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AFC East preview

Shrewd NFL punter/NFL tragic Ian Steven, @deevo82 returns to the blog with his divisional previews. First up, it's the AFC East....

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AFC East

New England Patriots

Let’s start with an easy one. The Patriots are the class of this division and have been since Moses did a David Copperfield at the Red Sea. The partnership of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick is one of the best combinations of quarterback/coach in NFL history. The Pats have never had a losing season since these two great planets aligned with the New England outfit making the playoffs in 10 out of 12 seasons which is ridiculous in a league imbued with the socialist ethics of parity.

Brady has enshrined himself in the conversation as one of the all-time greats but it is his supporting cast where the questions lie. The only other real superstar on offense is tight end Rob Gronkowski who is more brittle than a paper girder and cannot be relied upon to finish a season. His talent is unsurpassed but so is his medical bill. Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman make up a pint-sized receiving core with second year man Kenbrell Thompkins looking to make a big leap outside the hashes in his second year.

Belichick has favoured a running back by committee approach in recent seasons with Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley all looking to gain some playing time. The offensive line are well coached and do not make many mistakes which is crucial if drives are to be maintained but veteran Logan Mankins has been traded to Tampa Bay as I type this which is a blow in terms of veteran leadership although Mankins is getting long in the tooth.
Defense is perhaps the biggest question for the Pats. Vince Wilfork missed most of last season with a torn Achilles tendon. The man mountain is the corner stone for the 3-4 defense and he was sorely missed last season.
The biggest move made in the off season was to add Darelle Revis into the secondary after the all-pro corner failed to mesh with Tampa Bay’s system of play. Revis can shut down half the field when he is healthy so look for Kyle Arrington to have a lot of balls thrown his way as the reputation of the former New York Jet alone is enough to make some QBs think twice.

Miami Dolphins
Just don’t mention Incognito! The Fish had their year ruined last season by a dramatic bullying soap opera which saw Jonathan Martin walk out on the club with Richie Incognito and Mike Pouncey the key instigators in a sustained campaign of abuse against the Stanford man. Martin has now joined former coach John Harbaugh at San Francisco, Incognito is a free agent and has been cleared to return to the NFL whilst Pouncey has a torn hip labrum and is on the PUP list.

It is credit to coach Joe Philben that the club managed to salvage seven wins last season as they could easily have imploded. Third year QB Ryan Tannenhill is expected to have a breakout year this season but it will be difficult with a brand new offensive line and some questionable talent at wide receiver. Mike Wallace was a major free agent disappointment compared to the size of contract he signed whilst Brandon Gibson and Brian Hartline, dependable as they are, are never going to threaten entry to Canton.

The good news for the Dolphins is that free agent pickup Knowshon Moreno has looked sharp in the pre-season and could well be in line for a 1,000 yard rushing season in Florida as the Fish will look to control the ball and the scoreboard, as they will struggle if they are forced to play catch up.

On defense – there has been a shift in philosophy from a 3-4 to a 4-3 which leaves last year’s top draft pick Dion Jordan stuck in a no man’s land. There were rumours that the Eagles were trying to trade for the outside linebacker but the Dolphins have elected to keep him as a defensive end in a position that he is not suited for.

Cameron Wake, Randy Starks and Jared Odrick provide solidity on the line beside Jordan for a defence that will be middle of the pack. The ultimate question – is the defense good enough to stop Brady? The answer is no and that is where Miami falls flat.

New York Jets
Geno Smith is the starter – apparently – with Mike Vick waiting on the sidelines, joining his former offensive co-ordinator from his time with the Eagles, Marty Morninwheg. Smith earned the starter spot last season when Mark Sanchez went down in pre-season with a shoulder injury but a severe lack of a supporting cast left the rookie QB floundering.

The Jets front office made a concerted effort in the close season to add some marquee talent and duly signed speedster running back Chris Johnson from Tennessee and one of Peyton Manning’s go to receivers from last year, Eric Decker. The New Jersey outfit will definitely look to use the run to set up the pass and Johnson should average about 25 touches a game behind a decent offensive line anchored by perennial pro-bowl centre, Nick Mangold.

Rex Ryan’s men had the best defense in their division last year and will be solid once more, especially against the run with Sheldon Richardson and Muhammed Wilkerson anchoring the defensive line. The Jets managed 41 sacks last season and will hope to up their output in that regard as they have a relatively young secondary. Calvin Pryor was their big name draft pick this year who has a hard-hitting reputation coming out of Louisville but he is raw and could be exposed early on in the season.

The Jets are definitely going to be a tough to team to play against but just don’t have enough sparkle to keep up with the Patriots.

Buffalo Bills
It seems like an eternity that the Bills have been woeful. Long gone are the heady days of the 1990s with Jim Kelly leading the New York State franchise into four Super Bowls. EJ Manual is the man behind centre now but the second-year quarterback has been very shaky in the pre-season and is not inspiring confidence in the Orchard Park faithful.

Hope is something much in demand as the death of owner Ralph Wilson has prompted fears that a buyer could come in and move the ball club to a new city with Los Angeles looking on expectantly much to the consternation of the Bills fans who are extremely loyal but they are a small town franchise and money talks in the NFL..

Manuel needs to play a lot better in the regular season if the Bills are to have any hope of returning to their glory days under Marv Levy. One glimmer of hope is the amount of talent in the backfield. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller were already stellar pros but the arrival of Bryce Brown via trade from the Eagles really gives Buffalo a triumvate of talent.

The Bills also have a core of promising receivers. Second-year man Robert Woods has the makings of a good route runner with first round draft pick Sammy Watkins touted as the best receiver to come out of college since AJ Green, but Watkins is nursing some sore ribs that could stifle his effectiveness in the opening few games. Olympic long-jumper Marquise Goodwin also figures to get a lot of playing time in what is a very green set of receivers.

The offensive line received a massive makeover in the draft with Seantrel Henderson, Cyrus Kouandijo and Cyril Richardson all drafted although neither have breached the starting line-up yet, it is only a matter of time as last year’s rookie Cordy Glenn went straight into action at the demanding left tackle spot.

The Bills may well have the makings of a playoff team on offense in a couple of years’ time but they will struggle to knit together in 2014 in time to make a serious assault on the division.

The defense were dealt a massive blow as the impressive Kiki Alonso blew out his ACL as the young middle linebacker looked set to become one of the elite players at his position. Brandon Spikes has been brought into replace the former Oregon player, anchoring a defense that includes Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus.

Doug Marrone’s men are very weak in the secondary and could end up getting blown out in a couple of games, particularly against the Broncos and Packers. If Manuel turns out to be the player GM Doug Whaley thinks he can be – this could be a team to watch out for in 2015.

Verdict
The Patriots are going to win the AFC East yet again unless there is a disaster. Best odds of 1.36 not really worth the risk however.

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