AFC East Preview
The suspension of Tom Brady adds even a bit more intrigue to an emerging AFC East, long dominated by the New England Patriots. Last season saw the Jets emerge as a serious contender, Miami appears on the upswing with Adam Gase at the helm and a defense full of high priced defenders, and Buffalo has quietly amassed a great deal of talent on both sides of the ball - and is coached by Rex Ryan, who is very familiar with the division. This looks like the first time in over a decade that The Patriots will have a serious challenger from within the division.
New York Jets
The Jets were the surprise of the league last year with a quietly efficient offense that should only improve with the addition of Matt Forte. Although he will split time with Bilal Powell Forte adds an extra dimension to the passing offense that should allow heady quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to check down more effectively, keeping opposing linebackers from dropping deep, and freeing up Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker for more downfield opportunities. Marshall has a good chance at topping 100 receptions for the season and Forte should add another 50-60, giving the Jets a potent offensive passing game. Defensively the team must navigate the suspension of Sheldon Richardson early in the season but they have great depth along the front 7 and Darrelle Revis, which should mitigate Richardson’s loss. New York finished last season 10-6 and should be a better team this year, albeit against a tougher schedule. Their record should be about the same but the Jets are my favorite to win the division.
Jimmy Garoppolo has looked fine, and Belichick has had plenty of time to game plan so the team won’t likely fall apart, but they will certainly miss Brady’s leadership and poise on the field. Gronkowski and Edelman are the stars of the offense but the injury to Dion Lewis will also limit what the team can do offensively. Defensively New England overhauled its roster but should still field an effective, if not great, defense. The biggest concern with the Patriots is the suspension of Brady and their schedule. The Patriots will have 3 home games during Brady’s absence but two of those are against divisional opponents and one is against Houston. They open the season on the road at Arizona. It’s tough to see them coming out much better than 2-2 with an extremely difficult schedule to follow. New England will be hard pressed to do better than 10-6 this year and I expect them to lose the tie breaker to the Jets.
Rex Ryan needs a vast improvement this year in order to keep his job and bringing in his brother to helm the defense looks, on paper, to be a brilliant idea. Tyrod Taylor has shown improvement from last year and Sammy Watkins appears to finally be healthy. If LeSean McCoy can regain his form from two seasons ago - a distinct possibility - the Buffalo should be able to move the ball and score plenty. Defensively Mario Williams is gone, Shaq Lawson is in and Buffalo looks like a team that is comfortable with its defensive system after struggling through 2015. Marcell Dareus is serving a suspension early in the year but this team has plenty of talent to go around. The Bills should be able to compete for a playoff spot as a wild card team but will probably fall just short. I predict they go 9-7.
The cupboard appears to be almost bare on the Dolphins offense. Jarvis Landry looks like a future star but he might not be able to carry the offense by himself. Devante Parker is being called out publicly by his coach and Arian Foster, while still good, can’t be counted on to play a full season anymore. Adam Gase is saying all of the right things about Tannehill but, truthfully, we’ve been hearing those things for three years now. Miami will improve eventually because of Gase, though maybe not this year. Arian Foster provides a nice band aid at running back but the strength of the Dolphins offense is the line, which boasts 4 first round picks. Defensively the team has added Mario Williams to go along with Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh giving Miami a high profile defensive line. The linebacking corps is fast and experienced but the defensive backfield leaves a lot to be desired. Miami might be better at the end of 2016 then they were in 2015 but their record likely won’t be much better than 4-12.