2016 NFL Preview: AFC East

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In every era, there is one team that inevitably becomes the most hated team in the league and the AFC East is the division with that team.

There is no more hated team in the NFL than the New England Patriots and that is largely due to the fact that they have been the most consistently good team in the league.

They are always sitting on top of the standings and every year they enter a season as favourites to make the Super Bowl.

That can lead to frustration and hate among fans who just want to see someone else, usually their own team, sit at the top of the league.

The Patriots have also gained a bit of a hateful following for the fact that they have been accused of cheating more than one in the last ten years.

There was Spygate and the latest Deflategate along with reports of things mysteriously going wrong for opposing teams visiting Gillette Stadium.

Ever since Spygate people have wondered if all that they are doing is necessarily legal or if they are just walking the edge trying to get a competitive advantage.

The Patriots have already been proven to be cheaters at certain points in their dominance but more of their success has to be contributed to the player that stands under centre and the coach that stands on the sidelines.

The Patriots may be without one of these for the start of this year but the fact is that the AFC East is still a division ruled by the Patriots.

They have won the last seven division titles in the east and even without Tom Brady in the lineup for the first four games of the season they are still going to be a tough team to beat.

That won’t stop their division rivals from putting together the best effort they can to beat the Pats.

Every one of the other teams in the east has been chasing the Patriots for a long time and some have had mixed successes.

None have been able to beat the Patriots in the last seven years to take a title but they will hope that the slight weakness in the armour is enough to get off to a great start.football-sidebar

The Bills will constantly be using the Patriots as their marker because their coach has a serious problem with the coach on the other side.

That is because Rex Ryan is the opposite of Bill Belichick in every way and he had always gone after the Patriots from when he took over the Jets to his time with the Bills.

The Jets are looking to find their way back into the battle after some stranger years where they seem to put together an OK team only to see that team for over-perform.

If they can do it again they might make things even more interesting this year in the east.

The Miami Dolphins are often the forgotten team and largely because they have yet to challenge anyone in the division.

They have talent on the team but have not been able to put things together to compete.

The east is a division where one team is the target for everyone else and how they perform can change the face of the division quickly.

If the Patriots play well they might not have much competition for their 8th straight division title.

Then again if the Pats do struggle it might make this season much more interesting for everyone.

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The Buffalo Bills got an injection of life when they hired Rex Ryan to coach their team, which is what he brings to any team. What they need now though is to start winning as even with the excitement that Ryan brought they still finished 8-8. They made some strides in 2015 as they finally had a decision under centre and some new additions made their impact. What was worrying though was the defence as the defensive specialist saw a defence that struggled all year. In 2016 Ryan is hoping to change that and he went with someone that he can truly trust to turn things around, his brother Rob. The Ryan brothers are now together for the first time and they both provide a massive amount of defensive knowledge to the team. Last year the pressure lacked on defence as the Bills could not get to the quarterback under Ryan’s new scheme. Now with his brother in town they hope to get back to that pressure but will have to do it without Mario Williams. Instead, they will look to veterans Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus while Adolphus Washington tries to prove he belongs in his rookie year. At linebacker, the Bills were hoping to see an impact player make his name known in rookie Shaq Lawson. Unfortunately, Lawson underwent shoulder surgery in the off-season and it is yet to know when or if he returns this year. Without Lawson, the plans are somewhat destroyed but they will look to Jerry Hughes and new signee Lorenzo Alexander to provide some pressure. In the secondary, the Bills have everything mostly figured out as long as Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby continue to play at their 2015 level. On offence, the biggest question for the Bills was always at quarterback and for Ryan the solution was essentially finding his favourite guy and sticking with him. That guy was Tyrod Taylor who took his chance as a starter and put up a 3,000+ yard season. He worked well with a now healthy Sammy Watkins who made good on the promises he was saddled with when he became a first-round pick of the Bills. He became Taylor’s favourite target while Charles Clay and Robert Woods were good secondary targets. The entire passing game remains intact but could be challenged with most teams focusing on Watkin leaving good but not great receivers to throw to. In the backfield, the addition of LeSean McCoy was a good one a year ago as he had a heavy workload last season and would love more work this year. The Bills are a team on the rise but their defence will need to step up and under the Ryan brothers, it should be improved from a year ago.

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The Miami Dolphins are often the forgotten team in the division as they sit at the bottom of the league rarely challenging any of their division rivals. They have been far from contenders in the division for years and like any struggling team, they continue to try to change things up to figure it all out. The latest will be changing their head coach as they have given a long-time assistant his chance to run a team. In 2016 Adam Gase will take his first head coaching job and for the Dolphins this should be a big thing. Gase has been an offensive wiz since he entered the league in 2003 and became and offensive coach in 2005. He has worked with Peyton Manning and gave Jay Cutler a second lease on his career as his ability with quarterbacks has been impressive. The new coach should be a boost for the offence that has struggled with consistency in recent years. Ryan Tannehill might see the biggest booth as Gase has taken on the young QB as his personal project. If it works out the Dolphins would have figured out their biggest issue on the offence. The targets are there as Jarvis Landry can be a top receiver in the league while Kenny Still hopes to develop into that as a starter in his second year with the team. They will definitely miss Lamar Miller who was big in the passing game as well as the running game. They may have upgraded, at least in the running game, as Arian Foster is one of the best backs in the game when he is on the field, which has been his challenge in recent years. On defence, some key additions could change the fate of this team as long as the new members of the Dolphins pan out. The line will welcome Mario Williams to the end in what should be a great pass rush tandem with Cameron Wake. The middle of that line is held down by Ndamukong Suh who hasn’t lost a step since joining Miami. The linebacking corps is not as exciting as the front but they are hoping to improve with the addition of Kiko Alonso, as long as he stays out of trouble off of the field. The defence gets worse as it goes back for Miami as the secondary has some major question marks surrounding their starters. Byron Maxwell will join the team but has been as good as when he played in Seattle while Xavien Howard starts in his rookie year. The Dolphins are a team that is still trying to figure things out as they continue to develop into a competitor. The difference might just be the new head coach who could be the answer to any offensive issues that they have had over the last season.

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The New England Patriots have long been the class of the division and this year they hope to do the same. There is little more to say about them as they have put together a system that is better than anyone in the league. It hasn’t always translated to championships though and last year they fell just short of returning to the big game. There were a lot of changes for this team this year but it is not unusual for the Pats to see a lot of turnover. No matter the changes though there is one story that will dominate for the first part of the season. For the first four games of the year, Tom Brady will not see the field as his suspension for his role in Deflategate will begin this year. That will put Jimmy Garoppolo in the spotlight for four weeks as the Pats hope that their heir apparent to Brady can keep them on track before the star returns. Garoppolo gets his first start and will try to show that he has what it takes to be great but replacing Brady, even though it is temporary, is far from an easy task. He has plenty of help to get into a groove for the first four weeks as there are some sure-handed players to throw to in the offence. Rob Gronkowski is sure to be a favourite for the young QB while Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are sure to provide support as well. In the backfield, the Pats like to use a lot of different backs but LeGarrette Blount looks to be the main guy for the time being. He will be important to provide some relief to Garoppolo so that he is not swarmed by the pass rush. On defence, the Pats are their usual selves, a mix of good players that not many people know. The loss of Chandler Jones leaves a hole in the pass rush but Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard are there to fill it along with new addition Chris Long. The linebackers are led by two great but usually unheard of backers in Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. These linebackers embody the Patriots way as they are not flashy and not usually in the conversation for the best in the league but they do their job and they do it very well. The secondary has a few young stars mixed with the veterans of the team to make a solid group. Logan Ryan and Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler are young but good corners who have veteran support with Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty at safety. The Patriots may be without their best player for four games but they are still the team to beat in the division and will likely take the title again.

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The New York Jets always seemed to be the thorn in the side of the Patriots but that was when Rex Ryan was the head coach. Last year the Jets moved on from the Ryan era and brought in a much calmer Tod Bowles who continued a tradition of being one of the toughest defensive teams in the league. That defensive toughness helped the Jets to second place in the division and an overall good season. They still couldn’t get a playoff spot but the new coaching staff had made their mark and in 2016 they hope to take it a step further. Bowles is a defensive coach and that is his concentration again as he looks to make this team one of the best in the league. He wasn’t far off as they ranked as one of the best rush defences in the league and they try to continue that this season. It will be tough without Damon Harrison plugging the middle of the line. Steve McLendon will fill that role while they hope for the same performance from sophomore Sheldon Richardson. In the linebacking corps, the Jets look to veterans Erin Henderson and David Harris to plug the middle. Meanwhile, Jordan Jenkins and Lorenzo Mauldin try to provide some increased pass rush pressure from the outside. In the defensive backfield, the Jets were supposed to be great when they brought back Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. Neither played as well as they could and Cromartie was cut which now leaves Revis and Buster Skrine to try to improve a less than great pass defence. On offence, the Jets were unsure until the very end as Ryan Fitzpatrick held out for a better contract and eventually got it. He will return and look to show that the contract was worth it despite his age and for Brandon Marshall, it couldn’t be any better. Marshall campaigned to get Fitzpatrick back as they have formed a great partnership while Eric Decker is a good second option. They will miss having Chris Ivory as their workhorse but they went to work and quickly filled that hole. Matt Forte is built a lot like Ivory and will take the majority of the carries without the Jets having to change how they run the ball. The Jets are a defensive powerhouse with an offence that probably should be better. Even with the limited changes on offence, it is a good group and along with their defence they form a tough team. The Jets could be the best team outside of New England as their defence could be good enough to do most of the hard work. They will likely sit near the top but won’t challenge the Patriots although a playoff berth isn’t out of the question.

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Prediction:
The AFC East is somewhat easy to predict at the top as one team has been the best in the division and one of the best in the league for years. That pattern will likely continue this year as there doesn’t seem to be anyone that can challenge them. The Miami Dolphins aren’t ready yet even if their head coach can make a difference in his first year. They may be a team to watch in a few years but for now, they will likely finish last. In Buffalo, they certainly have the talent to compete and they might have a much better year but they just aren’t as good as other teams in the division. The Jets are simply too good on defence for the Bills to get past this year as they will take the second spot. The only thing that seems for sure is the fact that the Patriots have the best team and will take the division. Even without their top quarterback for a part of the season, they will still come through to take their eighth straight division title. The Super Bowl is not out of reach for them either as they will get a healthier Brady with less wear and tear in the playoffs which could make them contenders.

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