The New England Patriots have dominated this division since the turn of the millennium, but this year could end differently. The Jets, Bills, and Dolphins have all improved tremendously and are all ready to give Bill Belichick’s team a run for the division title.
1st Place: New England Patriots
The New England Patriots could lose this division, but I’ll believe it when I see it. The deflated ball scandal still looms over the Boston area, but a judge ruled that Brady will not be suspended the first four games of the season. The New England defense was pillaged by free agency, and the Patriots have a lot of holes to fill. If there is anyone who can create the best result with the players they have, it is Bill Belichick.
Offense Division Rank: 1
Brady to Gronkowski is still the best Quarterback-Receiver (or Tight End) combination in the division, conference and maybe even the league. Look for Jonas Gray to replace the touches Shane Vereen once had in New England on third down.
Defense Division Rank: 4
The Patriots lost Vince Wilfork, Darrelle Revis, and Brandon Browner; arguably their three best players. The AFC East is loaded with defensive talent; they could be playing in a lot of close games.
Expected win total: 12
This division could be incredible to watch. All of their opponents will beat up on each other this season. This difference: Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks of all time. Brady simply does not lose.
2nd Place: New York Jets
The Jets abandoned ship after the 2014 season. The Jets hired Mike Maccagnan to be an aggressive general manager to counteract the timid John Idzik. Todd Bowles was given the reigns after Rex Ryan saw his team crumble last season. Training camp has been a nightmare for Gang Green and the biggest hurdle the Jets will have to overcome is themselves.
Offense Division Rank: 3
With Geno Smith getting punched in the locker room, Ryan Fitzpatrick has the Jets starting job. Brandon Marshall is a top-ten receiver in the NFL, but will he get the ball enough to his liking?
Defense Rank: 1
The Jets secondary has the potential to be one of the best of all time. The Jets lured Darrelle Revis, one of the best shutdown corners in the game, away from New England to bolster their secondary. Antonio Cromartie would be a number one cornerback on several teams and played his best alongside Revis in New York years ago. The Jets also signed Marcus Gilchrist, a solid free safety, to play next to 2014 first round draft pick Calvin Pryor, who will punish the opposition with bone-crunching hits. Do not forget about Muhammed Wilkerson, Quinton Coples, Calvin Pace, and freak-athlete rookie Leonard Williams rushing the quarterback. The Jets need to keep an eye on Sheldon Richardson to prevent him from self-destructing. He already has a two game suspension to start the season and was arrested earlier this year.
Expected Win Total: 8
Can the Jets offense be trusted under new OC Chan Gailey and weak quarterback play? If yes, the Jets offense will win the division. If not, it could be another long season in New York.
3rd Place: Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins have been the definition of average since winning the AFC East in 2008. Their team record year-by-year since ’08: 7-9, 7-9, 6-10, 7-9, 8-8, 8-8. With New England’s supremacy, and Buffalo’s long struggle to find a quarterback, Miami finds themselves right in the middle. Had the Jets and Bills not improved as much as they did, the Dolphins could be competing for a playoff spot.
Offense Division Rank: 2
Ryan Tannehill has proved himself that he can be a player to build around. In his three-year tenure, Tannehill showed he will not be a top-10 guy, but he will not be a bottom-10 quarterback either. Somewhere right in the middle of the league. See a pattern? The Dolphins may have down graded by replacing Mike Wallace with Greg Jennings. They lost Charles Clay, but Jordan Cameron and rookie Devante Parker can replace that production.
Defensive Rank: 3
Ndamukong Suh is a top-10 player in the league, and the Dolphins paid him like one. A six year/ $114 million contract makes Suh the highest paid defensive player of all time. Put him with Cameron Wake and star corner Brent Grimes, and you have a solid defense.
Expected Win Total: 7
Signing Suh improves the defense vastly, but their division opponents also made great improvements. Lamar Miller at running back is the X-Factor of this team. Expect mediocrity to reign again.
4th Place: Buffalo Bills
Rex Ryan brings a new mentality to upstate New York that the team needs. Ryan’s swagger and confidence will make the Bills defense more feared than it already is. Can Ryan’s offense average 21 points per game? Ryan is no offensive guru, but he knows how to beat New England, which may be more valuable.
Offensive Division Rank: 4
The Bills are in crisis mode at the quarterback position. E.J. Manuel has been one of the biggest letdowns as a first-round draft pick in recent memory, and has officially lost his starting job. Tyrod Taylor, a career backup, is the now starter, but the jury is still out on whether he can play. The Bills improved their running game by trading for LeSean McCoy to replace C.J. Spiller, but can McCoy stay healthy? Sammy Watkins, the former number three overall pick, will have to fight extra hard to generate stats week after week.
Defensive Division Rank: 2
Jerry Hughes, Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcel Dareus. This is the best defensive line in the NFL, hands down. Their secondary is not filled with glamorous names, but they have ranked in the top five in the last two seasons.
Expected Win Total: 6
The Bills will grind their opponents until the last second of each game. Like the Jets, it is unclear if they have the offense to launch them into the playoffs. The player to watch is LeSean McCoy, a star running back who they acquired by trading away promising young linebacker Kiko Alonzo.
Alex’s Picks: New England, Miami, New York, Buffalo
Lamar’s Picks: New England, Miami, Buffalo, New York