2018 NFL Preview: AFC East

afc-eastIn the AFC East, there hasn’t been a good battle for a long time as the New England Patriots have ruled the division for years.

When divisions form like this it is never really great for the sport as the competitiveness goes down in a major way.

Teams all try to compete with the dominant team in the division but usually come up short leaving it all up to the one team.

When a dominant team takes over it can mean a struggle for the rest of the teams as the one dominant team leads to a lot of issues.

When a team is as good as the Patriots they begin to take talent and find ways to win far better than other teams throughout the league.

In the case of the Patriots, it has been a combination of the system and a star quarterback who evolved through that system that has kept them on top.

What happens when a team is that successful is that the other teams in the division who have to play them twice a year try to build their teams in that image.

That is nearly impossible as it is tough to find that right combination to make a team successful because it doesn’t always work that way.

The Patriots were able to hire the right coach at the right time and had a quarterback fall to them in the sixth round.

No other teams can recreate that because it is hard enough to find one of those two pieces to the puzzle let alone both.

No matter how many times teams try to rebuild looking to beat the Patriots they can never quite accomplish it.

That dominance never lasts though as the Patriots will sink eventually but the question is when that will actually happen.

No run lasts forever but the Patriots have been on top for 9 years and have only lost one division title in the last 15 years.

They are the picture of consistency but like all major success stories, there will be an end and every year the rest of the division heads into the season looking to be there when the run ends.

The last team to beat them might be the only team with a chance this year as the teams look to a returning QB to help them.

The Dolphins are the only team with any success in this unprecedented run and this year they hope to do the same.

After a miracle season where the Bills made the playoffs and broke the longest playoff drought in North America the Bills return with high expectations.

They hope to meet those expectations this year but it is going to be a big hill to climb for that team.football-sidebar

The Jets are still caught in a bad situation with no true quarterback and a lot of questions surrounding the team.

They will look to surprise the division and make a run but things still seem a little too uncertain to really challenge.

That is the division as it sits today as the Patriots and their success have put a dent in this division.

Not many teams have been able to get the best of them in the past few years and for the Patriots that is the goal.

With so much success they will remain a team that everyone watches throughout the year and for the years to come to be that Super Bowl calibre team.

Until they show signs that they aren’t that same team it is hard to count them out of Super Bowl contention.

There has never been a team as dominant as this and as a result, everyone is seeing just what a strong team can do to a division.

As the new season begins every other team will look to make progress in trying to unseat the division title holders.

They have done just about everything to try to do that in the last few years and nobody has been able to quite yet.

This could be the season for one but the Patriots remain one of the best teams in the league making this battle a tough one.

buffalo_bills

It was a dream season for the fans in Buffalo as they were finally able to watch their team play in the playoffs for the first time in 17 years. It was also a bit of a miracle thanks to a win by the Cincinnati Bengals getting a win in the final day of the season. Still, they were in the playoffs and it was the end of the longest drought in North American sports. That playoff birth was as far as they would get though and they took a bufbillsloss in the Wild Card game ending their hopes of a playoff run. Now they head into the new season with a standard set but that standard might be a little bit too high for what this team brings to the table. They have made some major changes to the roster that aren’t necessarily meant to help them compete right now. The biggest of those will be under centre where Tyrod Taylor is gone after being a good, albeit not great, a leader on offence for the last few years. In his place will be AJ McCarron who looks to solidify his spot as a starter with a rookie sitting behind him. The Bills believe they have found their QB of the future in Josh Allen and if McCarron struggles there will be pressure to put the young QB in and give him a shot. Whoever does take the most snaps this year won’t have a lot to work with in the passing game as Kelvin Benjamin is a legitimate threat if he stays on the field and beyond him, there aren’t a lot of breakout targets. The one advantage for McCarron and Allen is that the running game is in good hands with LeSean McCoy remaining their biggest offensive threat. The Bills added some help in the running game with the signing of Chris Ivory who provides a change of pace to McCoy and gives them options. The defence was key for the Bills last year and this season they will look to improve with a few key additions. The line was good last year and is stronger this time around as the additions of Star Lotulelei and Trent Murphy should boost an already deep group that includes Jerry Hughes and Kyle Williams. Moving up to get Tremaine Edmunds gives the Bills a middle linebacker of the future but with the ability to play right away giving them a big-time playmaker. The secondary has become the strength of this team with the key additions of Micah Hyde and Vontae Davis alongside Tre’Davious White who proved to be their top rookie a year ago. The Bills still hold a strong defence and as a result, won’t sink to the bottom but without that certainty on offence they won’t be seeing the playoffs this year.

miami_dolphins

Things started about as bad as they could for the Dolphins last year as they entered the season without their starting quarterback. Ryan Tannehill went down in training camp and missed the entire season with a knee injury leaving the Dolphins scrambling. They had attempted to build something around the development of the QB and instead they had to go out and find Jay Cutler to fill in. Then their first game was postponed due to miadolphinsHurricane Irma leaving the Dolphins without a bye week for 16 straight weeks. It was never going to be a good season and things went just about as anyone would expect with the Dolphins only getting six wins. The new season brings a little bit of new hope as they have reworked their roster to bring in more talent and finally have a backup plan for their quarterback. The biggest boost for this team will be the return of Tannehill who looks to get back to his 2014 and 2015 seasons where he put up more than 4,000 yards. He will have some new receivers to focus on as Landry is gone with the Dolphins bringing in Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson to provide a deep group that includes DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills. The receiving corps lacks that one star like they had in Landry but these receivers are all good and could provide a lot of options for Tannehill. The running game was in great hands but after trading Jay Ajayi midway through the year in 2016 the focus falls on Kenyon Drake. This will be his first chance to really take over and with Frank Gore in place to provide a veteran presence and some relief it could give Tannehill some support. On defence, the Dolphins are young and promising with a lot of starters now playing their second year. They performed well in their rookies years and now with extra time they could for a good base. The Dolphins do hope that they will be able to get a solid pass rush as Cameron Wake remains their top rusher while the addition of Robert Quinn is a boost for the pass rush. The loss of Ndamukong Suh should be made up for with second-year player Davon Gadchaux. The linebackers were not the greatest but they hope that Raekwon McMillan can upgrade the defence after missing his rookie season with an injury. Reshad Jones leads the secondary as the leading tackler for all safeties in the NFL while Xavien Howard looks to continue to develop. The Dolphins are a better team thanks to the return of a number of players and the development of their young defence. That could put them into the hunt for the playoffs this year near the top of the division.

new_england_patriots

Things didn’t end as expected for the Patriots and for a team used to winning titles that is never really a great thing but something seemed off. Before the Super Bowl and into the offseason the usually stoic team that is almost never talked about in terms of issues in the locker room began to be talked about all the time. Reported in-fighting between Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady had some wondering if this was the beginning nepatriotsof the end for the greatest franchise run in the history of the NFL. The Patriot Way has come under fire in the past few months from former players and even Belichick has begun to show a little more in press conferences. As they head into a new season they are looking to put those reported issues behind them and just begin to focus on football. The issues they might have could show up on the field and nobody knows what might happen if anything. It is hard to think that they will be anything but their usual selves until they show otherwise and their usual selves is one of the best teams in the league. That all starts with Tom Brady who remains one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. If he can continue on his ageless ability they should be just as good as they have been over the last few years. This year the Patriots gave him, even more, to work with in the signing of Cordarrelle Patterson while Julian Edelman will return after a suspension for PEDs. Brady With Brandin Cooks gone Chris Hogan should take a bigger role while Rob Gronkowski remains a matchup nightmare throughout the league. In the backfield, the Pats brought in Jeremy hill but are notorious for finding a hot hand and then moving on to a new back. The defensive side is built in the image of the Patriots with no major stars but a number of good players. Trey Flowers provides the pressure on the edge while new addition Adrian Clayborn should give them even more from the line. The return of Dont’a Hightower from injury should boost the linebacking corps while Stephon Gilmore, Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung all return to a solid secondary. The Patriots may or may not have issues in the offices but until they prove that it affects them on the field they are still one of the best teams. They should get more than 10 wins again this year and rise to the top of the division for another title and potentially another deep run in the playoffs.

new_york_jets

Things have not gone well for the Jets in the past few years but the story is a familiar one that has been seen throughout the year in the NFL. The Jets have struggled to find someone who can lead this offence as they have constantly searched for their next QB with mixed results. It has been a long search and this offseason the Jets threw just about everything they could at the problem in the hopes of finally getting a solution. The nyjetssearch for a new quarterback began with the signing of Teddy Bridgewater as the Jets were looking to create a real competition. They were hoping to create a competition along with Josh McCown to find the best QB and Bridgewater was a younger QB ready to push the incoming starter. Then the Jets went to the draft and found Sam Darnold available for them to take with the third overall pick in the draft. The Jets settled on their guys trading away Bridgewater and leaving the competition up to McCown and Darnold. McCown hasn’t been the superstar they need but he will likely get the start for the Jets. At the first sign of struggles expect the calls for Darnold to get louder with a good chance of him taking over at some point this year. The group of receivers either has to work with is not necessarily spectacular. They will go with the strength of the group rather than individuals as they lack any one major target. Jermaine Kearse, Robby Anderson and Terrell Pryor are all good but not good enough to be that breakout target meaning they will all need to perform well to get the passing game running. In the backfield, the Jets are looking to Isaiah Crowell to try to bring some balance to the team. On defence, the team wasn’t great but not awful either as they had some success but were not good enough. Up front, the Jets have Leonard Williams who is a great pass rusher but he has little to no support on the line to help that pass rush. The linebacking corps will miss Damario Davis who led the team in tackles and who was their best player last year. Darron Lee hopes to fill that void in the second level along with new addition Avery Williamson. The biggest improvement was in the secondary where the Jets signed Trumaine Johnson getting a major upgrade. Alongside Morris Claiborne, the Jets might have a more formidable coverage team. The Jets last year were just a middle of the road team and they have made some key additions to improve the major issues they had last year. It might not be enough though as they are better but still have too many questions to be a playoff team.

Prediction:
It is a division with not a lot of excitement as the AFC East has been a division where one team has ruled for years. There hasn’t been a whole lot of sustained success from the other teams but in the end, the New England Patriots always finish on top. They will likely do the same this year as they have been too good for too long to doubt whether or not they can win the division. The bigger questions might come behind the Patriots as the rest of the teams compete for a wild card spot. The Dolphins are renewed with their quarterback and look like they could be a good team with their additions. The Bills are a good team but not good enough this year without the real improvements that they need to make the playoffs again. Meanwhile, the Jets are just a good team but nowhere near good enough to take home a playoff spot.

afceast-prediction

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