It’s a strange time in the AFC East. For the last 12 years any discussion about the East began and ended with the New England Patriots. Since 2001 they have won the division 10 out of 12 times and averaged 12 wins a season. No other AFC East team has averaged a winning record during that time. In fact, since 2001, the entire rest of the division has combined for only one more playoff win (6) than the Patriots have Super Bowl appearances (5). Think about that.
But the winds have shifted. The Patriots no longer have the look or feel of a menacing juggernaut. Even before Aaron Hernandez decided to re-enact Scarface in a Boston suburb the intimidation of Camelot had begun to wane. Quite simply, the Patriots are no longer The Patriots.
The saying goes “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Well it didn’t fall apart in a day, either. And while the Patriots are not what they once were, they are still the best team in this division, for now. As long as they have Tom Brady and everyone else has the likes of Ryan Tannehill, Mark Sanchez, Kevin Kolb and EJ Manuel, they will be the first team talked about when the AFC East is discussed.
It’s been a very busy offseason for the Patriots front office. As it stands they have nine new starters (five defense, four offense) and could have as many as 11 by the end of camp. The most crucial are the losses of Welker and Hernandez. Those two accounted for 169 receptions, 1800 yds and 11 TDs. That’s over a third of the teams passing offense departed with no clear replacements.
Danny Amendola might look like a Wes Welker type, but that’s only because he is another short white guy. His track record suggests he will be more of a trainer’s room/hot tub type of guy. He has never finished a full season of NFL football as a starter, and his career totals barely surpass what Welker did last year.
Rob Gronkowski would be expected to pick up the slack of both Welker and Hernandez if he could manage to go a few months without needing an operation. Once thought of as the game’s next great TE, everyone is starting to wonder how much longer Gronk will be able to play if he has to have surgery every other month. As it is they still aren’t sure when he will be available.
I expect Tampa Bay cast-off LeGarrette Blount to make a significant impact. After his impressive rookie season he clearly fell out of favor with Coach Schiano. He is exactly the type of exiled player New England has made a living off of for nearly a decade. You can pencil in Adrian Wilson as the next Rodney Harrison as well.
Defensively the Patriots revolving door continues to spin at an alarming pace. From 2007-09 they spent seven of their top nine draft picks on the defensive side of the ball. Of those seven, only ONE (Jerod Mayo) is still with the team, and three aren’t even playing football anymore. That’s seven high picks, from rounds 1-3, that should be taking over starting jobs right now, three are playing elsewhere and three more are certifiable busts. That’s not good.
But when it comes down to it, the Patriots still have Tom Brady, and the rest of the division doesn’t. With all due respect to Tannehill, Sanchez and Manuel, those three might not even be good as Brady’s backup. In a league where the QB rules, Brady will be enough to win the AFC East. Again. 2013 Prediction: 11-5
Miami lost both of their starting LB’s (Dansby, Burnett) two of their top receivers (Bush, Bess) and their former All-Pro left tackle. Somehow, on paper, they look better.
The addition of Mike Wallace offsets the loss of Bess and Bush and should provide Brain Hartline and new TE Dustin Keller plenty of room to move underneath. The question is whether Ryan Tannehill is capable of throwing the deep ball well enough to take advantage of Wallace’s world-class speed. Ben Roethlisberger is one of the best deep ball throwers in the NFL. Ryan Tannehill? Not so much.
Lamar Miller is expected to shoulder the load of carries at running back. With only 51 carries on his resume’ that’s a pretty big gamble.
Jake Long’s replacement is Jonathan Martin, and his skill set is suspect at best. Jake Long may have been injury prone lately, but there is no doubt what kind of player he was when healthy. Between Miller and Martin the Dolphins have two large question marks at two key positions.
The obvious solution to both is Ryan Tannehill. With an average (at best) LT and an unproven RB he is going to have to throw quicker and more often. He will need to be more decisive, better at his pre-snap reads and more accurate. We will see if the second year starter is up to the task or suffers from a sophomore jinx.
I’m thinking a little of both. More than anything the Dolphins are lucky they play in the AFC East. Prediction: 8-8
Two years ago the Jets seemed poised to dethrone the Patriots and seize control of the AFC East. Then the whole thing fell apart so fast, so completely, that if it had happened to anyone other than the Jets we would be surprised. But it is the Jets, so nobody really was surprised at all. Not even a little.
Gone are nearly half of the starters from a year ago, including two of the top players from their defensive secondary, the lone bright spot on an otherwise hapless football team. Darrelle Revis and LaRon Landry were arguably the Jets’ two best players, but were victims of a salary cap cleansing at the hands of new GM John Idzik. The remaining players from their back-to-back trips to the AFC Championship games in 2010-11 are past their primes, some never really had a prime at all. Sanchez has the look of yet another QB turned into hamburger by the NY media. If bringing in Tim Tebow last season didn’t finish off his will to compete then the drafting of Geno Smith this spring certainly did.
Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards aren’t the types of receivers that can win games on their own, and neither one has the character to hold together what will certainly be another locker room in turmoil by week six. Be sure that when murmurs across the locker room inevitably happen, that is when they will miss Bart Scott and Dustin Keller the most.
And we haven’t even talked about Rex Ryan yet. Who knows what will happen with him by years end. He has certainly lost his brash coaching style, and a few hundred pounds. We will see how well he coaches with his ego mollified by his inability to fulfill his own predictions. If the Jets stumble to a 1-4 or 2-6 type start he could very well find himself unemployed by Thanksgiving.
Just another year in New Jersey. Prediction: 5-11
The sad truth is any preview of the Bills could have been a copy of the previous year’s preview with only a few name changes. And the year before that and the year before that….
Once again a new head coach takes over the league’s forgotten franchise. Doug Marrone is the seventh head coach in since 2000, which would be really depressing if not for the fact that that is still two fewer than they have had starting QB’s during the same span (9).
When the first official snap of 2013 takes place Kevin Kolb will be the tenth player to have held the title of “Starting QB”” in Buffalo since Bill Belichek took over in Foxboro. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that is a coincidence.
In what has been a nearly perpetual state of rebuilding that would even make Cubs fans restless, the Bills released a talented but maddeningly inconsistent QB (Fitzpatrick) and replaced him with yet another inconsistent, but less talented one (Kolb). Other than that, the Bills front office felt that the same team that went 6-10 in 2012 was good enough as-is. No other talent needed. A new coach and a journeymen QB. Which, if they are waiting for Manuel to provide them a better chance to win than Kolb, then that moment happened the second Roger Goodell announced his name and handed him a jersey.
So when Kolb gets hurt (or just plays like he normally does) and EJ Manuel takes over in Novemberish (and you know he will) he will be the eleventh starting QB in the last 12 seasons.
Now, the Bills do have talent. Stevie Johnson may be a head case WR, but he is a very talented one. RB C.J Spiller and TE Scott Chandler are two players that are widely underrated and talked about only during fantasy football drafts. Mario Williams is still Mario Williams. And if franchise tagged hold-out Jairus Byrd ever reports (which at this point he probably won’t) they can add another Pro-Bowl caliber player to their depth chart that nobody has ever heard about. The Bills do have talent. But you cannot have a revolving door at the QB and Head Coaching position year after year and expect to win.
When it comes down to it, they will still be starting the year with another new head coach and another new starting QB. AGAIN. And if history is any indicator this preview will be the same one written next year, and the year after that and the year after that…Prediction: 5-11