AFC East Forecast
New England Patriots (1)
Predictions are largely based on precedent. Therefore, betting against the Pats with Tom Brady at QB and Bill Belichick at head coach would simply be stupid. A lot of concern has been swirling around the Pats this offseason due to the Aaron Hernandez debacle and Rob Gronkowski’s surgeries on his forearm and back. Nonetheless, despite having one of the youngest receiving corps in the NFL, I’m not worried. Both Brady and Belichick have led highly successful offensive seasons with no-name receivers in years past. The only difference this year is the Pats’ youth brings lots of talent at the wide receiver position.
The Pats may appear to be a bit of mess this year compared to past years, but luckily for them their division remains weak. The “championship window” for New England seems to be diminishing as Brady ages, yet this year that window seems to be relatively wide open, largely due to the improvement on the defense identifying themselves as a unit that can create turnovers. No team drafted more defensive backs than the Pats in 2011 and 2012 drafts (five), yet the addition of Aquil Talib late in the year is really what made the impact the Pats were looking for. Talib’s arrival gave the Pats the ability to send an extra pass-rusher, forcing hurried decisions, which they were able to take advantage of last year. New England’s defensive also benefited from the draft with two first-round defensive picks, DE Chandler Jones and LB Don’t’a Hightower. Look for the Pats’ defense to take another step forward, and with that another possible Super Bowl ring for Brady.
Miami Dolphins (2)
The Miami Dolphins have transitioned from relying on poor investments in aging players into a reliance on young talent. The Phins desperately need second year QB Ryan Tannehill to mature, and take a huge leap forward. However, if he makes the leap that Phin’s fans remain optimistic about, Miami may have a chance at a playoff spot. The reason for this being Miami’s dynamic defensive front pillared by the electric Cameron Wake, Baltimore’s aggressive Dannell Ellerbe and the ultra-athletic first-round pick from Oregon, DE Dion Jordan.
The Dolphins lost a huge playmaker in Reggie Bush, but still have reason to be excited with RB Lamar Miller. The offensive line lost LT Jake Long but managed to improve, it would appear, in the trenches with RT Tyson Clabo, G Lance Louis and draft pick Dallas Thomas. Miami’s strong suit, however, remains on the defensive front. If the ‘Phins are going anywhere this year, they’ll have their pass-rush, or Wake (leading the league in combined sacks and QB hits over last three seasons), to thank for it. It looks like the Phins are going to be the biggest threat to New England’s stranglehold on the AFC East.
Buffalo Bills (3)
Buffalo is beginning the era of E.J. Manuel under new management in the former Syracuse Head Coach Doug Marrone. The Bills explosive running game and the dynamic C.J. Spiller carried the team to six wins last season. However, Marrone’s fast-paced offense will look to build Manuel’s confidence early, but a heavy dose of Spiller may be the best bet. There is big-play potential from this offense with Steve Johnson and a pair of rookie receivers, but a rookie QB leaves lots of unanswered questions.
It’s difficult to reach a verdict on the Bills without having seen a game out of Manuel, yet development and growth is evident. Marrone is a fiery individual with a lot of young talent in his arsenal. There is enough talent for the Bills to have a .500 finish this season; that is, unless the defensive unit allows another 27.2 points per game, like they did in 2012.
New York Jets (4)
Head Coach Rex Ryan is coming off two straight non-playoff seasons, successfully putting himself on the hot seat. His love affair with QB Mark Sanchez and the unfulfilled Super Bowl expectations very well could be his demise. What Ryan needs is a QB who can win games. Unfortunately for Ryan it looks like his job will be to develop Geno Smith for the next coach.
The Jets’ chances of success will show through the play of their defense and their ability to establish a running game. If newly acquired RB Chris Ivory can prove his talent, it will take an immense amount of pressure off Geno. A winning record seems like an awfully daunting challenge for the Jets, especially having a five-week stretch against Atlanta, Pitt, New England, Cinci and New England. Regardless of how shady the Jets look this season we know Ryan’s enthusiasm will never falter. Nonetheless, he may be optimistic about the year, but both me and the Jets roster indicate otherwise.