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The AFC East brings us some of the most popular and some of the most hated teams around the league at the same time. New York, New England, and Miami (sorry Buffalo), are some of the biggest markets in sports these days, and their respective teams rightfully get a lot of the spotlight. The Patriots are wrapping up their dynasty and now seem to be in a retooling stage. In the meantime, the Jets put themselves on HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” and became what seems to be the most hated team in the NFL. The Dolphins continue to make key acquisitions such as Ricky Williams, Brandon Marshall, and even Bill Parcells, none of which can quite get them over the hump. Of course lastly, the Bills continue to struggle so much so that fans tune in assuming that they are bound to turn it around sooner or later. There is so much to be said about these four teams and the history they bring to the table.
So where do we even begin with this division? Let’s start with what we know, the bottom.
Buffalo Bills: Well, who even knows what to say about this franchise. Being notorious for losing is a tough spot to be in. The Bills are going to have a hard time attracting big free-agents to come play in Buffalo, and thus should look for young talent to rebuild this team. Is Ryan Fitzpatrick the guy? Well, don’t forget that he did throw for 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2010 and proved that he was the real starter for this team, so maybe, but they need much more than a quarterback. Maybe C.J. Spiller will show some of the explosion he had at Clemson and be a much needed weapon for their offense. Marcell Dareus should instantly make the Bills defensive line something to plan for. It’s hard to say that the Bills even could be contenders this season, but we’ve seen crazier turnarounds in sports. Let’s just call it a work in progress.
Miami Dolphins: Whereas everyone can peg Buffalo at the bottom of the division, Miami is probably the biggest question mark of the four. What do they bring to the table? It’s pretty difficult to say considering many of their main positions are unidentified. First of all, who is going to play quarterback? Chad Henne just doesn’t seem to be the answer everyone wanted him to be. When you have Brandon Marshall to throw to and you still can not significantly improve your numbers, the surroundings might not be the problem. As for running back, Ronnie Brown has somewhat fallen off. He hasn’t had a 1,000 yard rushing season since 2006 (when he barely squeaked over the mark with 1,008 yards), and we all know Ricky Williams can’t have all that much left in the tank. The one thing I liked out of the Dolphins last season was watching Cameron Wake rushing off the end and striking fear into quarterbacks while doing his best Julius Peppers impression. As for what to expect, who knows? We barely even have names to put on a depth chart, but the assumption is that they still won’t be able to lead this division.
New York Jets: Oh Rex Ryan, you sure do have a way of getting people to hate you. Since he got to town, the Jets have become a force in the AFC and also have become one of the most hated teams in the NFL because of the jolly loud-mouthed coach. As is, this team could be right back in position to compete for a Super Bowl next season, but don’t be blinded by those back-to-back AFC Championship appearances, this team does have holes. Ryan’s defense will always be one of the best in the league, and will undoubtedly annoy any offensive coordinator that tries to deal with their blitz schemes. They are aging quickly, and probably could use a new safety and some pass rushers, but that’s only if we’re getting picky. The offense has serious weapons, and if Mark Sanchez can continue his progression, we could see a lot more balance from them. Mike Westhoff is renowned as one of the best special teams coaches in the business, so there isn’t much worry there. They don’t have much more to do but go out and win the big game, but if I know the Jets, this is when a baffling 8-8 season happens. 2011 will be a very telling year for the direction of this team, and hopefully they can keep it up, Rex Ryan led teams are good for the league.
New England Patriots: This is not the same great team. I repeat, this is NOT the same great team. The dominant defense of old is gone by the wayside. Their secondary has big holes, and although their front seven is solid, they’ll need to address their secondary issues if they want to get back to an elite level. The fact is, Tom Brady is a hall of fame quarterback and probably won’t let Pats fans go a season without seeing a playoff game, the question is how deep can they get? The New England offense is dangerous because nobody knows where the ball is going to go. Unpredictability is a quarterbacks best friend. For example, they had two tight ends with over 500 yards receiving each, and 16 touchdowns between them. They will always be a throw-first team, but have no problem slashing defenses with a run when Brady catches some linebackers cheating. The Patriots are good, not great. I wouldn’t expect them to be a Super Bowl favorite going into these season, nor would I doubt a team with Brady and Belichick at the helm. Will they seed the reigns of the division to the Jets, or will they regain the dominance they held for so long over the past decade? Time will tell, as for now I’ll expect at least another playoff appearance for New England.
Ah The AFC East, this division definitely holds the keys to my heart. Growing up as a Jets fan, it was incredibly difficult to see the Patriots dynasty do what they did for so long. I now can admit that Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game (although that is always a bit tough for me to say), and that Bill Belichick is a hall of fame coach, no matter how much he may have cheated throughout the championship years (sorry folks, as a Jet fan, I had to). That being said this is a new time for this division. The Jets have reached back to back AFC Championship games under Rex Ryan and seem to be on the cusp on something great, and with young talent emerging from Buffalo and Miami in their rebuilding stages, this division should continue to be highly competitive in some of the biggest markets the NFL has to offer.