2014 NFL Preview: AFC East


The AFC east is a division that has regularly had dominant teams in the mix but lately they seem to be a division that just pumps out mediocre teams. The king of those mediocre teams is the New England Patriots who are not necessarily mediocre. They are one of the best teams in the league year after year but have done so well and been so consistent that it really doesn’t shock anyone. Now they just continue to win and create less drama than any other division. There are rarely tight battles in the division anymore and which makes the drama that much less in this division. That is why they have become a division that many are simply overlooking. With so many other divisions in tight battles heading into the season the focus has shifted from a division that used to produce Super Bowl and AFC champions. The Patriots are just the latest team to take over in the division as every team has had their share of success. The Miami Dolphins are the only franchise to have an undefeated season and were one of the best teams in the league during the 1980s. The Buffalo Bills made four Super Bowls in a row as the top team in the AFC throughout much of the 1990s. The New York Jets seemed like the only team that could really get under the skin of the New England Patriots and get them off of their game during the 2000s. All of these accomplishments are in the past though and for right now there seems to be little to no challenge anymore at the top of the division. When looking into the issues that face the division it is clear that there is one thing that separates the Pats from the rest of the teams. That is the key position on the field as the Pats have a solid quarterback to lead the offence while the other teams continue to try to find a quarterback. The New York Jets thought they found a QB in Mark Sanchez but it proved to be a bust leading them to look to Geno Smith for help under centre. The Buffalo Bills have been trying to find a true replacement quarterback since Jim Kelly led them to four Super Bowls in the 1990s. They have yet to find anyone that has proven to be a true starting quarterback although EJ Manuel looks to prove that in his second year as the starting pivot. The Miami Dolphins may be the worst team in the quarterback hunt as they have been cursed by the shadow of one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. The Dolphins are hoping that Ryan Tannehill is the solution at quarterback as he will try to prove this year. The shuffle under centre continues to plague the AFC East and with the competition waning each year they are no longer one of the toughest divisions. That makes them a forgotten division many times and as the power shifts many wonder if they can still compete for the Super Bowl although all four teams will look to change that attitude this year.


Buffalo Bills


The Buffalo Bills are a team in transition right now and have been for a while as they continue to try to find an identity. After ruling the AFC throughout the 1990s the Bills have not made the playoffs since 1999. It has been a rough go for Bills fans and last year was no different as they once again finished at the bottom of the division and out of the playoffs. 2013 made it 15 straight years that the Bills have missed the playoffs and the biggest issue has been the fact that they cannot find a quarterback. The 2013 draft saw the Bills try to find their quarterback of the future in EJ Manuel. Despite not starting the season under centre Manuel took over after Week 6 and had a serviceable season. That was not good enough to do much for the Bills as they remained the worst team in the division. As they enter the 2014 season the Bills will look to Manuel to improve on his rookie numbers and become the starter they expected him to be when they drafted him in the first round in 2013. It is not as though he has no talent alongside him either as the Bills have quietly amassed a solid corps of offensive players. With C.J. Spiller in the backfield and rookie receiver Sammy Watkins in the passing game the Bills have a good young corps. The issue is that they are young and with the loss of Stevie Johnson there are not many veterans to help them with their oldest receiver being 5-year veteran Mike Williams. The Bills also quietly became the #10 defence in the NFL and hope to improve on that ranking again this year. As the Bills try to improve on the field, off of the field ownership uncertainty might cause a major distraction. If they can put that out of their heads and their young offensive players can meet expectations it could be a better year for the Bills but those are a lot of unknowns for a team to overcome in one season.


Miami Dolphins


The Miami Dolphins are the other team in the East that seems to always trade-off last place with the Buffalo Bills. They used to be a powerhouse in the conference and yet they have not been able to make the playoffs since 2008. 2013 was one of the strangest for the dolphins as they ended up in the middle of a bullying scandal that made many completely ignore the play on the field and was a big distraction for the players. Still the Dolphins did not end up in last place in the division getting by with an 8-8 record and finishing in third place. With the controversy behind them this year the Dolphins are hoping to get back to football and just football. The Dolphins have plenty of questions this year including their most important under centre. Ryan Tannehill is the solution that the Dolphins seem ready to let develop and h is getting better every year. In his second year he came just short of cracking the 4,000 yard mark and he hopes that he can get their this year. With an improved line thanks to the signings of tackles Branden Albert and Shelley Smith and a new attitude on offence with new coordinator Bill Lazor, Tannehill hopes to improve once again. The defence is the heart of this team though and with one of the best rush ends in the game leading the way they look to be solid again. Cameron Wake has been a revelation for the Dolphins since leaving the CFL for the NFL in 2009. He helps provide the pressure that a defence needs to stop the pass. The Dolphins are still concerned with their run defence but another year with a new coaching staff should help fix the issues. They are still no dominant team in the division though and have a lot of gaps in their team that they will need to fill with unproven talent. The Dolphins are getting better but the process is a slow one and although they might be a popular sleeper pick they still seem far from contenders.


New England Patriots


The New England Patriots are the team from the east that continues to provide a true contender. In the division it doesn’t mean a lot as they are the clear favourites every year and rarely see much of a challenge. That was the case in 2013 when they finished 12-4 and won the division for another year. The Pats moved on to the AFC Championship game where they lost to the Denver Broncos. That seems to be happening more and more with the Patriots who were once the most dominant team in the NFL. It was only a few years ago when the Patriots were Super Bowl favourites but now they seem to fall just short. They are still one of the best teams in the league and they will be one of the best teams in the league again in 2014. With Bill Belichick leading from the sidelines and Tom Brady leading on the field there is no doubt that the Patriots are a playoff team. The big questions are about the supporting cast around Tom Brady that seems to be ever-changing throughout the last few years. They are not the team they used to be in the early 2000s but there is talent that Brady can easily work with. The offence will receive a boost when Rob Gronkowski eventually returns from a rough two years of injuries. If Danny Amendola can step up and stay on the field along with Gronkoswski the offence should be in good hands again. The defence was hampered by injuries last year but with many of the top players returning and the addition of Brandon Browner, who will serve a four game suspension to start the year, and Darrelle Revis will help them be one of the better units in the NFL. The Patriots are once again a team that is sure to be one of the best in the league and a deep run in the playoffs is not out of the question as they continue their dominance for another year.


New York Jets




The New York Jets are the only team that has been able to unseat the Patriots consistently in the last few years and that has been the Jets. The Jets are the anti-Patriots in every way and that has created a great division rivalry. While the Patriots are a consistent and steady franchise the Jets are the circus of the NFL. An outspoken head coach and plenty of controversy surrounding players on the team have led to a franchise that has been good but wildly inconsistent. Last year the inconsistency showed when they finished with an 8-8 record, good for second in the division but not a playoff spot. Now the Jets go into a new season with the theme of the Jets taking over once again. That theme is change as it seems every year there are moves that change the way the team is built. This year the Jets saw Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes, and Kellen Winslow all leave. Along with this the Mark Sanchez experiment at quarterback ended when the Jets let him leave in the offseason. Now the quarterback position is in the hands of second year QB Geno Smith who came in last year during Sanchez’s injury and took over the job. The Jets like what they see in Smith and with the addition of running back Chris Johnson, who is looking for redemption, and wide receiver Eric Decker he should have some weapons to look to for some help. The staple of the Jets team under Rex Ryan has been the defence and this year they will undergo another transition with Antonio Cromartie leaving a big hole in the secondary. The Jets will try to replace him with 9-year veteran Dimitri Patterson who is not at the same level as Cromartie. The defence is not the same as it used to be while the offence seems to be at least steadier. That is not necessarily a good thing though as they fell out of a battle with the Patriots for the top of the division and that could continue in 2014.



The AFC East will not see a lot of change this year as teams are still trying to figure things out as the status quo may be the theme again. The Buffalo Bills are building a very solid base for the future but this is the present. They are too young to really compete in the top of the division although they will put up more of a fight. The New York Jets are continuing to fall out of the battle for the division and they will continue to fall as they go to third in the division. That fall will likely cost Rex Ryan his job as another missed playoffs will create a need for change in New York. The battle for the top will not be much for the top will not be much of a battle as the Miami Dolphins will squeeze by the Jets but will not come close to the top. Although they are an improved team there are too many questions to say that the Dolphins can actually challenge the Patriots. New England will once again take the division and make a run in the playoffs as they continue their dominance over the East.


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