NFL: AFC East season preview
We take a look at each division before the start of the 2014 season, with this feature examining the AFC East
Thursday 04 September 2014
New York Jets
Rex Ryan’s tenure as the New York Jets head coach has been mixed to say the least. Despite a 46-40 record, Ryan has experienced the worst of it over the last three years, having not made the playoffs since 2010. There is optimism that the Jets could give the Patriots a good fight in this division as their defence remains a strong asset, one that could be a top ten, should their secondary keep pace with the rest of the team. With a front four led by Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson the Jets defence might be able to keep games close enough to give their offence a chance to win. However, uncertainty mires New York’s offence as Geno Smith returns as starting quarterback in his second season, beating Michael Vick for the job in training camp. Smith was wildly inconsistent in 2013, accounting for too many turnovers and leading an offence which finished the season 29 in scoring. His ability to keep the starting job from Michael Vick does however show an improvement which the coaching staff must be confident in, bearing in mind Vick is an established veteran with 128 NFL starts. The addition of Chris Johnson and Eric Decker may also give the Jets offence the spark they need to keep pace with the Patriots. Nevertheless, they remain a team with serious questions going into their first game on Sunday.
New England Patriots
New England have won 10 of the last 11 AFC East titles and there appears to be no signs that their dominance within this division is about to let up. Even with Tom Brady at quarterback and Rob Gronkowski at tight end, the biggest strength for this team at the moment is their secondary, led by ex-jet Darelle Revis. The Patriots head into the 2014 season with a defensive backfield that looks to be its strongest in years. The signing of former Seahawk and pro bowl cornerback Brandon Browner as well as picking up Revis from Tampa Bay gives the Pats a set of defensive backs that could easily challenge Seattle’s ‘Legion of Boom’. Tom Brady even admitted that he started to avoid throwing to Revis in practice, suggesting the cornerback is back to similar form he experienced in New York. Questions remain however over Brady’s ability to remain an elite quarterback as he now enters his 15 season. Gronkowski is also a concern as to whether he can keep fit throughout the season having missed 14 games over the past two years through injury. Vince Wilfork, the defensive tackle coming off an Achilles injury has also raised doubts over his potential contribution to the team this coming season. Despite this, whilst the Belichick-Brady era continues, it’s hard to question this team’s potential going into the 2014 season.
The Bills are still searching for that breakout season, the one in which they emerge from being the AFC East’s punching bag. Having yet to make the playoffs this century, Buffalo’s troubles appear to show no signs of disappearing. The NFL is a passing league and without a tenable quarterback, teams are likely to struggle. The Bills option at quarterback, second year E.J Manuel, was not only inconsistent in 2013 but has also shown little improvement throughout the pre-season. Made worse, the Bills signed Kyle Orton to provide some form of competition to Manuel, but only after the preseason finished. The move not only shows a lack of confidence in the second year passer but also disorganisation within the Bills coaching staff. A lack of support from Manuel’s teammates was also evident this week as the quarterback failed to be voted in as a team captain. However, all is not lost as there is still hope with the addition of WR Sammy Watkins during this year’s draft. Watkins is a true playmaker and provides a legitimate threat on offence, one which the Bills desperately need to revitalise their passing game. Nevertheless, it never bodes well if the hopes of the season appear to be resting on a rookie wide receiver. Buffalo will be looking to veterans Mario Williams and C.J Spiller to carry the team through the year if they are to compete for the division.
Last season’s Dolphins were plagued by off the field (in the locker room) issues that saw one player suspended and another leave the team following a bullying scandal, an episode that has left head coach Joe Philbin firmly on the hot seat. New offensive coordinator Bill Lazor should help further the skill set of quarterback Ryan Tannehill who has shown promising signs that he can become a franchise quarterback. The former Eagles quarterbacks coach brings a fast paced Chip Kelly offence to a team that saw Tannehill sacked 58 times last season. It is their offensive line that could make or break the Dolphins season. Jonathon Martin and Richie Incognito have left the team and veteran center Mike Pouncey is likely to be absent for at least the first few weeks of the season. Despite this, a rebooted offensive line could be what the team needs and has the potential to surprise if they get off to a good start. The Dolphins also have several playmakers that will be needed if they are to challenge the Patriots for the division title. Cameron Wake remains one of their strongest assets on defence, whilst running back Knowshon Moreno has the potential to create problems for opposing teams, despite missing most of preseason. After a mixed 2013 and questionable offseason, the Dolphins will be hard pushed if they are to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
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