AFC East Preview: Will New England continue its domination?

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Updated: September 10, 2015
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It’s been seven years since a team outside the New England Patriots was able to win the AFC East. In 2008, the Miami Dolphins became the only team in the past 12 seasons to dethrone the mighty Patriots in the division. And, during that season, Tom Brady played in just one game after going down with a season-ending injury — an ACL and MCL tear.

Needless to say, the Patriots have had a stranglehold on the AFC East, but this season could be an interesting one. The Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and Dolphins all made significant improvements over the summer, and this may be the year where one of those teams could start knocking at Bill Belichick and Brady’s front door.

The AFC East could quietly start becoming one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL, as each team has something it can hang its hat on.

Now, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at how this division will play out during the 2015 season.

 

New England Patriots (Prediction: 11-5)

Well, the big news in New England, of course: Tom Brady is back. Now that we’re slowly starting to get away from some of this deflategate talk — hopefully, anyway — it’s time to get back to football. Brady and the Patriots finished last season off with a Super Bowl victory, now they get the opportunity to trot back onto the field as defending champs.

They’ve been in complete control of the AFC East since Brady took over as starting quarterback in 2001, as he’s never experienced a losing record in his career. Every time we start thinking the Patriots’ run is over, they surprise us and finish with a 12-4-type record — like they did last season. They will be without many of their top players on defense from a season ago, as cornerback Darrelle Revis signed with the Jets, Brandon Browner signed with the New Orleans Saints and Kyle Arrington was released during the offseason after spending six years of his career in New England.

But, Belichick and company always seems to answer the call. They find ways to plug players in on defense and maintain their success. They do the same at most positions on the field, as long as Brady is still under center. They still have Rob Gronkowski on the roster, the most complete tight end in the game, and as long as he’s healthy, the offense shouldn’t miss a beat.

The other teams in the AFC East will be gunning for New England this season, but if there’s one team you don’t pick against in their respective division, it would be the Patriots. They’ll be challenged this year, and it may come down to the final week of the season for the division to be decided. But I think the Patriots will use the negative media attention they’ve been getting over the past nine months, as motivation to dominate their opponents.

 

Buffalo Bills (Prediction: 9-7)

They have a top-tier running back in LeSean McCoy, all types of speedy receivers, in Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Percy Harvin, and a dependable tight end in Charles Clay. The only skill position that needs to show up, is the quarterback.

Head coach Rex Ryan named Tyrod Taylor as his starting quarterback to open the season, and it may have been the right choice. Taylor was impressive in preseason, and seemed to smoothly run the offense. With so many weapons around him, the Bills could quietly have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Taylor also has the ability to run with the football, if need be. If he’s able to stay consistent throughout the season, this could be one scary offense.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bills may be one of the most talented in the league. They have a stout front four, in Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes, that will be more than happy to get after the quarterback. Those four combined for 39.5 sacks last season, with Williams leading the way with 14.5. They don’t have any glaring holes on defense, and Ryan should have a ton of fun putting together blitz packages for his opponents.

They should be an entertaining team to watch, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were able to squeeze out a wild card spot in the AFC playoffs. Behind their fourth-ranked defense, the Bills finished last season with a 9-7 record. Not only will they have pretty much the same team defensively, but they should be much improved on offense.

 

Miami Dolphins (Prediction: 9-7)

Like the Bills, the Dolphins will rely heavily on their defense to help generate victories. They had the 12th ranked defense last season, and will be adding the best defensive tackle in the NFL this year, in former Detroit Lions‘ Ndamukong Suh.

Lining up next to Suh will be one of the top defensive ends in the league, in Cameron Wake. Those two will wreak havoc on opposing offenses throughout the entire season. In Brent Grimes, the Dolphins also have one of the best cornerbacks in the game, which will allow them to send extra players after the quarterback and leave him on an island.

The Dolphins did lose a few key players on offense this offseason, as wide receiver Mike Wallace was dealt to the Minnesota Vikings and Charles Clay was signed by the Bills. But they were able to acquire wideout Greg Jennings via free agency, and Kenny Stills from the Saints in a trade that sent linebacker Dannell Ellerbe to New Orleans, along with a third-round draft pick. They were also able to sign former Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron to a two-year deal, as he’ll serve as Clay’s replacement.

It will be on Ryan Tannehill‘s shoulders to lead this Dolphins team to a playoff berth, or division title. He has been solid throughout his career thus far, as his numbers have improved in every year since entering the league in 2012. He threw for 4,045 yards, 27 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions last season, while completing 66 percent of his passes. Lamar Miller rushed for over 1,000 yards — 1,099 to be exact — and eight touchdowns a season ago. If Miami can get that type of effort out of both Tannehill and Miller once again this year, to go with a top defense, they’ll also have an opportunity to compete for a playoff spot in the AFC.

 

New York Jets (Prediction: 7-9)

A lot changed for the Jets over the offseason. They fired head coach Rex Ryan and general manager John Idzik. They then replaced Ryan with former Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who will be in his first season as a head coach. They also hired Mike Maccagnan to take over the management duties.

But not only were there significance changes in the front office, they also made some noise in free agency — adding some much needed talent to the roster. They reacquired Revis, who spent his first six seasons with the Jets, by signing him to a five-year, $70 million contract with $39 million guaranteed. Lining up opposite of Revis will be Antonio Cromartie, who also decided to sign with the Jets once he saw Revis make the move. Those two played with one another from 2010 to 2012 and formed arguably the most dominant cornerback tandem in the NFL during that span.

With two All-Pro corners reunited, to go with a strong front seven and Bowles’ expertise, expect the Jets to be one of the better defensive teams in the NFL.

They also made a few splashes in free agency on the offensive side of the ball. The Jets acquired All-Pro wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who was traded from the Chicago Bears for a fifth-round draft choice. They then went out in the second round of this year’s draft and took now-former Ohio State wide receiver Devin Smith, who will be able to stretch the field with his speed.

Geno Smith will miss six-to-10 weeks with a broken jaw, after his altercation with former teammate IK Enemkpali, so Ryan Fitzpatrick will begin the season as the starting quarterback. He will need to be a true game manager, limit the mistakes and refrain from putting his team in bad situations. They’ll need to rely on their defense and an effective rushing attack, which will be led by running back Chris Ivory.

Josiah Turner

Josiah Turner

Josiah is the founder and editor-in-chief at Sideline Sports Report. He is a writer for ESPN, and has written for Rant Sports and FanSided covering the Washington Redskins. He's also covered high school basketball for Virginia Preps (Rivals.com). Josiah is from Chesapeake, VA and a college graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University.

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