2017 NFL Preview: AFC East

afc-eastThe AFC East is a division full of anomalies as the division as a whole might be one of the worst in the league but it produces one of the best teams in NFL history every year.

The Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets have all been some of the most dysfunctional teams in the league.

Year after year they try to put teams together that can compete among the best in the league but every year they fail to do it.

They are known for taking risks on certain players that sometimes don’t pan out the best for the team.

It isn’t just about the lack of skill for these players as every team will take a chance on a player that just doesn’t have the talent that they expected.

Instead, these teams tend to take a chance on players with a lot of on-field talent and a lot of off-field issues.

It has become habit for all of the teams to see some type of controversy during the season and eventually that controversy catches up to them.

The three teams have not been able to rise up very often and none have taken a Super Bowl in a very long time.

It seems to be the theme of the division as every team has fallen into the same trap more than just once.

That is every team except one as the new England Patriots are the exact opposite of all of their division rivals.

They are the team that does everything right and doesn’t allow much of an outspoken attitude among any player.

They will take a risk on a player with off-field issues as long as the player knows that any issues off of the field will cause an immediate reaction from the team.

Nobody questions it as the Patriots are the one team that can actually do that because unlike the other teams they continue to win.

No matter who ends up in Foxborough they know what the deal is when they arrive as there is no room for playing around in a team run by Bill Belichick.football-sidebar

He simply doesn’t care about names or past accomplishments as the only thing he concerns himself with is whether or not a player can help them win.

That strategy has worked well in the past few years as the Patriots have been the best franchise in the NFL for the better part of two decades.

Since Belichick and Tom Brady got to town in 2000 the Patriots have taken five total Super Bowls.

In the seventeen years of the Belichick era, the Patriots have been at or near the top in every year despite changes on the roster and massive ups and downs that every team goes through.

The Pats are considered one of the best-run franchises in the league and it has come through in their massive amount of success.

They are only one title away from tying a record set by the Pittsburgh Steelers who have taken a total of six Super Bowls, most among any NFL franchise.

Despite that record, there is no franchise in NFL history that has had as great of a run as the Patriots have not only been great but have been great for close to 17 straight years.

They may not have won the title in every one of those years but five Super Bowls in 15 seasons is pretty special.

As they continue their run as one of the greatest dynasties ever the rest of the division is just looking to keep up.

Some might say that the questionable decisions are a result of the pressure that the rest of the division feels with the Patriots at the top.

They very well might be trying anything to make up the gap to the Patriots and it isn’t necessarily an easy task.

Some of the best teams in the league can’t do it but every year the rest of the AFC East looks to close that gap.

It will be the same this year as once again they see their division rival sitting on the top of the league as the champions and they will look to do anything to beat them.

There have been changes and even controversies already but with a new season comes a new chance to unseat the kings.

buffalo_bills

The Buffalo Bills are struggling as they have had plenty of restarts and plenty of promise yet they extended a dubious streak last year. That season brought their playoff drought to a total of 17 seasons which stands as the worst drought in North American sports. It hasn’t been for lack of trying as the Bills have seen plenty of coaches come in and change the culture only to fall short. It has been a tough go for the Bills and once again they are buf-statslooking to reset and begin another pursuit of breaking that drought. Rex Ryan and Doug Whaley are gone and in comes Sean McDermott who has been given complete control over the team’s direction. So far things have been interesting as the Bills are clearly moving on and preparing for the future as they lost more than they gained in the off-season but what they did gain was a lot of draft picks. They stocked up for the future but for the present, it leaves a lot of concern and a lot of doubt as to whether or not they can break their drought. As they head into the new season, McDermott looks to Tyrod Taylor to lead the offence but the young QB hasn’t convinced many that he can be the answer under centre. He struggles in the passing game but is the top rushing quarterback in the league and can make things happen other ways. To improve the passing game he will need to quickly get comfortable with a new top target after Sammy Watkins was traded just before the season. That same day the Bills traded for Jordan Matthews who is a good receiver that has stayed on the field more than Watkins did. Taylor’s ability in the run game helped the Bills to the top rushing game in the league last year with LeSean McCoy putting up plenty last year. Both will hope to do the same and keep the Bills at the top of the league. McDermott will look to take his defensive expertise to Buffalo and try to figure things out, although Ryan had the same expertise and never could figure it out. The regime will enjoy a good front four as Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Shaq Lawson and Jerry Hughes are a good group up front. The linebacking corps will miss Zach Taylor and his 95 tackles but Lorenzo Alexander hopes to keep up his resurgent ways at the second level. The secondary is in a tough spot after the loss of Stephon Gilmore but rookie Tre’Davious White and E.J. Davis, a product of the Watkins trade, will need to fill in for one of the top corners in the game. The Bills have talent but it won’t be enough to challenge for the top spot this year as they are still a ways away from breaking that drought.

miami_dolphins

For the Dolphins 2016 was full of promise as they finally looked like they turned the corner on the season as they finally made the playoffs. It took a long time as the Dolphins continued to deal with the shadow of Dan Marino that no quarterback has been able to get away from. Ryan Tannehill looked like he might finally be the guy and although he wasn’t perfect he certainly did everything he could to help the team find the playoffs. He mia-statswas just getting comfortable in a new offence when he got hurt, ending the hopes of making a run at the Super Bowl. It was heart breaking for the team but they had some momentum and they were looking to take that into 2017. Then the worst case scenario happened as Tannehill and the team decided not to undergo surgery to repair his knee. It turned out to be a bad decision as Tannehill reinjured his knee in training camp and will miss the rest of the season. It is a big loss for the team as he was just seemingly getting comfortable in his new offence and with another training camp under his belt things could have bee interesting. Instead, the Dolphins will be without their starting QB and so Adam Gase reached out to a familiar face in Jay Cutler who ran his offence in Chicago. The recently retired QB will jump back into NFL action and will have the advantage of knowing Gase’s system but Cutler has never been able to reach his potential and coming right off of the couch likely won’t help. He will have a lot to work with though as Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills are among the top duos in the game. New additions Anthony Fasano and Julius Thomas should provide a lot of help at the tight end position as well. In the running game, Jay Ajayi emerged as a top NFL running back and will be depended on a lot with the last minute QB replacement. The change in scheme from last year certainly helped the defence as Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh fit in perfectly in the new defence. At the second level, the arrival of Lawrence Timmons is a boost to a solid linebacking corps with Kiko Alonso and Rey Maualuga although the group needs to step up their game to meet their potential. The secondary was a major issue last year but the Dolphins are hoping that one more year can help some of the younger players. Byron Maxwell was a leader after struggling to start the season while Reshad Jones can be great if he stays healthy and Xavien Howard could be a top corner if he can continue to develop. The Dolphins have a lot of talent and a lot of momentum but the biggest question will be at quarterback where the season rests on the shoulders of Cutler, which might not be the best thing for the team.

new_england_patriots

The big question for the New England Patriots almost every year is just what can happen to actually sink their chances of winning yet another Super Bowl. The Patriots have been the best team in the league for years and although they might not win the Super Bowl every year they are always in the hunt. Last year was one of those seasons where everything came together and they found their way to the Super Bowl again. Then the ne-statsfirst half went horribly wrong as they didn’t look like themselves and they fell behind 28-3 looking like they weren’t going to be able to finish a great season. Tom Brady changed the direction of that game though as he helped to lead the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history winning his fifth Super Bowl and solidifying himself as the greatest QB in NFL history. Now at 40 years old, Brady is back for another year and winning doesn’t seem to be anywhere close to stopping for the Patriots. They enter the 2017 season with the best quarterback who has made due with good but not great players and has had a lot of success. The Patriots might be scarier than a year ago though as for the first time in a long time Brady received a deep threat in the passing game. The addition of Brandin Cooks gives Brady a speedy receiver that can get downfield. The loss of Julian Edelman is a big one along with the loss of Martellus Bennett. The Pats will look to Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell to take on a bigger role while they hope Rob Gronkowski can return to form after injuries have hampered him for years. In the running game, the Pats have made changes to personnel but not to their scheme. Mike Gillislee likely takes the feature role while Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis will rotate in a backfield that rarely has one back take a massive amount of touches. The defence is also reloaded from a year ago as the Pats added a number of key members that could make a big difference. Kony Ealy should be a big boost to the pass rush that is already seeing a legitimate pass rusher develop in Trey Flowers. Linebacker might be the only question of the team as Dont’a Hightower is a great linebacker when he is on the field and David Harris has experience but isn’t the answer to many of their issues at the second level. The secondary is another section with a big change as Malcolm Butler remains and will join Stephon Gilmore to form what could be the best corner tandem in the league. Alongside Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty, this group is going to be a big strength. The Patriots are clear favourites in the division and will take the title again while a deep run at the Super Bowl is not out of the question but repeating is tougher than it sounds.

new_york_jets

The Jets entered 2016 with a lot of hope after putting up a great year under their new head coach Todd Bowles. The wheels fell off in 2017 though and the Jets only managed five wins taking a big step back. It was disappointing for the fans and the organization that all were hoping that the coaching change was going to make a big difference and bring them back to the playoffs. That wasn’t the case and after their latest collapse, nyj-statsthings are taking a turn in New York with the Jets fully committed to a massive rebuild. The off-season was full of major departures and a commitment to get younger and look far into the future. It doesn’t mean that there will be a lot of promise for the upcoming season as the Jets are not necessarily tanking but they are certainly not looking to the playoffs this year. The evidence might just be under centre where the Jets are sticking with Josh McCown while Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg take the backup roles. McCown has been all over the league and although he is a good QB he has never really been able to make a big difference for any team. He might not stay very long as the starter as the Jets will be interested to see if Hackenberg, a 2016 draftee, is the answer which will likely determine what they do in next year’s draft. Whoever plays the majority of the snaps lost the best target as Brandon Marshall is gone. Jermaine Kearse takes over that top role while the Jets look to some young receivers in Robby Anderson and rookie Chad Hansen to take the rest of the catches. In the backfield, Matt Forte provides help for the passing game although he will need to improve his yards per carry to be more effective. On defence, the exodus continued but some stalwarts stuck around like Muhammad Wilkerson who looks to justify a big contract. The linebacking corps is led by young guns as Daron Lee enters his second year and fifth round pick Dylan Donahue looks to make an impact in his first year. The secondary is entirely changed as Darrelle Revis is gone after age caught up with him. In his place is Morris Claiborne while two rookies take over at safety with Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye getting the start right away. The Jets are entirely rebuilding and there is no question about where their focus is going this year. They won’t be running towards the playoffs or challenging the best teams, although anything can happen on any given Sunday, as they look ahead. Another last place finish is likely where they are headed as rookie starters will make mistakes and the lack of talent will show up throughout the season.

Prediction:
The AFC East is a division of dysfunction and dysfunction has continued into this year, although not entirely by every team’s own making. The only steady part of the East is that the New England Patriots are going to be good. With a reloaded team that already won a championship, it is hard to think that the Patriots will be any less than the division champions. The other teams will all struggle this year but with the most talent on their roster the Dolphins will end up in second. They won’t make the playoffs after losing their QB but they will still be better than Buffalo and New York. Both teams are rebuilding and the Bills are slightly more along the way while the Jets are just starting which will create the separation.

afce-prediction

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