Don’t expect breathtaking offense from the AFC East!
The final piece of our 2014/15 NFL preview series, this division is one of the more offensively challenged in the NFL, save for New England.
The quarterbacks in the division need time to grow, and the aggressive defenses aren’t necessarily going to make that growth easy.
That said, there’s some fine defensive play in abundance in the AFC East and we’ll be waiting anxiously to see which Pats team shows up to challenge for Conference honours and Superbowl glory.
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots didn’t play as well as in years past (particularly in the passing game) and still sort of de facto made it to the AFC Championship game, losing to the Broncos. Of course, big things are expected for them in 2014.
They signed cornerback Darrelle Revis and are hopeful for a big, healthy year from tight end Rob Gronkowski and some second year receivers. Other than that, the team looks pretty much the same from last.
In 2013, quarterback Tom Brady began to show his age, winding up with a quarterback rating in the 80s which hadn’t happened since his rookie year ten years ago. He suffered from an inexperienced and oft-injured depleted wide receiver corp.
The running game had to step up and they did; the Pats used a three headed monster of Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and LeGarrette Blount. Blount did not return; and Vereen was out with injury in 2013, so Ridley may be the surest bet if he can cure his fumbling issues.
The passing game relied a lot on Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Tompkins last year and Brady’s numbers suffered.
All of these guys were either under 5’9 or a rookie or injured for large portions of the season in 2013, which is why Gronkowski’s healthy return is critical to the offense. As of now, he is on a limited snap count headed into week one. Tompkins looks the most likely to draw the start at receiver opposite Edelman.
The defense looks poised to return to top five status after adding Darrelle Revis, the former Jet and Buccaneer. The Patriots want to do a lot of zone blitzing and Revis Island allows them flexibility in such schemes. When opponents try to run, Vince Wolfork and inside linebacker Dominque Easley, both coming off injuries will be tested.
The linebackers are steady and consistent, led by former All-Pro Jerod Mayo.
Overall: The Patriots play in a weak division and no passer in the AFC East can match Brady. It’s not even close. Expect another easy romp to 10 or 11 wins. They could get exposed in January, however.
The BetBright Verdict
10- 6 (1st in the AFC East) – We have them priced as second favourites in the betting for the AFC conference at 3/1.
Patriots’ opening game: Miami Dolphins vs New England Patriots at 6pm on Sunday September 7th at Sun Life Stadium.
The once-proud franchise has morphed into the never-ending curse of 8-8. Miami typically is not bad enough to get top picks that could save the franchise, nor good enough to make the playoffs. In an attempt to write the ship, the brass hired offensive coordinator Bill Lazor to give the Dolphins some of the Eagles 2013 magic.
On offense, the Dolphins added drafted some young talent for the ravaged offensive line, which supports what Lazor and coach Joe Philbin want to do; run the ball effectively. Mike Pouncey, arguably their best player will miss a major part of the year, which is discouraging.
Too often in 2013, Miami abandoned the run early putting too much pressure on quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who showed some inconsistencies (he was sacked 58 times). To add to a pretty average running back core, the Dolphins signed Knowshon Moreno, who revitalized his career with Peyton Manning in Denver.
If speed back Lamar Miller can show a little more physicality in 2014, the Dolphins could be more balanced on offense.
The Dolphins passing game saw an influx of talent with the addition of Jarvis Landry, the LSU product. He’ll join wide receivers Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and tight end-hybrid Charles Clay, an underrated group of pass catchers.
On defense, Miami will do without the service of their top pick in 2013, defensive end Dion Jordan. The defense backfield got better, however with addition of cornerback Cortland Finnegan and safety Louis Delmas. The linebackers are below par, however as Miami switches back to a 4-3, they’re hoping defensive bookends can mask some of those deficiencies.
Overall: The Dolphins are a better team now than they were in 2013. There could be a 9-7 season within grasp.
The BetBright Verdict
7-9 (2nd in the AFC East) – We have them priced as tenth favourites in the betting for the AFC conference at 21/1.
Dolphins’ opening game: Miami Dolphins vs New England Patriots at 6pm on Sunday September 7th at Sun Life Stadium.
New York Jets
The New York Jets somehow went 8-8 last season, a testament to the defensive coaching prowess of Rex Ryan.
They ushered in the first year of the Geno Smith regime and he looked serviceable at times and totally bewildered in others. The cornerback position for the Jets, so often a strength for this team, is in dire straits heading into the regular season.
In 2014, the Jets’ offense will need to be better on offense for the team to seriously challenge the Patriots for AFC East supremacy. Their defensive line is arguably the best 3-4 front in football with Wilkerson, Harrison and defensive rookie of the year Sheldon Richardson manning it. Their presence makes everyone around them better.
Back to the offense; realizing the need for an influx of talent the management added receiver Eric Decker from Denver, running back Chris Johnson from the Titans and tight end Jace Amaro in the draft. They join an underwhelming cast of characters in running back Chris Ivory, wide receiver Jeremy Kerley and tight end Jeff Cumberland.
The offensive line is aging, but is still serviceable.
Back to the defense; Antonio Allen and the struggling second-year Dee Milliner are the starting cornerbacks for the Jets. Two years it ago it was Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. This will hamper the Jets when good passing offenses come to town. Their one saving grace is rookie Calvin Pryor, a hard hitting safety from Louisville; he may need to be an Ed Reed in his prime.
Overall: If they went 8-8 last year the Jets can have a winning record this year. If Smith continues to improve and Decker can get a fraction of what he did with the Broncos, this team could do better than 8-8. But let’s remember, the Jets won a handful of games they probably should have lost in 2013.
The BetBright Verdict
6-10 (3rd in the AFC East) – We have them priced as twelfth favourites in the betting for the AFC conference at 30/1.
Jets’ opening game: Oakland Raiders vs New York Jets at 6pm on Sunday September 7th at MetLife Stadium.
The Buffalo Bills could use a winning season more than probably any other franchise in the NFL. Their longtime owner, Ralph Wilson passed away, leaving their future in Western New York a concern.
This team has a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, but will ultimately go as far as their signal caller takes them. This team can get after quarterbacks like few other clubs and can run the ball almost at will.
On offense, the team’s keys were turned over to rookie E.J Manuel and he performed so-so in 2013, with 11 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He has a habit of staring down receivers, a big no-no at this level.
The Bills added college’s most explosive player, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins in the first round and replaced former number one wideout Stevie Johnson will Tampa castoff Mike Williams, adding to already deep receiving bunch.
They already have a thunder and lightning backfield with C.J Spiller and Fred Jackson, both productive running backs. Perhaps the biggest development is the signing of Kyle Orton, the longtime journeyman to backup Manuel. He came out of retirement and signed a hefty contract, so it’s obvious the preseason play of Manuel has the Bills brass pretty nervous. It’s safe to say that Manuel is on a short leash.
The defense has a fine collection of pass rushers (Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes, Marcell Dareus) and Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers are solid linebackers. This team got its fair share of interceptions in 2013, which masks the so-so coverage ability of starting cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore, who tend to get beat. They’ll definitely miss safety Jarius Byrd, who was always around the football.
Overall: The Bills present an intriguing roster but if Kyle Orton is your Plan B to win the division, then this team needs work. Another 6-10 season and back to the drawing board at quarterback.
The BetBright Verdict
5-11 (4th in the AFC East) – We have them priced as thirteenth favourites in the betting for the AFC conference at 33/1.
Bills’ opening game: Chicago Bears vs Buffalo Bills at 6pm on Sunday September 7th at Soldier Field.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our eight-division team-by-team NFL season preview series. All that’s left now if to stock up on tasty treats and beers, get permission from the other half to stay up late at night in front of the telly and of course, have a bet on the NFL!