Arbitrary, Reactionary Division Previews: AFC East

Welp, it’s time to talk about our own division. How will things shake out in the AFC East after all is said and done in 2013? We know the past of this division. Since the divisions settled as they are in 2002, the Jets and Dolphins have each won the division once. The Patriots have won all the rest. Our Bills haven’t won the division since 1995, when the Colts were still a part of our division. Sigh.

Teams in our division will play each team from the AFC North and the NFC South this season, and then each of their six divisional games. They also play two unique games, one against an AFC West team and one against an AFC South team (based on division ranking). This road includes some formidable foes, like the Falcons, Ravens, and Bengals (and the Steelers and Saints could be scary too). How will the AFC East teams handle the cards they’ve been dealt? Here’s my take.

patriots

New England Patriots

2012 Record: 12-4 (1st in the AFC East)

NFL Rankings:

–          Passing Offense: 4th

–          Rushing Offense: 7th

–          Passing Defense: 29th

–          Rushing Defense: 9th

Key Additions: RB LeGarrette Blount, WR Danny Amendola, WR Kenbrell Thompkins

Key Losses: WR Wes Welker, WR Brandon Lloyd, TE Aaron Hernandez, S Patrick Chung

Their Season Depends On:  Tom Brady’s health, Aqib Talib being the difference on defense, and not letting drama destroy them.

Oh, Tom Brady. We all hate him. We LOVE to hate him. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to argue that Brady isn’t really, REALLY good as well. It’s pretty clear that he’s one of the best QBs in the league, and the fortunes of the Patriots will ride with him. 4827 yards, 34 TD, 8 INT in 2012… and that’s WORSE than his 2011 season! We can talk about how the Patriots receiving corps has been depleted, but we’ve been having that conversation almost annually, and Brady still makes stars of whoever he throws to. As long as that guy is healthy, the Patriots are a monster.

As for Aqib Talib, you can almost consider him another new addition. He only appeared in New England for the last 4 games in 2012 (being a long time Buccaneer before that). In that time, however, the Patriots defense looked very different. In those 4 games, the defense averaged 329 total yards allowed, which would have placed them in the top 10 defenses in the league. That’s impressive when compared to the 25th-ranked defense that the Patriots ended up with. Talib’s numbers weren’t amazing last year (2 INT, 40 tackles), but his effect on the Patriots defense was unmistakable. Since the Pats didn’t make any major moves to add to their secondary in the offseason, it seems they believe they’ve solved their problems with Talib. Time will tell if that is so.

It was easy enough for the Patriots front office to look past the antics of Rob Gronkowski, considering his level of play. It was entertaining over the past couple years, however, watching No-Drama Belichick explain away Gronk’s dancing and porn-pals.  That’s all it was, though. Just entertainment. In the end, the Pats still managed to take care of business as they always do. This year seems different. The Aaron Hernandez fiasco could hang over this team for a while, especially since it likely affected everyone in the organization from the coaches to the players. As if that wasn’t enough drama, they actually welcomed Tim Tebow into their organization (albeit temporarily). Can the Patriots take all this attention, drama, and change and still remain unfazed?

Prediction: As much as I’d like to predict the downfall of the Patriots this season, I’d be considered crazy to do so. I DO think that the descent of the Patriots is beginning, but they’ve likely got one more year at the top. Even with Denver and Houston on the schedule, I see the Patsies going 11-5, winning the damn division again. Blah.

dolphins

Miami Dolphins

2012 Record: 7-9 (2nd in AFC East)

NFL Rankings:

–          Passing Offense: 26th

–          Rushing Offense: 17th

–          Passing Defense: 27th

–          Rushing Defense: 13th

Key Additions: WR Mike Wallace, WR Brandon Gibson, OT Tyson Clabo, CB Brent Grimes, LB Dannell Ellerbe

Key Losses: RB Reggie Bush, WR Davone Bess, OT Jake Long, LB Karlos Dansby, CB Sean Smith

Their Season Depends On: Ryan Tannehill having a BIG second year, Lamar Miller’s rise from nowhere, and seeing true upgrades on defense.

Tannehill had a mediocre season last year, but not too shabby for a rookie that was supposed to be a bust. 3294 yards, 12 TD, 13 INT, and 58.3% completion rate are not astounding stats, but it could be something to build on. I keep hearing about how this is Tannehill’s breakout year, but I have a hard time believing that. I mean, sure, the receiver position has been bolstered. I’m tempted to call Mike Wallace overrated, however, with his high drop rate in the past. The loss of Jake Long also creates cause for concern, as they likely won’t be cutting down the 35 sacks Tannehill had last year. It will take significant improvement on Tannehill’s part to really make a difference in Miami.

Now, answer me this: Were we actually talking about Lamar Miller last year? Did anyone talk about how big of a talent he was and how he’s gonna have an amazing year? I don’t think so. Losing Reggie Bush just as he was getting really good was not Miami’s best idea. Even with Daniel Thomas on the roster, Lamar Miller ended up as the 3rd running back in 2012. 250 yards, 1 TD, and a whopping 45 yards receiving. Where is this hype coming from? Should I remind folks about the absent Jake Long?

Finally, there’s the Miami defense. Last year they hired a new defensive coordinator named Kevin Coyle. In his first year, the Dolphins allowed more yards than they did in 2011. Oops. Coyle’s getting another swing at things, but now with a retooled defense and new people. Losing CB Sean Smith was tough (2 INT, 3 FF). Losing tackle-leader Karlos Dansby (134 combined tackles) is even tougher. Sure, they brought in Brent Grimes (who has injury concerns), and Dannell Ellerbe (who was likely paid too much). Will it be enough to shore up a lackluster defense?

Prediction: Can you tell I’m not high on the Dolphins this year? They get the Chargers and Colts as their unique games, and I’m not buying that they’ve really improved. My guess is 6-10, 3rd in the division.

jets

New York Jets

2012 Record: 6-10 (3rd in AFC East)

League Rankings:

–          Passing Offense: 30th

–          Rushing Offense: 12th

–          Passing Defense: 2nd

–          Rushing Defense: 26th

Key Additions: RB Chris Ivory, TE Kellen Winslow, OT Willie Colon, S Dawan Landry

Key Losses: RB Shonn Greene, TE Dustin Keller, OT Jason Smith, LB Bart Scott, CB Darrelle Revis, S LaRon Landry, S Yeremiah Bell

Their Season Depends On: Geno Smith instantly transforming into a decent QB, a career season for one of the RBs, and Antonio Cromartie somehow covering two receivers at once.

Mark Sanchez is officially done in the Jets organization. I wouldn’t rule out another start from him at some point, but it would take a Geno Smith injury (or catastrophically abysmal play) to make that happen. Will Geno do better than Sanchez’s 2883 yards, 13 TD, and 18 INT? Maybe. Geno Smith hasn’t exactly impressed in the preseason, and you kind of get the feeling that Sanchez might have still started Week 1 if he didn’t get hurt. Here are Geno’s preseason stats: 22 of 37, 246 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT. Not great. Unless Geno Smith gets good RIGHT NOW, it looks like the Jets offense will be hurting. It’s not like they’ve given him a great supporting cast to work with. Top two receivers right now? Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley. Yeah.

As for the running game, it wasn’t terrible last season. Unfortunately for the Jets, they lost their leading rusher in Shonn Greene (1063 yards, 8 TD). Now the four RBs on the final roster are Bilal Powell, Chris Ivory, Kahlil Bell, and Mossis Madu. Only ONE of those players has ever run for more than 500 yards in a single season, and the last time Chris Ivory managed that it was in 2010. Adrian Peterson had more yards last year than the top 2 RBs on the Jets have in their careers combined! Sure, it’s possible for one of these guys to explode. Alfred Morris didn’t take an NFL snap until 2012 and he would have led the league in rushing if it weren’t for Peterson. Still, the chances don’t seem good for a breakout year from one of these guys.

Have you looked at the losses on defense that the Jets had this year? It was like they  were abandoning ship! Mike Pettine heads to Buffalo, and EVERYONE ELSE LEAVES. The secondary is especially depleted, with Antonio Cromartie remaining as the only returning starter. Kudos to him for covering for Darrelle Revis last year, proving that the Jets could manage without him… but losing 2 very good Safeties seems like a bit much. Yeremiah Bell is good, and LaRon Landry is a BEAST. 100 total tackles, 8 passes defended, 2 INT (including a Pick-6), and 4 forced fumbles for Landry last year. What were the Jets thinking letting him go? Amazingly, they brought in LaRon’s older brother, Dawan Landry (yep, that’s his name) as a replacement. Dawan isn’t bad, but he was better when he was younger (like LaRon). Dee Milliner, their rookie CB, already looks like a bust. This defense could be a traveling comedy show this year.

Prediction: The Jets get the Titans and the Raiders as their unique games this year, and I really wouldn’t be surprised if those were the only games the Jets won this year. This team is a mess that needs a complete rebuild. 2-14, last in the AFC East.

bills

BUFFALO BILLS

2012 Record: 6-10 (Last in AFC East)

League Rankings:

–          Passing Offense:  25th

–          Rushing Offense: 6th

–          Passing Defense: 10th

–          Rushing Defense: 31st

Key Additions: QB EJ Manuel, DT Alan Branch, DE/LB Jerry Hughes

Key Losses: OG Andy Levitre, DE Chris Kelsay, LB Nick Barnett, S George Wilson

OUR Season Depends On: E.J. Manuel being our guy, C.J. Spiller playing a LOT, and Mike Pettine bringing some balls to the defense.

Let us not dwell on last season’s QB situation. In fact, let us not dwell on the QB situation of the Preseason even. EJ Manuel has been named the starter and it’s time to play. 26 of 33, 199 yards, 2 TD and NO PICKS through two preseason games. Granted, that isn’t a huge sample size… and it was preseason… but we drafted the guy for a reason, didn’t we? Time to start finding out what he’s made of. Expectations are high in Buffalo, but hopefully we temper our expectations for Manuel’s first year. He doesn’t have to do a lot this year. He just needs to protect the football, make smart plays, and take advantage of his weapons. With CJ Spiller on our side, Manuel’s job is a lot easier. Here’s hoping he’s up to the task.

Speaking of CJ Spiller, the one thing that could derail us is an injury to him. We’ve already heard of the coaching philosophy regarding Spiller (till he barfs), so we don’t have to worry about him being underutilized. It’s just a question of durability at this point. We know Fred Jackson and Tashard Choice can be used to spell CJ here and there, but we need our Thriller on the field as much as possible. To get an idea of how good he is, consider this interesting factoid: There are two stats that say a lot about a Running Back, YBCPA and YACPA. What are those? Yards Before Contact Per Attempt and Yards After Contact Per Attempt. The shows how well they hit the open field, and the second shows how hard they are to bring down. If you made two top ten list for last year’s RBs, one for each of these two stats, only two guys show up on BOTH lists: Adrian Peterson, and (you guessed it) CJ Spiller. Wanna guess who was #1 in YACPA? That’s right. The hardest RB to bring down last year was none other than our CJ.

Finally, there’s the defense. This is still a defense that looks amazing on paper, just like last year. In 2012, however, it was like Dave Wannstedt was yanking back on the leashes of a pack of tenacious Rottweilers and Dobermans. Now this is Mike Pettine’s defense, and he wants to cut those leashes. Even our preseason defensive schemes looked more aggressive than Wannstedt’s defense in mid-season form. It should also be noted that this is a scheme that plays more into Mario Williams’ strengths. It’s very possible that those “We paid too much” comments will fade by the end of this year. It really looks like our front 7 has greatly improved, which will really help out in the horrible run defense we had last year. The only wrinkle now is the temporary loss of Stephon Gilmore, who helped us be one of the tougher teams to pass against in his rookie year. I can imagine he’ll only get better with time. I’ll definitely breathe easier when he’s healthy and back in the lineup.

Prediction: We’ve all seen the power rankings that other sites put up. No one gives us a chance in hell in doing much this year. We get to face the Chiefs and the Jaguars this year, giving us a bit easier road than other teams in the division. In the end, I think we’ll surprise a lot of people this year. Crazier things have happened in the NFL. I’m predicting we manage 10-6, second in the AFC East and good enough for a Wild Card spot.

PLEASE.

About Jesse Sythe

Single Daddy, Transmission Operations Instructor, gamer, Buffalo Bills fan, and all around goofball. Life is good. #BillsMafia