The AFC East continues to be utterly dominated by the New England Patriots. The Pats have won the division 10 times in the last 11 years, and the one year they didn’t, Tom Brady tore his ACL in the first week of the season.
Last season was no different. New England cruised to another division crown with a 12-4 record. The Jets and Dolphins both finished 8-8, with New York ending Miami’s playoff dreams in week 17. The Bills sat in the cellar at 6-10.
As long as Tom Brady is healthy, there’s not much reason to believe 2014 will be different. But we’re going to break down the division anyway.
Here’s Standing O Sports’ AFC East Preview.
4. Buffalo Bills
E.J. Manuel is the worst quarterback in the AFC East right now, which is why the Bills come in at the bottom of the AFC East offensive rankings. Besides that, the Bills have a solid running back tandem in Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. At receiver, Buffalo showcases first-round pick Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and the recently acquired Mike Williams. If the Bills plan on being somewhat competitive in 2014, Manuel must show he can play all 16 games, and improve drastically from his 11 touchdown 9 interception performance from 2013.
3. Miami Dolphins
Next comes the Miami Dolphins with 3rd year quarterback Ryan Tannehill at the helm. It appeared for most of last season that Tannehill was solidifying himself as a star, but he fell apart the final 2 weeks. That inconsistency is something the Dolphins can’t afford to have happen again especially since the weapons are there. Mike Wallace has #1 receiver talent, all Brian Hartline does is make plays, and the Lamar Miller/Knowshon Moreno running back tandem is a solid one. Tannehill’s final numbers from last season (3,913 yards, 24 TDs, 17 INTs) are an overall improvement from his rookie season. He just needs to put everything together.
2. New York Jets
The reason the Jets rank ahead of the Dolphins is because at this moment, Geno Smith is the 2nd best starting quarterback in the division. His rookie year numbers weren’t pretty (12 TDs, 21 INTs, 3,046 yards, 55.8% completion percentage). In Smith’s defense, he simply didn’t have the weapons to put up big numbers. Jeremy Kerley was the leading receiver, despite the fact he missed 4 games. Coincidentally, the Jets lost all 4 of those games. That means when Geno had his best weapon healthy, the Jets went 8-4. When you add Eric Decker, Jace Amaro, and Chris Johnson to his list of weapons, combined with his growth as a player, Geno will take a major step forward in 2014. The running game led by Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, and Johnson is one of the best trios in the game.
1. New England Patriots
Once again, the Patriots have the number 1 offense in the division. Tom Brady is an all-time great at quarterback and no one has come close to competing with him. His cast of receivers don’t jump off the page (Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson), but he still has Rob Gronkowski and the recently acquired Tim Wright. Brady has more than enough weapons to succeed. However, one area where New England may be sweating a little bit is on the offensive line. Trading Logan Mankins was a tremendous gamble. Protecting Tom Brady should be the Patriots number 1 priority, and the team better Brady can stay off his back.
4. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins have talent on defense, but for whatever reason, the end result was not what the team wanted and not much was done over the off-season. Cameron Wake is a premier pass rusher in the game, Brent Grimes is a top cornerback, and Reshad Jones has all the talent in the world at safety. If this unit can put everything together, they should be great. They just haven’t shown they’re capable of doing that.
3. New England Patriots
The Patriots are the most improved defensive unit in the game. Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork are back and healthy, and the team went out and got Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Revis is poised to return to dominant form now that he’s 2-years recovered from ACL surgery. Expect the Pats pass defense to improve significantly, and the run defense to bounce back with Wilfork. Since Tom Brady puts up so many points, the Patriots defensive numbers won’t look as good as they play, but this could be the best defense Bill Belichick has had since Teddy Bruschi retired.
2. New York Jets
Cornerback is a question mark, but the Jets are a great defensive unit everywhere else. The defensive line is the best in football. Sheldon Richardson is the reigning defensive rookie of the year, Muhammad Wilkerson is an elite pass rusher, and Damon Harrison is dominant in the middle. The linebacking core is led by David Harris and emerging star DeMario Davis, as well as Quinton Coples and Jason Babin. Calvin Pryor should bring an attitude at safety, and when Dee Milliner is back, the secondary should hold its own.
1. Buffalo Bills
Even without Kiko Alonso, the Bills defense is filled with playmakers. Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, and Jerry Hughes are studs on the defensive line. Buffalo finished 2nd in the league with 57 sacks, and had 29 takeaways. Leodis McKelvin anchors a secondary that allowed the 4th fewest passing yards per game in the league last season, and Brandon Spikes along with Keith Rivers look to help solve the Bills run-stopping problems.
Buffalo Bills: E.J. Manuel’s Progression
The one thing the Buffalo Bills don’t lack is talent. Led by Kyle and Mario Williams, the Bills have one of the best defensive lines in football. The running back combination of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller is a force to be reckoned with, and Buffalo drafted the Sammy Watkins in the first-round. The one thing holding this team back is 2nd-year quarterback E.J. Manuel. Ever since Jim Kelly retired after the 1996 season, finding the next great quarterback has been a major challenge. The likes of Doug Flutie, Drew Bledsoe, J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards, and Ryan Fitzpatrick have all failed to bring the Bills back to prosperity. Last season, Manuel played in 10 games throwing 10 touchdowns and 9 interceptions while accumulating a 42.3 QBR. If the Bills want to taste the post-season for the first time since 1999, E.J. Manuel must improve drastically.
New York Jets: Cornerback Play
It’s easy to say Geno Smith is the X-Factor of the 2014 Jets. While it could be true that the Jets will go as far as Geno Smith takes Gang Green, it may not matter if the cornerbacks can’t cover anyone. The Jets will be facing a bevy of elite quarterbacks such as Aaron Rogers, Jay Cutler, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Matt Stafford. With Dee Milliner’s status uncertain, Dimitri Patterson likely getting cut, and Dexter McDougle done for the season, the Jets will be praying that unproven corners Darrin Walls and Antonio Allen can get the job done. If not, the pressure on Geno to perform will be even greater than it already is.
New England Patriots: Replacing Mankins
In a late, shocking move, the Patriots traded Pro-Bowl guard Logan Mankins to the Buccaneers in exchange for tight end for tight end Tim Wright and a 4th-round draft pick. Mankins was the glue of the offensive line, and trading him this late in the pre-season is a huge risk by Bill Belichick. The number 1 priority should be keeping Tom Brady healthy, and free from taking hard hits. Now, the Pats are going to have to go with an unproven player, possibly Josh Kline to fill the void left by Mankins. Two other teams in the division, the Bills and Jets have dominant defensive lines. Belichick better hope his line can keep Brady off his back.
Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill Consistency
Much like the Buffalo Bills, the story is pretty much the same for the Miami Dolphins. Ever since Dan Marino retired following the 1999 season, the Dolphins have had terrible luck at the quarterback position. Jay Fiedler manned the position after Marino making the playoffs the first 2 seasons after Marino left. Since then, Miami has made the post-season 1 time in the last 12-years. Gus Frerotte, Joey Harrington, Cleo Lemon, Chad Pennington, Chad Henne, and Matt Moore have all been under center since. The common denominator has been losing. Last season, the Dolphins looked poised to return to the playoffs before collapsing the final 2-weeks. Ryan Tannehill was at the center of it all completing 10/27 passes in a 19-0 shutout loss to the Bills, and throwing 3 interceptions in week 17 against the Jets. Tannehill must be more consistent if the Dolphins are going to succeed in 2014.
4. Buffalo Bills (5-11)
E.J. Manuel will struggle in 2014, as will the Bills who are looking at another finish in the AFC East basement.
3. Miami Dolphins (8-8)
Ryan Tannehill will flash brilliance at times in 2014, but the inconsistencies will also be there as the Dolphins stumble to another 8-8 season.
2. New York Jets (9-7)
The Jets have a brutal early schedule, but Geno Smith’s improvement will guide the Jets to a possible playoff berth for the first time since 2010.
1. New England Patriots (12-4)
As long as Tom Brady is healthy, the Patriots will coast to another AFC East championship. The big question for the Patriots is can the team finally overcome SpyGate and win a Super Bowl for the first time since the 2004-2005 season.
How do you think the AFC East shapes up? Leave a comment below.