Challengers don’t scare the Pats (2012 NFL Preview: AFC East)

The AFC East is one of the craziest and schizophrenic divisions in the NFL with both the best and the worst of the NFL. The AFC East contains one of the best teams in the NFL while also holding one of the worst. The division also has some great managed teams and some of the worst managed teams in the NFL. Then there are the teams that stay out of the news for off field issues and the teams that are always in the news for off field issues. It is a division that features a little bit of everything in the NFL as AFC East fans don’t need to go far to get a little of everything. With everything so close the AFC East takes a lot of focus in the NFL and 2011 was much of the same. The New England Patriots continued to be strong despite a much worse defence as they continued their dominance of the division. The New York Jets continued to be the focus of the AFC East for all the wrong reasons. The drama of Mark Sanchez continued to take focus as the offence continued to struggle and make headlines. The Bills surprised everyone at the start but they continued to struggle all season. Then the Miami Dolphins who continued to struggle as they continued to struggle in management and at QB. The AFC East is a strange division with all of these teams taking focus at one time or another. This year the division does not seem to be calming down as every team continues to make news. The Patriots continue to look like the best team in the league and will be looking continue their dominance. The Jets added yet another piece of drama to their team that will be sure to continue the headlines. Meanwhile the Bills and Dolphins look to get out of the basement to finally make the AFC East a competitive division. This year will be another year that the AFC East will take focus in the NFL and will hopefully be more competitive.

 

Buffalo Bills

 

 

 

 

The Buffalo Bills have been near the bottom of the league for years and even when they are at the top they cannot get the ultimate prize. The Bills had a period in the 1990s when the team made 4 straight Super Bowls yet they still could not win. As the Bills struggled to get back to the top they have gone through a lot of years with little success. The 2011 season was different though as the Bills started the season on a 3 game winning streak including a win against the New England Patriots. The team was looking great as they seemed to be on their way to challenging for a playoff spot. The performances of Fred Jackson and Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Bills to a 5-2 record and were hoping to continue the trend. In week 9 everything fell apart though as the Bills began losing and went on a seven game losing streak. The promising season came to a crashing halt as the Bills found themselves in a very familiar place, the bottom of the division. The Bills ended their season with a 6-10 record at tied for the bottom spot in the AFC East. It was an extremely disappointing season for the Bills as they went from little expectation to high expectation and directly back again. The Bills are in desperate need of a good season as the losing seasons are wearing on the fan base of the smallest market in the world. With a little bit of promise at the beginning of the 2011 seasons the Bills are hoping that a few new additions to the team and a full offseason will help them. The 2012 season is a bit of a question though as the Bills are either going to be an improved team or the same team they have always been. The big question for the Bills in 2012 will be if the beginning of the 2011 season was a sign of the future or if it was just a fluke that will not translate to this year.

The Bills are hoping that the strides they made in the beginning of the season translate to the entire 2012 season. Ryan Fitzpatrick has the ability to be a premiere QB but he needs more weapons to work with. The Bills will go into the 2012 season with generally the same receiving corps as they did last year. Leading the way will be Stevie Johnson while Donald Jones and David Nelson fill in the spot left by Roscoe Parrish. The receiving corps is not the greatest with Johnson being a good receiver but not a gamebreaker and nobody else able to do all that much. The running game is led by Fred Jackson who had an amazing year in 2011 but he is not getting any younger meaning that C.J. Spiller will probably see more action in 2012. Still the tandem of Jackson and Spiller should be a good one and will provide Fitzpatrick with some relief. The offence is solid but they made little improvements from the team that failed to do much at the end of the season last year. The defence was a mess last year as the Bills allowed too many yards and too many points to be able to win games. With that the Bills will go with Dave Wannstedt as the new defensive coordinator. He will have some more talent to work with this year too as the Bills concentrated on improving the defence in the offseason. One of the biggest additions was the signing of defensive end turned linebacker Mario Williams. Williams will lead the rush as he will go back to defensive end after a few mediocre years as a linebacker. He was joined by another offseason signing Mark Anderson and two great tackles in Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. The linebacking corps will look to Arthur Moats, Kelvin Sheppard, and Nick Barnett to provide a solid second level. The secondary is a veteran one mixed with some good young players. Jarius Byrd and George Wilson will provide the veteran leadership as first round pick Stephon Gilmore and Aaron Williams will provide the youth. The Bills defence is improved with a number of key signings that should make immediate impacts. The Bills’ special teams should be good with Rian Lindell back from injury and too many returners to choose from including C.J. Spiller, Leodis McKelvin, and Justin Rogers all looking to see some time. The Bills are an improved team but most improvements have been on the defensive side of the ball rather than the offensive side. The Bills will be improved but the offence may be in danger of slumping again this year as the Bills are still rebuilding and will likely sit out of the playoffs again.

 

Strengths:
Quarterback
– Ryan Fitzpatrick is one of the brightest spots of the Bills as he has come out of the constant QB controversy with the starting job and has shown that the can run an offence effectively if he gets the support he needs

 

Weakness:
Receiving Corps
– The Bills seem to be set for a good year but the lack of big play receivers will hold them back as they need someone who can break a game open after they catch the ball and Stevie Johnson is not that player

 

Biggest Addition:
Mario Williams, DE/LB (Free Agent, Hou)
– Williams is a premier rusher in the NFL but an injury ended his year in 2011 and now he gets a second chance in Buffalo where he will play his natural position at defensive end and should see some improvements in his game

 

Biggest Loss:
Roscoe Parrish, WR (Free Agent, SD)
– The receiving corps of the Bills is not a good one with a lack of targets and the loss of Roscoe Parrish will not help the situation as yet another target for Fitzpatrick will not be on the field and will leave a massive hole

 

Miami Dolphins

 

 

 

 

 

The Miami Dolphins always have a battle going on but it is usually not with a team in the division. In fact it is not even for something that they want as they tend to fight with the Cleveland Browns to not be named as the worst managed team in the NFL. The Dolphins have a legendary organization that is home to the only undefeated season in NFL history. Since Dan Marino retired, though everything has gone downhill. The Dolphins have struggled to find another QB since Marino and that has been one of their biggest issues. Another has been the sheer inability for the management to put a team together that can win. It seems like the Dolphins management is always looking for that next playmaker for their team. When they find it they stay the same and do not build around him. Then that playmaker leaves and the pattern starts all over again. It has been an utter disaster in the management of the team. The 2011 offseason did nothing to change the pattern as the Dolphins made a lot of questionable decisions. Deciding to draft a QB rather than bring in Matt Flynn to work with his former offensive coordinator in new head coach Joe Philbin. Signing Chad Ochocinco/Johnson after a season where he was essentially forgotten as a receiving. Then agreeing to do HBO’s Hard Knocks during a camp that was just looking to get some order with a new coach and a number of new pieces. All of these decisions by the management have been major issues for the Dolphins this year as they continue to run their team in terms of exposure rather than winning. The Dolphins are looking to put this offseason behind them with plenty of controversy for a full season. They are hoping that the rest of the season will be much more calm for the team as they hope to slowly begin a true rebuild with a new coach and a few new pieces that hope to be the future of this storied franchise.

The Dolphins are coming into the 2012 season with a lot of holes that they have attempted to fill in the offseason. The biggest issue for the Dolphins in the last few years has been the quarterback as the Dolphins have yet to replace Dan Marino. This year the Dolphins passed on many good QBs in the free agent pool and decided instead to draft a QB. The Dolphins took Ryan Tannehill as their QB of the future. Tannehill will have some support and comfort in his first year with his College coach Mike Sherman at the helm of the offence. He will need to make something happen with his receivers though as Davone Bess and Legedu Naanee as his two receiving threats but neither have met their potential. One positive in the passing game will be tight end Anthony Fasano who is hoping to shine with the new QB under centre. In the backfield the Dolphins are hoping that Reggie Bush can lead them once again on offence after a good return to glory in 2011. The offence is a little improved with Tannehill under centre but the growing pains will be big for a team still trying to find their way. On defence the Dolphins were not too bad last year but they were overshadowed by the bad offence. A change in the defence will move some players around but the team remains generally the same. Up front the Dolphins will look to Cameron Wake, who will move to defensive end from outside linebacker, and Paul Soliai, who will move from nose tackle to defensive tackle. The linebacking corps is led by Karlos Dansby who needs to make more impact plays and Kevin Burnett while Koa Misi will have a lot to prove this year. The secondary is young with Richard Marshall representing the elder statesman in his 6th year. The secondary needs to step up and take advantage of the opportunities they get from their front line if the defence hopes to win some games for the fins. Overall the defence is the highlight of this team as they are good but are still rebuilding. The Dolphins special teams the name of the game is inconsistency as Dan Carpenter is spotty and the return game will see an unknown in CFL standout Marcus Thigpen will look to make his name known in the NFL. The Dolphins are a team still looking for an identity and making a few moves in the offseason is the right step. Still they are a team with plenty of holes as they will not see the playoffs and will likely be at the bottom of the league.

 

Strengths:
Defence
– They are not the best defence in the league but they are good and they get no credit because they are on the field way too much but this year they are hoping for a little break and a little respect with a new head coach and a changed defence

 

Weakness:
Management
– The Dolphins management seems to take risks too often and usually it blows up in their face as they continue to do more harm than good to the team as the team needs to have a more steady leadership crew if they hope to get out of the basement

 

Biggest Addition:
Ryan Tannehill, QB (Draft)
– The Dolphins are on a never-ending search for a QB and they are hoping that Tannehill is that new QB as he will work with his College coach to work out the offence and begin to rebuild the team starting in 2012

 

Biggest Loss:
Brandon Marshall, WR (Free Agent, Chi)
– It is another case of the Dolphins finding a gamebreaker and being unable to put a team around him as Brandon Marshall was just sick of losing so he left to Chicago although the Dolphins may be happy to move on from his off field issues

 

New England Patriots

 

 

 

The New England Patriots are the team that represents everything that can go right in an organization. The Patriots have been one of the most successful teams in the past few years thanks to their QB and their coach. The Patriots signed Bill Belichick after years of promise but never having much success with bad teams. When the Patriots picked up Tom Brady in the 6th round of the 2000 draft everything changed. Brady was never supposed to be the future of the Pats but when he took over for Drew Bledsoe the Pats found out just how good he was. Brady fit perfectly into Belichick’s system and the two have been unstoppable ever since. With so much craziness going on in the rest of the division the Pats have been the one constant and steady force in the division. They have remained the best team in the division and have shown no signs of slowing down. Last year many believed that the Pats were finally going to show some signs of slowing down. For once the Pats seemed to have a weakness as their defence seemed to be something that could end their reign. The defence was not good by any measure as the Patriots knew that their team may suffer from a weak part of the team. The Pats moved on though as they continued to win games thanks to their very strong offence. The defence ended up being a non factor in the 2011 season as they continued to win and ended the season with a 13-3 record and at the top of the division. Going into the playoffs many wondered again if the Pats’ defence would be able to stand up through playoff football. The defence still remained good enough as the team went through the playoffs and into the Super Bowl once again. The defence finally showed their true form in the Super Bowl though as they lost once again to the Giants and failed at their ultimate goal. This year the Patriots are hoping to get back as another year of experience will be their advantage.

The Patriots are a very changed team this year as Belichick has been more active than ever throughout the offseason. Meanwhile on offence the Pats will be leaning on the consistent Tom Brady for leadership once again. Brady really has nothing to prove as one of the best QBs in the league as there are no questions about him this year. The receiving corps is full of veteran players including Wes Welker and new addition Brandon Lloyd. The true stars of the offence are the tight ends though as Belichick has changed the way offences use their tight ends in the offence. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are leading the charge for big athletic ends to be involved in the passing game. Meanwhile the only part of the offence that has a question will be the running game as BenJarvus Green-Ellis is no longer with the team. In his place will be Danny Woodhead and Stevan Ridley as they look to continue the tradition of solid running backs. The offence looks much the same meaning they will be good and even the question at running back is not enough to say they won’t be one of the best this year. On defence the team was in need of an overhaul but many offseason signings did not workout in the preseason. The front line was a big problem for the Pats but offseason signings will not make an impact as Kyle Love, Rob Ninkovich, and first round pick Chandler Jones will all be back. The one positive on the Line is big run stuffer Vince Wilfork who will be back and still dominant in the middle of the line. The linebacking corps is strong and got even better this year as first round pick Dont’a Hightower will join Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo as a very smart player out of Alabama. The secondary got a lot of criticism last year and this year the same group will be back. Devin McCourty continues to lead the relatively experienced squad as they hope for better chances to make plays. The Pats defence is a solid one but they remain unchanged as the team may still struggle to be as dominant as they want it to be. The special teams is nothing to boast about but they are solid with Stephen Gostkowski kicking and Julian Edelman continue to lead the team. The Patriots are a good team that looked to make a number of changes yet none really made an impact as the same team that made the Super Bowl remains generally intact. The Patriots are not the overpowering team they are used to but it is hard to bet against the Belichick-Brady union.

 

Strength:
Offence
– Led by Tom Brady and two of the best tight ends in the NFL the Patriots’ offence is one of the most dangerous especially when defences still struggle to find a way to stop Rob Gronkowksi and Aaron Hernandez

 

Weakness:
Pressure
– The Pats have one expectation every time the new season begins and that is to win the division and win the Super Bowl as the pressure is immense every year and although Brady and Belichick handle it the people around may not be able to

 

Biggest Addition:
Brandon Lloyd, WR (Free Agent, STL)
– The Pats have lacked any true threat at wide receiver leading them to depend more and more on their tight ends but the addition of Brandon Lloyd could provide that breakout receiver especially with Tom Brady throwing to him

 

Biggest Loss:
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB (Free Agent, Cin)
– The Pats have always had a good running back that could eat up yards and time when the Pats are ahead but many of their backs would rather be featured in an office which is the case for the man known as the Law Firm as the Pats will need to replace him this year

 

New York Jets

 

 

 

 

The New York Jets seem to be nothing without some type of controversy as the daily drama continues in New York. The controversy always seems to centre around the QB as the Jets have had some of the most polarizing figures under centre. It all started with Joe Namath who took focus from the NFL with his outspoken nature. Since then though, the Jets have not found a QB that can handle the pressure of the Jets franchise. Last year the Jets were hoping that it could be the year that Mark Sanchez could finally break through as an elite QB. It did not work though as Sanchez struggled again to lead the offence leading to plenty of talk about whether or not to keep the young QB. The Jets finished 8-8 and in second place but for the fans it was not good enough as they wanted a playoff appearance again. With so much demand to do something the Jets cracked and added another QB. Although the Jets may have been looking to just add another aspect to their offence what they looked to be doing was add another set of drama to the team. When the jets signed Tim Tebow the young QB with one of the biggest followers in the country moved to the biggest city in the country. In Denver Tebow was a fan favorite as demands for him to play overrode the management. When Tebow was put in the Broncos started to win, even with Tebow not being the best QB, and made the playoffs. Tebow swept the nation and Tebowmania became a national craze. Still Tebow had a lot of questions as a QB and when the Jets signed him there was some confusion. Tebow was not going to beat Sanchez for the starting role and so Tebow would essentially be a package player even though they have built him as something more without saying it. The Jets are looking to continue on their march towards the playoffs this year with or without the drama as they are now used to it happening every year.

The Jets are attempting to refocus in 2012 as they will go with a new coach as Tony Sparano takes over the offence. Sparano will look to Mark Sanchez to lead the team again this year as Tim Tebow will likely only make appearances in specific packages. Sanchez has had some bright moments but has seen much more bad moments with too many interceptions. Sanchez will need to correct that problem or the Tebow chants will start and the coaching staff may crumble handing Tebow the reigns in the middle of the season. Sanchez will look to a number of players to help in the receiving corps. Santonio Holmes will likely be his favorite target while Dustin Keller returns as insurance and rookie Stephen Hill should be able to have an impact. In the running game the Jets are moving on from the LaDainian Tomlinson era as Shonn Greene will take over the running game alongside Joe McKnight. The offence for the Jets should be a little more exciting but it will all depend on the execution of Mark Sanchez as the pressure is on once again. Rex Ryan prides himself on his defence and will look to it once again to help the offence get into a groove. The defence has had issues in specific situations as they cannot seem to put everything together on one play. This is specifically true of the run defence that was not good in 2011 and needs to be fixed to bring the defence to the top of the division. This problem starts with the defensive line as Muhammad Wilkerson, Sione Po’uha, and Mike DeVito all need to step up their run stuffer. If they can’t first round pick Quinton Coples may see some action as a legitimate run stopper that will sit on the sidelines for the start of the year. The linebacking corps are led by emotional leader Bart Scott and veteran Calvin Pace. Bryan Thomas and David Harris also provide some experience but they will need to increase their pressure on the QB if they want to make a bigger impact this year. In the secondary sits the best player on the Jets roster. Darelle Revis is one of the premier shut down corners of the game and is joined by a very good Antonio Cromartie. Safety is the biggest concern for them though as the loss of Jim Leonhard hurt the team in the middle of the season last year. The addition of Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry should help the middle coverage while Eric Smith looks to step up and provide better coverage than in 2011. The defence is a good squad again but there have been little changes as Ryan is hoping a full offseason of work can correct the situational problems. The special teams are led by the steady Nick Folk while Joe McKnight and Jeremy Kerley return for another shot at becoming impact returners. The Jets are a team that is extremely hard to figure out as a number of changes may not really have an impact on the team in 2012 yet they still look like they can be good. The Jets find ways to win but no improvements on the team will make it another tough year as they will likely miss the playoffs again.

 

Strength:
Defence
– With Rex Ryan as the coach there is no doubt that the defence will always take the focus of the team and Ryan has put together a pretty good team that with a little work could return to the best defence in the league

 

Weakness:
Drama
– The drama that seems to always surround the Jets is a massive distraction for the team as they are limited to taking players that can handle the pressure but the 2012 team may be full of players that cannot handle it

 

Biggest Addition:
LaRon Landry, S (Free Agent, WSH)
– The safety spot was a major issue last year without Jim Leonhard and so the Jets went out to get someone who could provide a steady influence on the middle coverage and Landry will provide that if he stays healthy

 

Biggest Loss:
LaDainian Tomlinson, RB (Retired)
– The duo of Shonn Green and LaDainian Tomlinson worked and helped LT to recover his career but it had to end as LT retired leaving behind a big hole in the backfield that will be hard to replace in the 2012 season

 

Prediction:
1. New England Patriots
2. Buffalo Bills
3. New York Jets
4. Miami Dolphins

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