AFC East: Breaking down division heading into 2015


Aug 22, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick talks with quarterback Tom Brady (12) during a break in the action as they take on the Carolina Panthers in the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

What once was considered one of the worst divisions in football several years ago, looks like a powerhouse heading into 2015. This is the first season in a long time where any one of the four teams in the AFC East could win it. All four teams improved this off season in varying degrees.

Some incredible story lines are already brewing heading into the regular season. Rex Ryan flipping over to the Buffalo Bills after 7+ seasons with the New York Jets. Darrelle Revis swapping coats for the third off season in a row and returning to his original team in the Jets. The Miami Dolphins arguably acquiring the best defensive player in the entire NFL in Ndamukong Suh. Plus of course the New England Patriots are fresh off their fourth Super Bowl victory looking to defend their title.

There’s a lot of moving pieces involved and now it’s time to break down the entire AFC East division heading into 2015.

Next: New York Jets

Oct 26, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets running back Chris Ivory (33) carries the ball to score a touchdown in front of Buffalo Bills outside linebacker Nigel Bradham (53) during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

New York Jets

Record: 4-12

Division Ranking: 4th place

Division Record: 1-5

Let’s be honest, the Jets were horrible last year; their record portrays that. Sure they lost 7 games by one score but should they get a cookie? Feel all warm and giggly on the inside? There are no moral victories in the NFL. The Jets shoulda, coulda, woulda but ultimately they didn’t do any of those things. It resulted in a purge of the entire front office including former coach Ryan and former general manager John Idzik. So after a horrid 2014 season are the chances for the Jets any better heading into 2015?

I’d like to think so, they revamped their offense with some key off season acquisitions. Brandon Marshall is a true No. 1 receiver that opponents have to game-plan against. Devin Smith, drafted out of Ohio State, brings a homerun threat to the Jets’ offense. The Jets also added some more running backs to add to the third best rushing attack last season in Zac Stacy and Stevan Ridley.

Jun 9, 2015; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) and New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie (31) talk during New York Jets minicamp at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

On the defensive side of the ball, they brought back Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie to shore up their defensive secondary. Along with free agent signing Buster Skrine, they turned one of the worst pass defenses last year into arguably the best heading into 2015. With an already juggernaut defensive line, will this be enough to carry the Jets in 2015?

On paper, the Jets had the best draft, the best off season and have won their millionth ‘paper’ off season Super Bowl Trophy. But it won’t matter till they get on the field and prove it can all come together to win football games.

In 2015, I expect this to be the most competitive AFC East in the last decade. With that being said, I expect the Jets to be in the thick of it till the last two weeks of the season. What will be the differential between the first AFC East crown since 2002 or watching the NFL Playoffs from the couch?

It all boils down to how well the quarterback performs for the Jets this season whether it’s Geno Smith or Ryan Fitzpatrick. Ball security is a must and with this defense and weapons around you don’t have to be a Pro Bowl quarterback. You just have to play smart football.

Next: Miami Dolphins

May 26, 2015; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) during practice drills at Miami Dolphins Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Miami Dolphins

Record: 8-8

Division Ranking: 3rd place

Division Record: 3-3

Epic collapses have become the norm for the Dolphins over the last several years. So in 2014 why change? They finished 1-3 over the last quarter of the season. Yes, these Dolphins were 7-5 with three of their last four at home and they still weren’t able to get the job done.

Clearly head coach Joe Philbin is on the hot seat in 2015 and you could see that by their off season. They lured the top free agent on the market since arguably Reggie White in Suh. The Dolphins are in a win-now mode, but is their roster ready to back that mindset up?

They gave their ‘star’ quarterback in Ryan Tannehill a $96 plus million dollar contract to lock him up for the long term. They shipped out Mike Wallace and revamped the rest of their receiving corps. Will that be enough to get out of the AFC East basement that they’ve been hiding in since winning the division so many years ago?

Dec 28, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin reacts in the second half at Sun Life Stadium. The Jets defeated Miami 37-24. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

I have legitimate questions about their offensive line and Lamar Miller‘s ability to take the next leap in his development to become the bell cow for the Dolphins. They probably have the best ‘up and coming’ receiving core in terms of youth, talent and potential. Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry and they even brought in Greg Jennings.

This division might not have a team with a sub .500 record this season as the margin for error is going to be slim to none. I think the Dolphins floor is obviously finishing last in the division and that’s where I have them pegged right now. Their ceiling like all four of these teams is a division crown. But I certainly don’t feel comfortable getting the Dolphins out of fourth, let alone a playoff berth.

Next: Buffalo Bills

Jun 16, 2015; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan watches his team during minicamp at Ralph Wilson Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo Bills

Record: 9-7

Division Ranking: 2nd place

Division Record: 4-2

Just when Jets fans thought they saw the last of Rex Ryan, he shows up in western New York as the newest head coach of the Bills! Who would have thought the turn of events from the Bills losing head coach Doug Marrone after he bolted on an opt-out clause. Which by the way is pretty unheard of in today’s NFL. But Ryan didn’t ditch the bold proclamations in his opening press conference, he promised a team ready to surprise many this upcoming season.

Ryan promised to bring this team back to the playoffs and that wasn’t the only bold thing from this offseason. The Bills also wanted to revamp their team to give Ryan the weapons he needs to succeed in 2015.

Mar 10, 2015; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills running back

LeSean McCoy

poses with a Bills helmet in the AD Pro training facility after a press conference at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The Bills brought in one of the best running backs in the entire NFL in LeSean McCoy. They brought in Percy Harvin, Charles Clay, Richie Incognito and a lot of former Jets to add to the mix. They also addressed the quarterback position if you can call it that by bringing in seasoned veteran Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor. But it begs the question, who will start at quarterback for the Bills come Week 1?

Will it even matter? The rest of this squad is absolutely loaded with talent. Their defense is stacked, their offense (outside of quarterback) is stacked and it seems to be playoffs or bust for this team in 2015 if not a trip to the Super Bowl. But let’s take baby-steps here before we get to ahead of ourselves.

I think it’s going to be the Bills or Jets who wins the division this year. I think they both improved the most out of the four teams on an overall basis. I think both of their defenses are elite and their offenses seem to be just good enough to get them over the hump.

It may sound like I’m beating a dead horse here, but the quarterback position will be key for the Bills and Jets. With the rosters they have in place they just need ‘average’ quarterback play and they both could be in the postseason in 2015.

Next: New England Patriots

Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots

Record: 12-4

Division Ranking: 1st place

Division Record: 4-2

The defending Super Bowl champions are winners for a reason. As much as the thought of the Patriots hoisting the Lombardi Trophy makes me sick, you have to give them props for not cheating and winning it. Wait a minute… But in all seriousness, the Patriots still have Tom Brady so they should be in the thick of the race till the end.

I don’t think we can marginalize the fact that the Patriots lost one of the best defensive players in the NFL in Revis. So far in the off season, the Patriots have lost their top three corners on the depth chart from their Super Bowl squad. They lost Vince Wilfork, Dan Connolly and yet in eyes of analysts across the league they’re still the favorites.

Jan 27, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis speaks during media day for Super Bowl XLIX at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Just not by the 3+ game margin of years past in the AFC East. On top of all that I forgot to mention their star quarterback in Brady is currently suspended for the first quarter of the season. Missed that slight detail which means they might be off to a bumpy start to kickoff the regular season.

Can the Patriots win with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback? Their first four games are tough: Steelers, Bills, Jaguars, and Cowboys (with a bye in Week 4). I could realistically see the Patriots ‘best-case’ scenario coming out 2-2 more than likely 1-3. Which could open the door for the other teams in the AFC East to get out to a huge lead to open the gates.

Ultimately they are and should be the favorites heading into 2015 as they’ve won 13 of the last 14 division titles are the defending Super Bowl champs. They will eventually have Brady back then they’ll be in top form.

But the question on the minds of not only Dolphins, Bills, and Jets fans will be has the gap been bridged between the seemingly invincible Patriots and the rest of the division? That question will be answered this season and hopefully we can see a new AFC East champion once all is said and done.

Next: New York Jets: Playoffs or Bust?

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