giovani Bernard, Shane Vereen, and Christian McCaffrey who do not have any big rushing seasons on their resumes but have been valuable catching passes out of the backfield. And some like Dalvin Cook, who was injured after a promising start last year, and McCaffrey seemed destined to have 1,000-yard seasons in their futures. So all of the backs who have not gained 1,000 yards in a season are not necessarily draft busts or failures.

But here are first-round running back busts, just like there are busts at every position. There were 12 running back picked in the first round of the past eight drafts. Javid Best, David Wilson, and Trent Richardson clearly were disappointments (the former two struggled with injuries). Doug Martin, Ryan Mathews, and C.J. Spiller have had some success but perhaps not enough to justify being first-round picks. It took Mark Ingram a while, but he got rolling in his sixth NFL season. I want to see more out of McCaffrey before judging him and Melvin Gordon needs to continue his upward trajectory. It’s safe to say that even with small sample sizes of data in the books on Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette they were home runs. So was Todd Gurley.

So out of 12 first-round backs in the last eight years, you have three clear busts, three moderate disappointments, four top-level performers (including Ingram) and two TBD.

In any case, it’s clear that just drafting a back early is not a panacea for a struggling running game. Blocking (from both the line and the receivers and other backs), play calling, scheme, and some intangible factors like attitude (as Brian Mitchell will tell you) all play into the success and failure of moving the ball on the ground.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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2018 NBA All-Star Game: TV and live stream info, rosters, things to watch for dunk contest, three-point contest

2018 NBA All-Star Game: TV and live stream info, rosters, things to watch for dunk contest, three-point contest

The 2018 NBA All-Star Game is here with the annual showcase set for Los Angeles.

Here is all you need to know: TV and live stream info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:


Where: Staples Center
Tip-off: 8 p.m.
Online with no cable TV: fuboTV (try for free)



Coach: Dwane Casey, Raptors
LeBron James, Cavaliers
Kevin Durant, Warriors
Kyrie Irving, Celtics
Anthony Davis, Pelicans
LaMarcus Aldridge, Spurs
Bradley Beal, Wizards
Goran Dragic, Heat
Andre Drummond, Pistons
Paul George, Thunder
Victor Oladipo, Pacers
Russell Westbrook, Thunder
Kemba Walker, Hornets


Coach: Mike D'Antoni, Rockets
Stephen Curry, Warriors
James Harden, Rockets
Joel Embiid, 76ers
DeMar DeRozan, Raptors
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks
Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves
Draymond Green, Warriors
Klay Thompson, Warriors
Al Horford, Celtics
Damian Lillard, Blazers
Kyle Lowry, Raptors
Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves


Three things to watch...

New format

The NBA switched it up this season by doing away with the traditional matchup between the East and West. The teams were instead chosen by captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry, the two top vote-getters in All-Star fan voting. The idea was to breath new life into the All-Star Game and hopefully make it more competitive. The league also installed a system where the winners each get $100,000, $75,000 more than the losing team. 

All pro sports leagues struggle drawing interest with their All-Star showcases. They are always trying to get ratings up and this is the latest ploy by the NBA. The new format is definitely intriguing, but whether it will have a major impact on the competition itself is hard to tell. We'll see how the fans respond.


Reunion time

The teams picked by James and Curry will give fans some throwback combinations with former teammates back together again. Team LeBron is full of them. James will reunite with Kyrie Irving, who essentially forced his way out of Cleveland over the summer after the two combined to reach three straight NBA Finals and win one title.

We will also see Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook play together again. They of course teamed up to win a lot of games with the Oklahoma City Thunder before Durant signed with the Warriors. Westbrook will also be reunited with Victor Oladipo, who was traded from OKC to the Pacers over the summer.


Beal's All-Star debut

Wizards fans will of course be focused on Bradley Beal, who is making his first All-Star appearance. He is Washington's lone representative, as John Wall is still recovering from left knee surgery.

Beal may not get many minutes on a stacked roster of guys who have been in the game before. If that happens, it's probably for the best. Beal is currently fifth in the NBA in total minutes played. He needs the rest if he can get it.