Since 2001, the New England Patriots have dominated the AFC East, winning twelve titles in fourteen years. During that time the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins each have one. With the Patriots coming off another Superbowl victory, they are still the biggest target in a division that has improved all-around. This may be a year where another team could sneak in and steal the division, but do not expect the Pats to go down without a fight.
Division Winners – New England Patriots (11-5)
in the biggest story this offseason, a judge has ruled that New England Patriots QB Tom Brady will not serve a suspension for his role in DeflateGate. While that question has finally been answered there are bigger obstacles this team will be facing. They are missing their top two cornerbacks from a year ago, Darrelle Revis who is in New York playing for the Jets, and Brandon Browner, who is playing in New Orleans. These were two key pieces in their championship run, but they hope the young players in their secondary can step up and fill the void. The development of young defensive lineman, especially DE Chandler Jones, will be crucial to the success of this defense.
Besides the Brady suspension, there are still plenty of questions on this offense. The offensive line struggled at times last season, and they hope their two fourth round picks, OG Tre’ Jackson (#111 overall) and C Shaq Mason (#131 overall) can add some toughness up the middle. They have a stable of running backs, but not one that stands out. And the Pats still have TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Julian Edelman as reliable weapons for Brady. This team might not be as strong as a year ago, but as long as they have Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, they will continue to compete for a title.
Second Place – Buffalo Bills (10-6)
The Buffalo Bills started the offseason by naming Rex Ryan, former Jets coach, as the new head coach. After trying out a few different passers over the past few months they have finally named a starting quarterback for the season, and his name is Tyrod Taylor. Highly touted former first round pick EJ Manuel continues to struggle, and Buffalo recently released former New England Patriot Matt Cassel. Taylor, the former Baltimore Raven, is the passer who has looked the best so far this preseason. This offseason, the Bills went out and got some weapons for whoever plays quarterback. They traded for All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy, and went out and a signed speedy deep threat, WR Percy Harvin.
If this offense can get on track, it will be helped out by a defense that could be among the best in the league. With DT Marcel Darius, and DE Mario Williams up front, and a solid secondary behind them, this defense alone will win the team some games. CBs Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore are one of the best cornerback duos in the league. The Bills must get their quarterback situation figured out, but even with the issues I expect Buffalo to make a return to postseason play this year.
Third Place – Miami Dolphins (8-8)
The Miami Dolphins landed perhaps the biggest free agent pickup of the offseason, DT Ndamukong Suh. Then they signed WR Greg Jennings and TE Jordan Cameron to give budding QB Ryan Tannehill some more dependable options. They later added WR Kenny Stills in a trade with the New Orleans Saints. They are hoping these acquisition will get them over the hump and into the playoffs in what promises to be an extremely tough division.
The Dolphins will be an improved team from where they were a year ago. The defense will be solid once again. And I expect Tannehill will continue to progress, making this a pretty good offense with some nice weapons. This team plays a tough schedule, and they could be better than 8-8, but I just do not see it. I still say they are a year away from possibly becoming the best team in the division, but this is not their year.
Cellar Dwellers – New York Jets (6-10)
At the start of the offseason the New York Jets parted ways with embattled Head Coach Rex Ryan who is now in Buffalo. They replaced him with Todd Bowles. Then they signed one of Rex’s favorite players, as CB Darrelle Revis returned to New York where he started his NFL career. His mate in the defensive backfield, CB Antonio Cromartie, has also returned, and that adds some experience to a defense that is young but improving. This will be a good defensive team this season, but that will not be enough.
The Jets biggest issues are on offense. Starting QB Geno Smith will miss about half the season with a broken jaw after a teammate punched him in practice. They currently have QB Ryan Fitzpatrick atop the depth chart, with QB Matt Flynn inching closer to starting in place of Smith. The Jets do have a big, strong offensive line, and will probably depend on the running game to move the ball. They also added WR Brandon Marshall, a big play threat. But without a quarterback to get him the ball, the pickup will not yield much success this season. The Jets will be a bad team again, even after Smith returns.