Easily one of most compelling divisions in the NFL, the AFC East provides us with a competitive and intriguing race to keep an eye on all season long. Filled with storylines galore, each matchup will be juicier than the last. From Rex Ryan leaving the bright lights of New York City for Buffalo, Revis Island returning to Jets’ land, Ndamukong Suh becoming a Dolphin, and Tom Brady avoiding a team deflating four game suspension, there is no lack of drama in this group.
No question the Patriots have been the top dogs in this division for the last 15 years, and this year the defending Super Bowl Champs will again be the favorites to win the division. It would be foolish however to think that the other three teams are going to roll over and kiss the Patriots’ rings, so here is the breakdown for each team and their outlook for the 2015 season:
Gone are the days of the Bills being the doormat of this division, at least that’s what the Bills faithful are thinking this year in Buffalo. Off-season additions and Rex Ryan taking over gives optimism that this could be the year Buffalo finally breaks their postseason drought (longest in the NFL; last playoff appearance 1999). You can bet Rex Ryan has a chip on his shoulder after last season’s split from the Jets, and if he proved one thing in his time with New York its that he knows how to beat Tom Brady.
But the question remains, does he have the players in place to knock the Patriots off their division throne?
Offensively Lesean McCoy’s arrival in the offseason provides the sturdy back Ryan likes to use for his ground and pound philosophy. Sammy Watkins will be a big play target offensively for whoever ultimately gets the long term playing time at quarterback. I’m not entirely sold on Tyrod Taylor at quarterback for a whole season, despite the fact that he looked impressive in the preseason. Matt Cassel resigning earlier this week tells me Taylor will have somewhat of a short leash and Cassel will be on standby if there are signs of trouble from Taylor.
The defense will no doubt be the team’s strongest unit between Rex’s scheme and Mario Williams and company rushing the passer. Look for this unit to keep the Bills in most games this season. It will be no easy task to win this division with the Patriots likely to run away with it again this year, but look for the Bills to compete with the Dolphins for second in the division and possibly a wild card spot.
Season Record Prediction: 9-7
New York Jets
Exit Rex Ryan, and enter the Todd Bowles era. Bowles is in many regards the complete opposite end of the spectrum to the brash trash talking Ryan. The soft spoken, yet intense Bowles will no doubt raise the level of play of the Jets’ defense. The issue however lies with the offense.
Dysfunctional is how I would describe the Jets in the offseason after seeing Geno Smith sucker punched and injured for at least the early part of the season. The stage at least for now belongs to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Most Jets’ fans will say they have all the confidence in the world in Fitz, but in my eyes he hasn’t shown the ability to play consistently well for an entire season. Just ask Bills’ fans how they feel about him and you’ll get all you need to know about what to expect from him. Even with offensive weapons such as Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall I don’t see the Jets offense putting up a lot of points this season with Fitzpatrick as quarterback. Chris Ivory has produced in the preseason, but it is uncertain if he will be reliable enough to be a full time feature back to make a balanced offense.
Defensively, this team should be as good if not better than the Rex Ryan’s defense. Revis Island is back in the defensive backfield and so is Antonio Cromartie. Even with a good defense there’s only so much Jets’ fans can expect from a team that went 4-12 a year ago. The Jets should be an improved unit, but I still think they are a little behind everyone else in this division.
Season Prediction: 8-8
New England Patriots
Now that deflate gate is a thing of the past, look for the Patriots to maintain division dominance. Yes, I know the Patriots lost a lot of talent from last year’s Super Bowl team, but if there’s a coach in the NFL who knows how to revamp a team and get them in contention it’s Bill Belichek.
It will be business as usual for New England who will see their four time Super Bowl Champion quarterback, Tom Brady, take the field for the entire season. Offensively, all of the major weapons are still in place for Brady from last year with the exception of Brendan LaFell and Shane Vereen. LaFell will start the season on the PUP list. Look for Aaron Dobson to fill in for LaFell and for Legarrette Blount to be the main feature back with both Steven Ridley and Vereen gone.
Defensively, the Patriots will have a little bit of a setback losing the likes of veterans Darrelle Revis and Vince Wilfork, but overall they will play well enough to get by.
This division is New England’s to lose as it has been for the last 15 years.
Season Prediction: 12-4
Probably the most unpredictable of the teams in this division, the Miami Dolphins will look to bounce back from last years 8-8 season. It was an up and down season last year, in which the Dolphins pandered back and forth between Super Bowl contender and bottom dweller. There is a lot to feel positive about with this team who is most likely to contend with New England for the division crown.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill appears to be turning a corner in his career amassing over 4,000 yards passing last year and a career low 12 interceptions. Entering his fourth year in the league, the Dolphins will rely heavily on him to get back to the playoffs.
Defensively, the Dolphins sured up their front four by landing free agent Ndamukong Su for, at the time, the biggest contract ever for a defensive player. Add Suh to a unit that already includes Cameron Wake and former Detroit Lion CJ Mosley, and you have a pretty formidable defensive front.
Consistency will be key for Miami this year, something that plagued them all of last year. It’s a relatively easy start for Miami, but a tough stretch to end the season will decide their playoff fate.
Season Prediction: 10-6