When you think about football over the past few years, the AFC East has dominated the AFC like no other division. Since 2002 the AFC East has had at least one representative in the game every year except for 2003 and 2006. That spells dominance when you look at the competition. The AFC East has plenty of star power on both sides of the ball and there is never an easy week of football within the division.
The Buffalo Bills are the upstart team in the division. Last year the Bills started out on fire. The Bills started the season with a 5-2 record, positioned to make the playoffs, before losing eight of their final nine games, eliminating them from the playoffs.
Wide receiver Stevie Johnson set a franchise mark as the only receiver in Bills history to record two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
In the first seven games of the season (of which the Bills won five), the Bills had a +9 turnover differential (18 takeaways, 9 giveaways); from Week Nine until the end of the season, the Bills gave the ball away 21 times, with only 12 takeaways. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick started the season strongly, posting a 97.8 passer rating and a 14/7 touchdown-interception ratio through the first seven games; in the final nine games, Fitzpatrick threw ten touchdowns, and 16 interceptions, with a 66.5 quarterback rating in that span. His 23 total interceptions were the most thrown by any quarterback in the league in 2011. He threw only 5 interceptions total in the Bills' six wins, and 18 in their ten losses. Bills wide receiver David Nelson stated that Fitzpatrick was injured by Redskins linebacker London Fletcher in Week Eight, the last win before the losing streak began.
The Bills should be a little better next year on the defensive side of the ball as they had a great draft. The Bills added depth by picking up Marcel Darius (DT) from Alabama in round 1, Aaron Williams (CB) from Texas in round 2, Kevin Sheppard (MLB) from LSU in round 3, and D’Norris Searcy (S) from UNC to sure up their defense. They also added three more defensive players in rounds 6 and 7. All these guys will need to step in an contribute immediately if the Bills are to be contenders in the conference.
Projection – 3rd Place
The Dolphins were disappointing during the 2011 season. Excitement reached fever pitch in July for Dolphins fans when they signed running back Reggie Bush to a two-year deal. Many have felt that Bush has never lived up to the #2 overall pick at the New Orleans Saints. Whilst Bush filled plenty of highlight reels with his returns and exciting plays, he's never really established himself as an every down back.
Throughout this past season, Bush has shown that he can be the type of running back that both he and the Dolphins crave for him to be. He rushed for over 100 yards in the course of three consecutive weeks, and most of those yards had come in the middle of the field. This doesn’t mean he has lost any of his excitement.
The Dolphins defense ranked fifth last season. With the success of 2010 signings of linebackers Karlos Dansby and Cameron Wake, great hopes were held for an even bigger improvement this season. Inexplicably, however, things went downhill from the start of the season, beginning with Tom Brady’s demolition job in Week 1. Poor tackling and blown coverage were all too common in those first seven weeks. They did return to form by the end of the year, partly due to necessity and also the development of a strong rushing game to help keep them off the field.
A new coach, quarterback, and identity should be refreshing in Miami. Also the addition of Chad Ochocinco to replace Brandon Marshall should also provide for a little excitement. They also drafted Ryan Tannehill to compete for the starting quarterback job against Matt Moore and David Garrard as well as Jonathan Martin to bookend Jake Long on the offensive line.
Prediction – 4th Place.
New England Patriots
When you discuss the Patriots, there is only one place to start… Tom Brady. The Patriots were once again one game away from being World Champs again. They made a lot of big moves last year and took a few risks on players like Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth (neither panned out) but it didn’t matter as the Patriots were still the cream of the crop in the AFC East last season.
The defense was still problematic for the success of the team and they were still able to win lots of games despite the defense. You had to know that Bill Bellichick was going to address the defense this offseason as a defensive minded coach will not let that continue to happen despite the success the team had.
The Patriots chose all defensive players and one wide receiver with their picks in the draft in April. I suspect that the message was permeated throughout the locker room as well. Chances are the Patriots defense will be better and physical in 2012.
Prediction – 1st Place.
New York Jets
The Jets come into the fold with the most turnover as last season was a mere disappointment. The Jets lost their identity as they became a pass first team instead of a physical smashmouth team that they prided themselves in being. Part of the problem was the quarterback play. Mark Sanchez has been a little disappointing as he hasn’t been the dominant player he was projected to be. The Jets sensed it too and went out and made a deal to bring Tim Tebow to New York to add a little competition to the team.
The Jets will also need to get healthy up front. Last year they played with many different offensive lineman combinations. They will also need to get back to being physical on defense. They couldn’t stop the run and the pass defense was sloppy to say the least.
The Jets hope to have addressed some of these concerns in the draft this offseason. They got the defensive end they wanted in Quentin Coples from UNC. They also addressed the speed at wide receiver with the addition of Stephen Hill from Georgia Tech. They also added depth at running back to help replace veteran LaDanian Tomlinson who retired this off season and help at safety as each of the last two seasons, a safety has gone down.
Prediction – 2nd Place.
1st – New England Patriots
2nd – New York Jets
3rd – Buffalo Bills
4th – Miami Dolphins