As I did with the NFC East, and as I will do for each division, I want to look at the AFC East after breaking them down via podcast earlier this week. The AFC East should be competitive and exciting this season. There’s good story lines for each team, and even though the Patriots have dominated the division for the past 15 years, Brady’s suspension should give fans hope that things could change this season. Maybe.
New England Patriots: 12-4 in 2015
About that dominance. The Patriots have won the division 13 times in the past 15 seasons. They haven’t won less than 12 games since 2009, and have won at least 10 games every season since 2003. That’s incredible. More incredible? Since Brady took over in 2001, there have been 39 different starting quarterbacks in the AFC East. Since 2000, when Bill Belichick took over as head coach, there have been 21 different head coaches in the division.
The Patriots have been top-dogs for as long as I can remember, but it doesn’t mean that this division is over before it starts. Brady is out for the first four games, and the Patriots will see the Cardinals, Dolphins, Texans and Bills to start the season. This division can be real interesting if the Patriots don’t split those first four games.
Ultimately, though, the Patriots are still going to win 10 or more games. They’re just too good, and they got better this offseason by adding Martellus Bennett. Him and Gronkowski will cause havoc for defensive coordinators, and if you stop them (good luck), defenses will have to worry about receivers Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and running back/receiver Dion Lewis. Their defense is good, too; they were second in the league with 49 sacks.
Sorry for being boring, but the Patriots are going to win this division. It should be competitive this year, and maybe someone in the AFC East can sneak in the wild card spot to compete in the playoffs.
New York Jets: 10-6 in 2015
The Jets got their guy back. Ryan Fitzpatrick finally signed his one-year deal as camp started, and the team couldn’t be happier about it. The Jets are coming off their first 10-win season since 2010, and first-year head coach Todd Bowles is a big reason why. His team was remarkable on both sides of the ball. Let’s start with the defense.
The defense allowed the least amount of rushing yards per game (83); the group only allowed 271 first downs, also good for first in the league; and their 30 takeaways was third-best in the league. Led by Mo Wilkerson, Leonard Williams and Sheldon Richardson, the Jets’ defensive line is one of the best in the league. While the offense was explosive at times, their defense is what will keep this team in the win category.
About the offense. Fitzpatrick threw to one of the best receiver-duos in the entire league last season – Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker had a combined 26 touchdowns last season. Fitz finished just shy of 4,000 passing yards, and he threw 31 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
This Fitz stat blew my mind, and for good reason: In the last five seasons, Fitz has thrown 76 touchdowns and only six interceptions in the red zone. That’s incredibly efficient. Unfortunately, though, these stats blew my mind for all the wrong reasons: Fitzpatrick’s first-down passer rating in the second half of games was 67 last year, the worst in the NFL; he held the second-worst passer rating in the fourth quarter (minimum 100 attempts); when trailing in the fourth, his passer rating (55) was the worst in the league. In the last four seasons, Fitz led his team to a 2-24 record when his defense allows 20 or more points – the Jets were 1-6 last year in such cases.
Him and Marshall make this offense go – there’s no question about it; but they’ve never made the playoffs. If that’s going to change, they’re going to have to show up in big moments when it matters most. Last year, they blew their chance of a playoff spot by losing to Buffalo in week 17. Fitz threw three interceptions in that game, the most he threw all season long.
Regardless of the bad and good, one thing is clear: Fitzpatrick is this team’s leader. They wanted him here, and they got it. The Jets need to take advantage of his one-year contract and make the leap into the playoffs. Unfortunately for them, they have the second-hardest schedule in the NFL, according to RotoWorld. They faced the second-easiest opposing defenses last year. They have to take it to a different level if they want to compete for a playoff spot this season.
Buffalo Bills: 8-8 in 2015
The Bills are another interesting team. They haven’t made the playoffs in the 21st century – they haven’t even won 10 games. It’s not all bleak for the Bills, though, and Tyrod Taylor is a big reason why. He threw 20 touchdowns and only six interceptions last year; the Bills were 8-6 when he started, but EJ Manuel lost both of his fill-in starts. They lost five games by eight points or less, too.
I expect big things from the offense this year if key players Sammy Watkins and LeSean McCoy can stay on the field. Taylor is going into his second starting season, and you have to be excited if you’re a Bills fan to see what he can do after showing flashes of a great quarterback in 2015.
The problem arises on the defensive side of the ball, where Rex Ryan’s group couldn’t rush the quarterback; they were 31st in the league at sacking the quarterback. That’s a recipe for disaster on any defense, even if their secondary had studs like Stephon Gilmore and Ron Darby.
I expect the Bills to compete like they did last year, and I think they’ll probably be better than I give them credit for. Sorry though, Bills’ Mafia, I don’t see your squad winning 10 games or advancing to the playoffs this season.
Miami Dolphins: 6-10 in 2015
We’ve been hearing about QB Ryan Tannehill taking the next step since he entered the league five years ago. It just hasn’t happened – he’s been consistently mediocre each and every year. Fans do have reason for optimism, though. New head coach and the youngest in the league Adam Gase is known as a “QB guru,” and if anyone’s going to take Tannehill to the next level, you gotta think it’s him.
Tannehill will certainly have weapons to do so. Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and signee Arian Foster will be the weapons surrounding him – those three can make this offense explosive.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Dolphins were among the league worst at stopping the run. Opponents averaged 126 yards on the ground per game, 28th in the league. The Fins hope Kiko Alonso and Mario Williams can help aid that, but behind the front seven is an incredibly questionable secondary. Safety Reshad Jones was one of the best in the business last year, but he simply can’t do it all.
I expect the Dolphins to be exciting, and they’re definitely a team under-the-radar with a new head coach who helped Jay Cutler in Chicago last season, something not many coaches can say they achieved. I think they’ll be fun to watch, but they’re still the worst team in this division.