Ah. We now come to the division home to the defending Super Bowl champion.
(Before we go on, just know that I’m changing up the format for the 2nd half of our previews.
I will list and go into extensive detail about the team I expect to win the division and their 2014 season, then go into the other teams with reasons “Why They Can Win/Challenge” or “Why It Can Go Bad”.
There will still be the typical standings predictions and predicted finish, just a different format for you to absorb my all knowing knowledge).
The AFC East featuring the Patriots, Dolphins, Bills, and Jets, should otherwise be known as Patriots East given that New England has won the division every year since 2002 all but twice.
However is the division more open this year due to some defensive core losses from the Patriots and the ridiculous “BallGhazi” controversy (Probably not), but let’s discuss!
Your 2015 AFC East Preview!
1) New England Patriots-2014 Record: (12-4) Super Bowl XLIX Champions
(NOTE: THIS IS A TEAM FOOTBALL ANALYSIS. I WILL ONLY TOUCH AND REFERENCE “DEFLATEGATE” IN FLEETING, AS IT IS A FARCE. I NOW PROCEED)
2014 Quick Recap: After QB Tom Brady’s career began with three Super Bowl titles in four years, many thought the gravy train wouldn’t stop so fast (Bill Belichick most likely).
In the decade following their 3rd Super Bowl victory in 2004, New England came oh so close many times. From AFC Championship losses (The only card Peyton holds) to two out of nowhere Super Bowl losses (New York thanks Mario Manningham and David Tyree).
Brady was only getting older and while Belichick was still regarded as the best coach in football, many were wondering whether he was building the right way around his future 1st ballot Hall of Famer (This isn’t in doubt at all).
Finally before the 2014 season, the Patriots went out and acquired CB Darrelle Revis (Revis Island is not a myth) on basically a 1 year $12 million dollar mercenary deal. They also went out to get CB Brandon Browner to help a now elite secondary back a pretty good and developed front seven. When the Patriots won their Super Bowls, it was on the back of clutch play from Tom Brady and great defensive play, so these moves signaled that knowledge.
With TE Rob Gronkowski back in the fold and healthy as the unquestioned best TE in the NFL and one of the best athletes in the league as well as the underrated pick up of WR Brandon LaFell, Tom Brady was no longer working with simple scraps offensively.
All of this culminated in a season where New England was unquestionably the best team in the NFL given dominating victories over other AFC contenders like the Colts and Broncos, which led to a #1 seed. It seemed almost a formality to meet Seattle in the Super Bowl.
There, these defensive moves, health, and the right breaks offensively finally happened for New England to come back and beat Seattle in the fourth quarter to win their 4th Super Bowl of the Brady-Belichick era (I blame Pete Carroll).
The 2014 Patriots weren’t a true juggernaut of old by any NFL standards of previous decades, but ultimately, they were the most complete team (I wax poetically out of jealousy).
(This’ll be lengthy because there’s so many)
You see the 2nd half highlights of that video? Did you see Tom Brady shredding the best defense in the league underneath on TWO CONSECUTIVE DRIVES like it was nothing to win a freaking Super Bowl (Not shocking really). Yeah that’s a strength. The entire Patriots offense is a strength.
It all starts with the maestro, QB Tom Brady, who after enduring “oppression” (Oh please), will now come into his 16th season looking like absolutely nothing has diminished.
Brady, as a first ballot Hall Of Famer, basically does everything perfectly. I mean let’s start with the regimen. This is a guy that goes to sleep at 8:30 (UNREAL) at weeknights during the season and has a completely green diet. His body is a temple and he takes a lot of solace in that.
On the field in the offseason, he rigorously goes through every single basic fundamental footwork and positional element of playing QB (who does that?) just to stay sharp with his own personal coach.
On the field in actual games, you can tell how much he’s prepared. There is no defensive look that effectively fools Brady or that he isn’t ready for and he is probably the best in the NFL at keeping a defense on it’s toes. You never feel like he’s getting erratic or out of control and it’s oddly comforting as a fan to just settle in and watch him play QB (I imagine its infuriating for some).
And unlike Peyton Manning (Oh he’s so done), injuries and age have not diminished Brady’s arm strength significantly. If anything while Brady’s arm is slightly weaker, he is so much more intelligent and efficient in the latter stages of his career. Brady is routinely in the single digits of overall turnovers and even while he isn’t the most mobile of QB’s, his pocket presence and poise is unmatched in football.
With WR Brandon LaFell out for a significant period of time, the Patriots offensive receiving core has taken a hit. And yet, Brady still has WR’s Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, who’s in the conversation for one of the best slots in the game. He also has TE Rob Gronkowski, the unquestioned best beast and middle of the field target (Already has 3 TD’s on the 2015 season) maybe the game of football has ever seen (He’s as “genuine” as JJ Watt though).
Up front, the Patriots offensive line cohesion led by LT Nate Solder makes it seem like they’ve been together for ten years, given their success protecting Brady and they will be opening holes for RB’s Dion Lewis (ELECTRIC) and LeGarrette Blount (How this man has found an NFL career is beyond me). Offensively, there aren’t many flaws for New England.
Defensively, the Patriots have one of the most underrated fronts in the league. Even with the loss of long time Pro Bowler NT Vince Wilfork, the Patriots still have some playerrs.
DE’s Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones aren’t talked about enough with how much havoc they cause. The LB core of Jamie Collins, Jerod Mayo, and Don’ta Hightower is also one of the best in the league that is probably overshadowed by everything Brady does (Offense sells).
Devin McCourty is the best safety in the league not named Earl Thomas.
As I said earlier, REVIS ISLAND is not a myth. In my mind, Darrelle Revis at 30 years old is the best lockdown corner in the game. His one year mercenary deal to help the Patriots get over a ten year hump can be compared to Deion Sanders signing a one year deal with the Niners in ’94 (without the flash and pomp).
Its hard to replace a transcendent player like that, without even mentioning human pass interference machine Brandon Browner. Losing two cover men like that makes the secondary a HUGE question mark (The addition of Bradley Fletcher, aka, Human Dez Pylon is hilarious).
While young player CB Malcolm Butler can continue to ascend as a good #1 guy with his shocking Super Bowl interception (Again, thanks Pete Carroll), basically all of the aspects of the Patriots defense that were bad ass last year, are gone, especially if we’re counting plug NT Vince Wilfork.
There’s also the concern that without LaFell, the Patriots don’t have a true possession target on the outside, given all of their underneath work, but offense hasn’t been the reason they’ve lost in the past.
The Patriots are still the Patriots and no one puts players in a position to succeed like they do. Given their QB, coach, and system, you can basically expect New England to churn out 11-12 wins and win their division every year. The defensive questions only come once they make a deep playoff run against an equally matched team (They probably will) who has fully scouted them and that can exploit their weaknesses.
Whether that happens in 2015, remains to be seen. However, they will win the AFC East.
It is a foregone conclusion.
2015 Predicted Record: 12-4, 1st in AFC East
2) Miami Dolphins- 2014 Record: (8-8)
Why They Can Win:
You see this monster? Oh that’s not enough for you? How about this guy?
Yeah. Pretty scary stuff for opposing offenses.
Due to DT Ndamukong Suh signing a record deal with Miami, the Dolphins now feature one of the most terrifying front sevens (I can only imagine how they’ll mess with everybody) in the NFL.
DE Cameron Wake was already a physical specimen freak that couldn’t be blocked, so now you have two transcendent talents along with DE Olivier Vernon, and every offensive line in the league has just imploded.
CB Brent Grimes is also a stud lockdown guy and one of the best at his position in leading a very underrated secondary.
On the offensive side, its now or never for QB Ryan Tannehill, as he is more than equipped with an ample supporting cast. The ghosts and injuries of season’s past are for now all together along the offensive line led by LT Branden Albert’s return. WR Jarvis Landry has a chance to be one of the best slots in the game while he’ll be complimented by the addition of Greg Jennings and 1st round pick Davante Parker.
TE Jordan Cameron, while overrated, (Professional pass catcher, PFFTTT, like you’re worth that much) also gives Tannehill an explosive option in the middle of the field. The only question is whether Tannehill can take advantage and fully step in to overtake the Patriots with this Miami “dark horse” status.
If he can, too many people are sleeping on the Dolphins as a contender (In the AFC, everyone is a contender).
Why It Can Go Bad:
The Dolphins are one of the most top heavy teams in the league. Outside of their dynamic pass rushing trio, if even one of them were to get injured, there would be huge issues.
Same thing goes for the offensive line. If any of the lineman are out for a significant period of time like tackles Branden Albert and Ja’wuan James were last season, the Dolphins have a pitiful second unit that doesn’t even bear mentioning.
This isn’t the Patriots where someone gets hurt, and guys just step in with the same production. If someone gets hurt for the Dolphins, you can basically kiss their season goodbye.
There’s also the factor of whether Ryan Tannehill is finally ready given his somewhat inconsistent struggles of the past (Being a former wideout with no line will do that you). He has the tools and weapons around him, but if Tannehill can’t truly transcend and become the QB the Dolphins have envisioned, this season goes down the drain.
Tannehill isn’t in that Andy Dalton class of QB’s of basic irrelevant erratic-ness (That’s a word!), but its not like he’s special either. This is his season to shut people like me up.
I somewhat think he will. Somewhat.
2015 Predicted Record: 10-6, 2nd in AFC East
3) Buffalo Bills-2014 Record: (9-7)
Why They Can Win:
The Bills, otherwise known as the NFL’s lesser publicized Purgatory of No Man’s land.
Can you name the Bills’ last good starting QB since Jim Kelly’s departure? (You think about that, as we get to it).
With the hiring of defensive head coach Rex Ryan (Who has no semblance of how to develop an offense), its clear what their focus is. In fact, with the acquisition of RB LeSean McCoy (which is baffling given his style of running), it’s crystal clear.
The Bills want a bit of the ground and pound Ryan instilled with the Jets. They already have one of the best defenses in the NFL (2nd overall rank last year) that features Pro Bowl talent after Pro Bowl talent.
DE’s Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes, NT Kyle Williams, DT Marcell Dareus, CB Stephon Gilmore, and S Baccari Rambo (mostly for the awesome name) are your highlights of a loaded defense.
On offense despite no clear starting caliber quarterback in sight, there are dynamic young WR’s in Sammy Watkins (maybe a case of the yips last year), Robert Woods, and the enigma Percy Harvin (Russell Wilson doesn’t miss you man). As mentioned you can add in LeSean McCoy to that mix who may or not be on the down side of his career to have a “shady” move or two (It fits him so well).
Best case scenario, the defense controls the game and keeps it within reach, while McCoy and co. grind out the necessary points for a double digit winning season.
Its certainly possible.
Why It Can Go Bad:
Despite the cheesy dubbed over 80’s music in that video of Jim Kelly, those are probably some of the last highlights wire to wire of a Bills QB.
Legitimately if you search for highlights of play by any Bills QB in recent memory, you won’t find much or probably any that came in a meaningful game. That fact won’t change after this year.
With QB Tyrod Taylor winning a “dramatic” competition for the starting spot, once again the Bills have someone unproven or completely unfit to play in the NFL. And its not like his competition could have done it either. You can fully expect the Bills to take the ball out of Taylor’s hands and completely not trust him at all (which may be warranted).
In turn that creates a completely one dimensional offense with a RB in McCoy who was built for a zone blocking scheme given his shiftiness behind one of the best NFL offensive lines in Philadelphia.
The Bills have one of the worst offensive lines in the league after routinely allowing their QB to be run over roughshod in recent years. That 25th ranked rushing attack with good RB’s Fred Jackson (now a Seahawk) and CJ Spiller (now a Saint) was not the fault of the skilled players either.
Many a McCoy run this year with him trying to create space when there won’t be any, will simply end in plenty of negative yardage accrued.
Its like Rex Ryan fully stuck to his formula in trading away a really good young LB in Kiko Alonso (SOOOO stupid) for his asinine “Ground & Pound” because he knows deep down he can’t get or develop his own QB.
He’s probably not wrong and based off the Bills defensive talent alone, they finish in respectability. But not much more than that.
2015 Predicted Record: 9-7. 3rd in AFC East
4) New York Jets-2014 Record: (4-12)
Why They Can Win:
Can the Jets win? Can they really? (No but there’s some pieces here)
A talented front seven, somewhat gutted for the first month of the season due to All Pro DT Sheldon Richardson’s stupidity still features All Pro DE Muhammad Wilkerson and highly regarded 1st round pick DE Leonard Williams (I SOOO wish he would have fell to the Bears).
A secondary much maligned last year, now also features Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie at corner (AGAIN), which is a pretty good duo when paired.
Needless to say, the Jets may have themselves a decent defense this season when all said and done.
Offensively, WR’s Brandon Marshall (ticking time bomb) and Eric Decker are your two solid #1 style targets with size.
While a somewhat stable offensive line led by C Nick Mangold will at least give HARVARD GRAD Ryan Fitzpatrick space and time in the pocket to ATTEMPT to get the ball to them (every time you talk about Ryan Fitzpatrick, you must mention that he went to Harvard, it’s like a rule).
The Jets have a clear mass of good talent, its just a wonder if its in the right places.
Why It Can Go Bad:
After the now released LB IK Enemkpali (Picked up by the Bills! Rex Ryan is funny), punched out starting QB Geno Smith in the preseason, HARVARD GRAD Ryan Fitzpatrick is your starter for the time being.
To preface, neither is a good option. Geno is erratic and has no pocket poise, while Fitzpatrick is a glorified (not even glorified, what am I saying?) game manager with little to no arm strength. And these two are supposed to get the ball to your #1 receivers in Marshall (tick tock tick tock) and Decker, who with their size, offer no compliment to each other?
That is such a Jets move.
There’s also the case of whether Head Coach Todd Bowles is just a place holder coach or an actual leader to stabilize things for the Jets.
I’ll probably go with the former, because it looks like he’s changed exactly nothing of the culture there given a LB punched out his starting QB. Bowles may just be a case of a hot really good coordinator, who should stay a coordinator.
You can say time will tell on Bowles and his leadership, but it really won’t given the fact that there’s no one reliable to lead his offense. The Jets will still be decent enough to be completely mediocre and not be the worst team in the NFL, but that’s the ceiling.
In fact, while you Jets fans mull that over, here’s unashamedly captured video of the best play in NFL history!
The New York Jets, everyone’s favorite sideshow that is sometimes referred to as a professional football team.
More of a sideshow though.
2015 Predicted Record: 6-10, Last in AFC East
Robert Zeglinski is an aspiring sportswriter who absolutely loves all the nitty gritty that comes with pro sports. He is currently attending Aurora University in Illinois. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigZags82 or reach him through email (email@example.com) for questions or feedback.
(Sources: cbssports.com, blog.masslive.com, boston.com, donegal S13, bleacherreport.com, Jason Theriault)