Four AFC East websites get together each week to discuss the AFC East. This week we discuss where we think each team will finish in the division. See what Matt Barbato of New York Jet Fuel, Ian Logue of PatsFans.com, Steve Saslow of Bills Daily, and Luis Sung of Phin Maniacs has to say right here.
Steve Saslow (@BillsDaily): 1. Patriots – I think they are actually third in total talent in the division but they have Tom Brady who is more than the great equalizer. He gets to play all 16 games and must have a chip on his shoulder after the deflategate mess. It’s hard to predict anyone other than Brady and Belichick winning the division.
2. Bills – The Bills and Dolphins are very close in talent and type of team they are fielding this season. I think the Bills are just a little more well rounded than Miami and will have a slight edge. If the Bills don’t get solid QB play out of Travis Taylor than Miami may get this spot with the more refined Ryan Tannehill at QB.
3. Dolphins – Miami has a very solid front four on defense and the aforementioned Tannehill is developing into a nice quarterback. The skill positions on paper don’t match up with Buffalo which helps give the Bills the slight edge on the 2nd spot in the division.
4. Jets – They have improved drastically this offseason but unfortunately for them so has Buffalo and Miami which likely means they will finish in the cellar for a second straight season. If the old Chan Gailey- Ryan Fitzpatrick magic has another round in it then the Jets may be able to fly higher than expected.
Luis Sung (@PhinManiacs): 1. Patriots – It pains me to say this, but despite all that the Dolphins have done to improve the team this offseason, I still can’t see any team other than New England winning the AFC East. They still have the best coach in Bill Belichick, and – whether you believe he’s innocent or not – they have an elite quarterback in Tom Brady throwing the football for all sixteen games. If they don’t win the East, it’ll be because the rest of the team has been too greatly diminished to keep up with the other teams.
2. Dolphins – As of now, it’s a battle between the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins to see who can give the Patriots the hardest time in the East. The Bills have the better defense, and they have some good weapons, but what makes the Dolphins better is the fact that they have a quarterback, while the Bills are still trying to figure out their situation. The Dolphins also have a strong defense, and weapons surrounding Tannehill that – while not necessarily huge names – fit what Tannehill is good at. If they don’t win the East, I expect the Dolphins to at least get a Wild Card.
3. Bills – As mentioned above, the Bills have a lot going for them. A strong defense made even stronger by the defensive-minded head coach Rex Ryan, an excellent weapon out of the backfield in LeSean McCoy, and young weapons such as Sammy Watkins. But the reason the Dolphins get the edge is that the Bills don’t have a quarterback, not really anyway. Tyrod Taylor has shown flashes, but most of his highlights have come on running plays. If anyone can tell you the danger of running quarterbacks, it’s Robert Griffin III. The QB spot is the only thing holding the Bills back, and since it hasn’t been fixed, I can’t give them the edge.
4. Jets – The Jets have been working hard to give new head coach Todd Bowles some pieces to work with. They signed Brandon Marshall in hopes that he still has some gas left in the tank and can be a good receiver, they drafted Leonard Williams to bolster an already strong defensive line, but much like Buffalo, they have a huge problem. They don’t really have a good quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick is serviceable, but not really someone you can count on to lead a team to the playoffs, at least not without a ton of weapons surrounding him. He may have been top ten in QB rating last year, but let that be a testament as to why QB rating is a bad statistic, because Fitzpatrick is by no means a top ten quarterback. Their lack of depth like the Bills boast relegates the Jets to the bottom of the East in 2015.
Matt Barbato (@NewYorkJetFuel): 1. New England Patriots – It didn’t really matter to me when Tom Brady’s four-game suspension was rescinded. The Patriots were still the favorite in the division in my eyes, even if Jimmy Garoppolo was starting the first four games of the season. Now with a motivated Brady, my faith in the Pats to take the AFC East for the seventh straight season is unbelievably high.
The Patriots don’t have elite weapons, outside of Rob Gronkowski, but that hasn’t harmed Brady in the past. Julian Edelman is a solid possession receiver and can rack up yardage. Brady will make best of Aaron Dobson and Danny Amendola once again and the running game will be serviceable with LeGarrette Blount or whoever else is carrying the ball out of the backfield.
The concerns lie in the defense. The Patriots lost Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner from a shutdown secondary. It will be up to Devin McCourty and the patchwork secondary of last year’s Super Bowl hero, Malcolm Butler, along with Logan Ryan, Bradley Fletcher and Tarell Brown to piece together a respectable secondary. Bill Belichick is a genius and the front seven should be respectable enough to keep New England’s defense good enough to win the division.
2. Miami Dolphins – I think the Dolphins challenge for a playoff spot, but that will hinge on Ryan Tannehill’s fourth season after an impressive third year. Tannehill is easily the next best quarterback in the division and that’s important when Miami’s, Buffalo’s and New York’s defenses are each very respectable. Tannehill is good enough to separate Miami from the bottom two teams in the division, who are experimenting with new starters this season. His weapons aren’t stellar, but Jarvis Landry is a great slot receiver who can use his speed to exploit opponents over the middle. Kenny Stills was an underrated weapon who many think the New Orleans Saints will miss and a healthy DeVante Parker brings plenty of hope for a top receiver.
The defensive line will carry Miami’s unit. Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon will be a hassle for all offensive lines. Linebacker Jelani Jenkins should improve on what was a really good second season and the secondary will be respectable with Brent Grimes matching up against opponents’ best receivers.
It’s a make or break year for head coach Joe Philbin. Another 8-8 season will likely doom him.
3. New York Jets – Quite honestly, two-through-four in the division could go in myriad directions. The Jets will hinge on Ryan Fitzpatrick to lead the offense to respectability. He’s an upgrade over Geno Smith, but how much of an upgrade is uncertain. Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker make up the best receiving duo in the division and it’s tough to argue against Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine as the best cornerback group in the AFC East too.
The offensive line is a worrisome unit outside of Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson. The defensive line will be great, but there are uncertainties as Sheldon Richardson sits out the first four games. The onus will be on rookie Leonard Williams, who fell to the Jets at the sixth pick of the draft.
The deciding factor between the Bills and the Jets is the quarterbacks. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a safer choice than Tyrod Taylor, but Taylor certainly has the advantage in upside.
4. Buffalo Bills – Picking who finishes third in the division between Rex Ryan’s new team and Rex Ryan’s old team isn’t easy, as they’re nearly identical. Buffalo possesses an incredible offensive line with Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus manning the middle and Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes on the edge. Any linebacker can play behind that front four. The question could be in the secondary.
Offensively, the Bills will run LeSean McCoy into the ground. The concern is his hamstring injury, which could be a nagging ailment for a running back who cuts and shifts regularly. The Bills will hinge on Tyrod Taylor being a somewhat respectable quarterback. Buffalo will run some read-option, but ultimately opponents will put seven men in the box every play if Taylor can’t beat them with his arm. If Taylor is a good quarterback, the Bills are playoff contenders. If he crumbles, they will be picking early in the draft again.
Ian Logue (@PatsFans): 1. New England Patriots – Coming off of a Super Bowl win, the entire DeflateGate debacle may have been the best thing to happen to the Patriots. Quarterback Tom Brady has spent this offseason having people doubt his integrity, including the commissioner who went so far as to accuse him of being involved in a “scheme” to deflate footballs despite no evidence to support it. Brady has vehemently denied the accusations and there’s even reason to believe the notion, when you evaluate all the facts, that nothing malicious was ever done in January to warrant everything that happened.
But now he’s got quite the chip on his shoulder and this is an offense that added former Bills tight end Scott Chandler to join Rob Gronkowski, giving the Patriots two huge red zone threats. Taking into account incumbents Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola to go along with them, along with Brandon LaFell once he comes off of PUP, they each give Brady some pretty good weapons to go out there and take out his frustrations. Defensively the Patriots have an incredibly deep defensive line that wreaked a lot of havoc during the preseason, with Jabaal Sheard and Dominique Easley among several players who have looked strong early. If their secondary is a weakness, this is a group that looks like may be able to pressure quarterbacks enough to mask that deficiency until they have more time to come together. Much like 2014, we may know a lot more about this team in December than we do early on.
However, Brady’s drive to prove the doubters wrong will prevent any potential Super Bowl hangover and likely carry this team until they settle in defensively. As a result, they should be at the top of the Division by the time the year is over and in the hunt for another playoff run.
2. Miami Dolphins – The last couple of seasons has seen the Miami Dolphins as favorites to contend in the AFC East and this could certainly be the year if Joe Philbin can bring this group together. Fourth-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill seems like he’s coming into his own and looks like he has an opportunity to finally get over the hump and put Miami in a position to contend for the division.
Defensively they added Ndamukong Suh to join an already dangerous defensive line that includes Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon, and Miami has already given the Patriots fits up front in the past by getting pressure on Brady. But on the offensive side it’s Tannehill who gives the Dolphins the edge over the remaining teams in the division, and if they can get things going on both sides of the ball this season, they could surprise some people with a playoff run.
3. Buffalo Bills – Give Rex Ryan a decent group of players on the defensive side of the football and you have to like the chances of the team he’s coaching. He may be obnoxious and a guy who makes a lot of noise, but he’s a smart defensive coach and history has shown that he has the ability to get a lot out of the team’s he’s coaching. A lot of his issues in New York stemmed from personnel decisions and in Buffalo, things are certainly different.
He’s already added some talent in RB LeSean McCoy and has a solid group for him to run behind on the offensive line. They also possess a lot of talent on the defensive side of the football, with Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes as two excellent players on the outside. According to ProFootballFocus, the two combined for a 121 total pressures along with a combined 28 sacks, as well as at least five pressures in all but three games in 2014. Ryan may make them even better.
As bad as the Jets have been, Ryan still made those games competitive and now that he’s in Buffalo, it’s hard not to expect more of the same. They’re just missing a quarterback that can get them to the next level.
4. New York Jets – The Jets have Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cormartie back in their secondary, but from there, it’s still a lot of the same players and they still don’t have a quarterback who can take them anywhere. Ryan Fitzpatrick seems to be the one who will be leading the way until Geno Smith’s jaw heals, but he’s never been a consistently good quarterback.
Wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are certainly a formidable combination, although, again, that’s provided they have a quarterback who can get them the football. On defense it’s a pretty good football team especially with Revis back in the mix as it may allow the Jets more opportunities to make plays up front if opposing quarterbacks end up needing extra time to find an open man. But as it stands right now this may be a transition year for New York, who find themselves in a division that overall got much better very quickly, and it will likely be either them or Buffalo battling for 3rd place this season.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary