AFC East Preview
New England Patriots
The Patriots had a solid season last year, but a crushing defeat to the Broncos in the AFC Championship was not exactly what New England fans wanted. Tom Brady will have a healthy line this year which should mean nice improvements in the run and pass game. While Brandon Lafell isn’t a game changer he is a very solid receiver that will be a nice addition to Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, and the rest of the wideouts. The dual threat of Steven Ridley and Shane Vereen gives the Patriots a powerful run game, but losing LeGarrette Blount definitely hurts. I don’t think the Patriots will rank as high as 9th for rushing attacks again, but they are more than capable of having a top 15 run game. Defensively the Patriots were impressive against the run; however they still allowed offenses to move down the field in critical situations too many times. Bringing in stud cornerbacks Darelle Revis and Brandon Browner will give them a fearsome secondary that also includes Devin McCourty, one of the league’s best safeties, Kyle Arrington, a solid option at the third corner spot, and Alfonzo Dennard, a more than acceptable, corner even at the number one spot. The defensive line will see the return of Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly and the addition of Will Smith to potentially rotate with Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones means expectations for this group will be very high. With only a few years left to play Tom Brady will be highly motivated (as if he isn’t motivated enough) and the improvements to the defense may be just enough to put this team over the top. There shouldn’t be any questions about it; the Patriots are clearly the favorite to win the AFC East.
It seems like every year the Bills are supposed to be the team that gets over the hump, but they continually disappoint their fans. This year may actually be their year though and it seems like they are finally getting the pieces together that they need to at least be the number two team in the AFC East. Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods are two of the more talented young receivers in the division and they have the potential to become an awesome duo. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are a great combo when Spiller is actually playing well, but he’s going to need to be a lot more impressive than he was last season. A lot rests on the shoulders of second year quarterback EJ Manuel though. If he continues to develop he could be the spark this offense needs. Cordy Glenn is a superb offensive lineman but if the Bills want to succeed they need to protect Manuel and prevent him from taking some of the hits he took last season. Defensively Buffalo has an underrated group that is better than most think. A defensive line that features Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, and Kyle Williams is accented by stud linebacker Kiko Alonzo who should benefit from playing with Keith Rivers and Brandon Spikes. The secondary won’t scare anyone especially after the departure of Jairus Byrd to the Saints, but at least they have Stephon Gilmore who is a very solid corner. The Bills always seem to play very well together and Doug Marrone has them on the right track. They won’t overtake the Patriots as the best in the east, but I do think this is the year they surpass the Jets.
New York Jets
The Jets surprised everyone last year by not tanking and even though they only went 8-8 that was much more than anyone could have expected from a team that had so little talent on offense. Geno Smith has a long, long way to go before he can be relied upon to win games, but there were moments where we saw the tremendous potential that he has and you’ve got to remember that he was working with receivers like Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley for most of the year. Rookie Jace Amaro gives them a ton of talent at the tightend position and early reports from camp say that he has looked stellar so far. Add in the addition of Eric Decker, who may not be a true number one but is still a great addition, and you’ve gotten a vastly improved group of players for Smith to throw to. The run game was again a strong point last year for the Jets despite the fact that they had to rely on Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, but they played very well and the addition of Chris Johnson adds some serious speed to the running back stable. Defensively the Jets are a tough squad thanks to defensive guru Rex Ryan. Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson are absolute monsters and make whoever is playing next to them 10x better. Quinton Coples, David Harris, and Calvin Pace may not be the first names that come to mind when you think of great linebackers, but these guys can ball and they fit Ryan’s scheme extremely well. Dee Milliner struggled a bit last season, but showed some real potential towards the end of the season and will have to fill the very large shoes of Antonio Cromartie who thrived despite the loss of Darrelle Revis when he left for Tampa Bay. I’m not particularly impressed with Dmitri Patterson, Calvin Pryor, or Dawan Landry so the secondary loses points there, but make no mistake this is a very solid defense. The Jets still have some big holes to fill and I think the offense may struggle as Geno Smith continues to go through some growing pains, but the defense will keep this team in games and give them a fighting chance. They’ve fallen behind the Bills at this point, but the Jets just need a QB to kick start this franchise.
It has got to be tough to be a Miami fan. The Dolphins haven’t made a playoff appearance since 2008 and it doesn’t look like 2014 will be the year that they break that streak. While the rest of the teams in the division seemed to make some great improvements the Dolphins don’t look like a much better team at all. Top receivers Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace aren’t scaring anyone, especially not Revis and Browner, but that’s what Ryan Tannehill has to work with. Charles Clay kind of broke out last season and was an above average tightend, but he isn’t going to make defensive coordinators stay awake at night. A below average offensive line just makes this offense look even more lackluster. The lone bright spot, if you could even call it that, is the three headed running attack led by Knowshon Moreno, Lamar Miller, and Daniel Thomas. There’s certainly some potential there, but again no one really stands out here. Things look a little better on the defense due to the presence of Brent Grimes, Dion Jordan, Cameron Wake, Jared Odrick, Reshad Jones, and Dannell Ellerbe who form a very nice core. Despite having all these guys the Miami still ranked 17th against the pass, but they did finish 9th against the run which is very respectable. Like the Jets the defense may keep the Dolphins in some games, but there isn’t enough on offense here and the Jets are better defensively so that lands Miami the fourth spot in the AFC East.