While New England won the division last season, they were taken out in a hurry in their first playoff game. Meanwhile, the New York Jets came from out of nowhere to make a story for themselves, reaching the AFC Championship game with their stingy defense. With Miami taking a transitional year and Buffalo just another bad year, the AFC East is up for grabs this season.
Buffalo Bills [Last season: 6-10, 4th]
The Bills, done with the antics of Dick Jauron, have turned to Chan Gailey who has had experience as an NFL coach, but not too much sustained success. He has a difficult task in coaching up a team that is in a very talented division with the Jets, Patriots, and Dolphins.
Trent Edwards remains the starting quarterback for the Bills but he has not had much success or health, missing eight games last year due to injury. With the Terrell Owens experiment over with, Lee Evans returns to being Edwards’ primary target, but with an offensive line that allowed 46 sacks last season, the Bills instead have opted to improve their running game. A middle of the road team when it comes to rushing, the duo of Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson will be complemented by C.J. Spiller. Drafted from Clemson, the Bills have high hopes for Spiller, who has shown flashes of speed and power in the few preseason games that have been played.
Buffalo’s defense was interesting last season. Its pass defense, in terms of yards allowed, was only bested by the Jets, while its run defense was near the bottom of the barrel. The defensive line is a major weakness for the Bills, a weakness that has not had much improvement this offseason. That leave the linebackers, such as Paul Posluszny and Aaron Maybin, to pick up the slack but usually by the time they do the opponent will have gained 5 or so yards on the ground.
This season will likely be another struggle for the Bills, though with their pass defense and a decent run game that could get better with Spiller on board, the Bills could win more games than people may give them credit for.
Miami Dolphins [Last season: 7-9, 3rd]
In 2008 the Dolphins brought out the Wildcat formation, which confused and stunned opponents as the Dolphins made the playoffs. In 2009, as many other teams brought out their own variations of the formation, defenses against it formed as well. As a result, the Dolphins regressed while then-2nd year quarterback Chad Henne had his ups and downs. Tricks and traps can only work for so long, if the Dolphins wish to succeed again it might be a good idea for them to play regular football, and play it well.
They have the offensive talent to do just that. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams have been one of the league’s stronger running back duos in recent years, and Henne now has Denver’s outcast Brandon Marshall to throw passes to, especially important now that Greg Camarillo has been traded to Minnesota. Pat White, the former West Virginia quarterback, was drafted under the presumption that he would be used in many wildcat formations and plays, which may still hold true this season. With Brown, Williams, White and even Marshall in the fold the Dolphins could still confuse opponents with trickery. However, Henne will need to improve upon last season if the Dolphins are to have any real offensive consistency.
Miami was able to snatch Karlos Dansby from Arizona, he will be able to fill a hole in the linebacker position. To help with the defensive line, the Dolphins drafted Jared Odrick out of Penn State in the last Draft. Not only will this improve their less than average run defense but Miami, which did well in pressuring the quarterback, will enhance that pass rush with these additions and give added relief to a secondary that was not particularly great last season.
It is not farfetched to say that Miami can contend for the AFC East this season. The offense can be well executed. The defense can be dominant up front. However, can does not mean will, and if the Dolphins are unable to execute their offense or dominate on defense, both the Jets and Patriots can pass them up.
New England Patriots [Last season: 10-6, 1st; lost to BAL in WC RD]
How much longer does this era of New England Patriots football have left? Although the Patriots were strong defensively and offensively last season, the team still lost six games and then got embarrased by Baltimore in the playoffs on their home field. Their Super Bowl winning defensemen have all since moved on, the offense could be crippled by any major injury (though thats true for any team, its actually happened to New England a couple of times the past two years), and the “mystique”, if you will, of the Patriots went down with that spy camera, or possibly with that catch by David Tyree some time after.
Perhaps I am being too hard on the Patriots, who are still strong favorites to win the division, and are even contenders to get out of the AFC altogether. In his first season back following that major knee injury, Tom Brady had a very successful season, passing for over 4300 yards and 28 touchdowns. Randy Moss has been very successful – and well behaved – during his time in New England and there’s no reason to believe that will change this season. Now playing the injury recovery game in Wes Welker, who tore his ACL and MCL in the final regular season game last year and has recovered much faster than many expected. Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk headline a running game that was near the top third in the league last season. This offense should excel again should it remain healthy.
The Patriots are solid defensively, though again these aren’t the same guys as the ones that won those three Super Bowls, but with another year of experience under their belt these Patriot defensement can hang with the best of them. Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes headline the front seven that allowed the third fewest rushing touchdowns last season, and Brandon Meriweather is the man that leads their secondary. The Patriots defense has been known to be dominant at times but have also been known to just fall apart as they did against Baltimore. If it can be more of the former than the latter, the Patriots can again be a main factor in January and even February.
New York Jets [Last season: 9-7, 2nd (WC); lost to IND in AFC CG]
The Jets came from out of nowhere at the end of last season to reach the AFC Championship game. Boasting the league’s best defense, the Jets were able to shut down the Bengals twice, the Chargers just enough for Kaeding to screw up thrice, and even gave the Colts a scare halfway through that Championship game before Peyton Manning and the Colts finally figured them out and beat them.
Perhaps as a result of this success, the defense’s most prominent player, Darrelle Revis, has heldout in hopes for a contract that will pay him a lot more than his rookie contract currently does. A lengthy contract battle that may go into the season if not resolved (it hasn’t been resolved as of this writing), the Jets can not afford to be without his services for very long. That being said, the Jets aren’t a one-man super defense, there were other players that contribued to their success last year including linebacker Bart Scott, lineman Shaun Ellis and even without Revis, Antonio Cromartie has been brought in from San Diego to fill in for Revis until he finally get his contract dispute settled, and then the two of them combined could be a very devastating duo in the secondary.
Speaking of Jets that were former Chargers, LaDanian Tomlinson is looking for a career revival after becoming an afterthought in San Diego. Once thought to be a future “best of all time”, Tomlinson picked up a lot of a baggage and even a bit of an ego during Turner’s reign as Charger coach. Perhaps now, after being humbled a bit Tomlinson will regain some of his edge but then again his age may signal his end.
I haven’t even mentioned Mark Sanchez yet. A first round draft pick last year, Sanchez had a typical rookie season, but with a year under his belt, two capable receivers in Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery and a potentially devastating defense, Sanchez should be able to fare much better and help the Jets succeed once more.
Division Prediction: I am going to be a little bold and take the Dolphins to win the division. I mentioned that if the Dolphins are able to execute they should be able to compete for the division and I think they will do just. New England will be right behind them but one or two defensive lapses will cost them, while the Jets will fall behind New England, regardless of Revis’ status. The Bills will hang comfortably in last, with a couple of their losses of the type where they blow a late lead of course.
2. New England
3. New York