[tps_title]Is the AFC East becoming the NFL’s Most Threatening Division?[/tps_title]
Ndamukong Suh and Jordan Cameron are on the Dolphins. Brandon Marshall and Darrelle Revis have revived the Jets. LeSean McCoy and Percy Harvin join Rex Ryan with the new-look Bills. The teams of the AFC East have been making moves recently; moves that are changing the dynamic of the division and possibly bolstering each team to compete with the reigning Super Bowl champion, Patriots. Is the AFC East becoming the most dangerous division in the NFL? By all appearances, it certainly could be.
Usually an NFL division has at least one team that is not competitive — a team that others want to play, that they note on the schedule should be an easy win. Maybe once a year, a division emerges differently. It is a division in which every team has potential to be a force. In the past few years, there have been multiple of these “power” divisions in the league. Last year, the AFC North was the strongest division in the NFL. It consisted of three playoff teams — the Steelers, Bengals, and Ravens — and a team in the Cleveland Browns that was in the playoff picture for much of the year and finished just one game below .500. The previous year, the NFC West had three teams finish with over 10 wins, the Seahawks, 49ers, and Cardinals, and the Rams finishing 7-9, yet with one of the scariest pass rushes in the league. These divisions have left other teams scared. They do not want to have to play through the four tough opponents on their regular season. The divisional games between the forces are brutal, making for a good show every time they hit the field. The AFC East, through free agency, has become a leading candidate to be next years anomaly. Each team can become something great.
THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
The Patriots are the easiest case to make, coming off a Super Bowl Championship and led by the always outstanding Tom Brady. Despite losing three centerpieces of their defense in Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, and Vince Wilfork, they are in position to have yet another terrific season. It is as simple as this: as long as the Patriots have Brady and Bill Belichick, they will be good. Since the duo united in 2001, they have led the Patriots to 12 out of 14 division titles, six Super Bowl appearances and four victories, an unprecedented run of success. Together, they run an offense that works like a well-oiled machine. The offense in so easy for them that the players needed to run it are, in a sense, interchangeable. At the same time, they have Rob Gronkowski, perhaps the top tight end in the league. As for their defense, the Patriots still have their core of young stars in Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower, Jaime Collins, and Devin McCourty. Though they lost their two star cornerbacks, Belichick has a way of making the best of everyone. Logan Ryan, Alfonzo Dennard, and Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler, alongside McCourty and Patrick Chung, should be able to give the Patriots at least an average passing defense. All these guys, plus getting back their field-general in Jerod Mayo, will give the Patriots defense enough willpower to allow their offense to win games. The Patriots will once again be an NFL superpower.
THE MIAMI DOLPHINS
The Miami Dolphins were one of the most average teams in the NFL last year. As seen in this reddit post, the team had a middle of the road offense, middle of the road defense, and were led by a middle of the road QB. This offseason the Dolphins made a splash. They added one of the best defensive players in the entire NFL in Ndamukong Suh. Suh is a game-changer who can single-handedly ruin an offense’s day. Putting him next to 4-time Pro-Bowler, Cameron Wake, makes for a scary pass-rush. Adding these guys to a solid secondary containing second-team All-Pro, Brent Grimes, and a solid safety duo of Reshad Jones and Louis Delmas, will make for a very stout defense. On the offensive side, the ‘Phins are looking to improve massively. Ryan Tannehill is already very solid and is rapidly improving. As for who he has to throw to, the Dolphins pretty much parted ways with most of their targets and replaced them with younger players who have more potential. Troubled receiver, Mike Wallace, has been shipped away and 22-year old speedster, Kenny Stills, obtained in a trade to replace him. Charles Clay was taken by the Bills only to be replaced by former Pro-Bowler, Jordan Cameron. Alongside last-year’s rookie surprise in Jarvis Landry, Tannehill seems to have some solid targets for years to come. With the recent emergence of Lamar Miller, Miami is in good position to score some points next year. Miami’s additions have definitely pushed them out of average into the “good” range. They will provide solid competition for any team next year and look to steal away a division title from the Pats.
THE BUFFALO BILLS
The Bills are relevant again. They started off this offseason with a bang by adding one of the league’s biggest characters in new Head Coach Rex Ryan. Ryan alone makes the team something to pay attention to. He is a defensive genius, having just transformed the Jets defense into a force for the past six years. Buffalo already has some of the best defensive talent in the league. Their front four is made up of four legitimate All-Pro candidates in Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, and Jerry Hughes. Their corners, Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore, each had great years last year and should lead a very solid secondary. If there is one thing Rex Ryan loves, it is a good pass rush and a solid secondary, so he should have a field day with opposing offenses. On the offensive side of the spectrum, the Bills have completely changed. Rex is a ground and pound type of guy, so they signed Ricky Incognito to bolster their offensive line and traded for LeSean McCoy, one of the best running backs in the game. Ryan has never had a running back the caliber of LeSean McCoy yet Ryan consistently produces one of the top rushing offenses in the league, so there will be a lot of rushing yards thrown around in Buffalo. As for the passing game, Percy Harvin has been signed to a low risk deal (1 year, $6 million) along with Charles Clay, a potential star tight end. Pairing them with two young, highly talented receivers in Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods makes for quite a receiving core.The quarterback position is still in question, with Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor, and EJ Manuel all having a chance at winning the position, yet with receivers like that and such a prolific running game, the quarterback’s job is much easier. Greg Roman, former 49ers’ OC, has been hired to run the new unit. With the Bills potentially having the top defense in the NFL next year along with a dangerous run game, the Bills are poised to make a run at their first playoff spot since 1999.
THE NEW YORK JETS
The Jets are the most interesting of the crowd. After four years of being the joke of the league, the Jets are a new team. Outgoing Rex Ryan has been replaced with the reserved Todd Bowles. Conservative GM John Idzik has been dumped for spendthrift Mike Maccagnan. Along with the new personnel comes new players. Last year, the Jets were a defensive team. Their terrific defensive line, consisting of three stars in Sheldon Richardson, Damon Harrison, and Muhammad Wilkerson, was one of the best in the league. Their rush defense was 11th in the league and they consistently contained some of the league’s best. Their problem was that their secondary was atrocious. Bad signings and unfortunate injuries forced a group of no-names to be trusted to guard some of the games best receivers. As predicted, it did not end well with the pass defense letting up many big plays and only getting six interceptions all year. Maccagnan addressed the issue with the signings of Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Buster Skrine, and Marcus Gilchrist, making their new secondary one of the best in the league. With the solid duo of Demario Davis and Davis Harris patrolling the middle, and Todd Bowles at the helm, the Jets defense is suddenly one of the league’s very best. Last year, the Jets offense was a big problem as well. Their rushing offense was actually one of the top in the league and should continue to be good with bruiser Chris Ivory being paired with Bilal Powell or possibly a future rookie. However, their passing offense was last in the league in yards and third to last in passing touchdowns. Geno Smith and Mike Vick struggled mightily all year. This year, Chan Gailey has been brought in to help. This is the same guy who made Ryan Fitzpatrick look like a Pro-Bowler and they brought just the guy in, trading a late-rounder for Fitzpatrick. Also, as much as people hate to hear it, Geno Smith still has a lot of potential, coming off a perfect passer rating in his final game. Whoever starts next year, they should finally not have a problem with targets. With the addition of Brandon Marshall, who may be the one of the best receives the Jets have ever had, the Jets now have a solid receiving core. Eric Decker can move back to his natural role of a number two receiver, Jeremy Kerley can still produce in the slot, and young tight end, Jace Amaro, has the potential to become a great player. Chan Gailey needs to be middle of the pack on offense at the worst, this New York Jets defense will keep them in games. The offense has to do just enough, & whether you like it or not, can now limit the great offenses. With a great defense and at least average offense, the Jets could do some damage. The new era of the Jets is here and they are looking to shed their old persona and become a serious contender for the playoffs.
Overview: Clearly, each team in the AFC East has potential to make the playoffs. With many players and even coaches switching within the division and every team becoming competitive, the rivalries between each team has strengthened. Every inner-division game will be an intense battle. Look for tension to flow as every team legitimately competes for the playoffs. The AFC East is playing the NFC East and AFC South this season, and their teams are most certainly not looking forward to it because they are ready to fight and win. This season, the AFC East is certainly the NFL’s most threatening division and anyone watching their teams should be ready for a great show.