Welcome to the first of our eight NFL division previews! Over the next four weeks, we will be bringing you extensive breakdowns for each division, and each team. We will be starting today with the AFC East, where we see the Patriots cruising once again.
Fresh New Face: New Receiving Trio. Because the Patriots needed more receivers right? Well actually, they kind of did. If you look at this team from last year, their top three weapons were Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez. Deion Branch, Chad Ochocinco, and Julian Edlemen were their other receivers, but they weren’t able to produce nearly enough as the former three names. In March, the Pats signed Anthony Gonzalez, Brandon Lloyd, and Donte Stallworth. Now Lloyd is probably going to have the biggest impact, but Belichick has a way to get the best out of his players, so they could be key players.
Won’t Be Coming Back: OL Matt Light. It was a pretty good offseason for the Patriots. The biggest “name” to leave the team was Chad Ochocinco, but he had little to no impact on the team last year. Light was a paramount piece of the Offensive line that led the Pats to five Super Bowls, and he will be sorely missed, as he announced his retirement at the age of 33. Don’t count out the persuasive abilities of Brady and Belichick to talk him out of retirement.
Season Prediction: Pats cruise again this year. The toughest games on their schedule include at Baltimore, and back to back home games against Houston and San Francisco in December. The AFC East has the softest schedule of anyone in the NFL, with games against the horrible AFC South and NFC West, so expect another great season from the boys in Boston, potentially ending with the #1 seed again.
Fresh New Face: QB Tim Tebow. Pretty easy answer here. One of the biggest stories of the offseason was the trade of Tim Tebow, to the New York Jets of all places. So you are going to bring a quarterback with limited skills and unlimited fan fare onto a team with volatile fans who are looking for someone to replace their up and down quarterback Mark Sanchez who lacks a shred of confidence in some big games. Yeah…that’s going to work out really well. Just a matter of when it hits the fan, not if, for the Jets in 2012.
Won’t Be Coming Back: WR Plaxico Burress. The Burress experiment had flashes of brilliance, but for the most part, it didn’t pan out quite as they expected. Burress did have a three touchdown game against San Diego, but he didn’t register more than 80 yards in a single game, and also wasn’t able to get more than five catches either. If nothing else, his presence will be more missed then his production this season
Season Prediction: I’d love to be wrong, but I see no way that this experiment with Tebow goes right. Looking at their schedule, Sanchez is likely to struggle in the first month, facing tough defenses in Pittsburgh and San Francisco. If they also drop a game against Buffalo or Miami, the fans will start chanting for Tebow. If they can make it work, this defense can take the Jets very far. But they have to get points, and with a QB controversy, it is going to be very hard.
Fresh New Face: DE Mario Williams. The Bills were one of the surprise to start last year, winning a few shootouts, including a shocking win over the New England Patriots. However, once the offense slowed down a bit, the team floundered, as the defense was constantly exposed. This offseason, they snagged one of the top free agents on the market, signing former Texan Mario Williams. Williams is one of the most feared pass rushers in the game, and if he is able to recover from a 2011 injury, he could be a huge difference maker for a team that has big hopes coming into the season.
Won’t Be Coming Back: CB Drayton Florence. While the Bills did improve vastly on the defensive line, they did lose their top secondary player in Drayton Florence, who left to go to Denver. I don’t think this will be the biggest loss, because the common phrase is a good pass rush makes a secondary better. However, if they are unable to stop the passing game, it could be another long season in Buffalo.
Season Prediction: Last season, the Bills started off 5-2. They ended the season going 1-8. I see them improving that by a couple games. They only play three playoff teams from last year this season, and benefit from the soft non-division schedule of the AFC South and NFC West. However, the gameplan of winning shootouts will only work for so long, especially when your offense can be inconsistent. Having said all that, don’t be surprised though if this team pulls off a winning record.
Fresh New Faces: QB’s David Garrard and Ryan Tannehill. The big talk coming into Miami’s training camp is the quarterback battle. The Dolphins brought in veteran free agent QB David Garrard, and all signs are pointing to him getting the bulk of the snaps this season. However, will the Dolphins call upon Tannehill if their season gets off to a rocky start? I think he would benefit from a year of sitting, but upper management might want him in sooner.
Won’t Be Coming Back: WR Brandon Marshall. He’s the problem for the Dolphins. It’s all well and good to bring in veteran and rookie QB’s, but they have to have someone to throw too. Granted Marshall wasn’t putting up the numbers he was when he was a Bronco, but he was still one of the top receivers in the game. Now Davone Bess is your top wide receiver, and they are forced to take a gamble on Chad Johnson (formerly Ochocinco). The defense is solid, but if you can’t score points, you won’t win many games.
Season Prediction: I don’t see much coming from the Fins this year. They have a somewhat difficult starting schedule, with games against Houston, Oakland, New York Jets, and Cincinnati in their first five games. They just don’t have the right tools on offense to muster up a significant threat in this pass first league. Think it will be another tough season for Miami, who will be thinking about another high draft pick in April.
That wraps up our thoughts on the AFC East. What do you think of them? Do you think the Bills, Jets, or Fins have a shot at knocking off the mighty Patriots? Let us know in the comments!