2012 NFL Preview: AFC East

Only once since 2003 has a team besides the New England Patriots won the AFC East. That was in 2009, when Tom Brady missed the whole season. That alone tells you how much the Patriots dominate this division, and this year will be no different.

1. New England Patriots, Predicted Record: 13-3

The Patriots have been dominate in this division and as long as they have Tom Brady, that trend is likely to continue. For an already incredible offense, the front office added more weapons in the offseason. Brandon Lloyd reunites with his old offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and could be in for a big season. Add him to Brady’s targets that already include Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. That offense is going to do a lot of damage this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brady throw for 5,000 yards for the second straight season.

The defense added Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower in the draft, but they still are the weak part of this team. The secondary is still below average and it’s hard to forget that they let up some big games to average offenses last year like the Dolphins in Week 1 and the Bills.

Still, the defense can’t hold down the Pats. It’s never been their strength, but Tom Brady and the offense have always been good enough to hold them ahead of their competition. They will be motivated to return to the Super Bowl, and they have a very good chance of doing that.

2. Buffalo Bills, Predicted Record: 10-6

For much of the past decade, the Bills have been a laughing stock in the AFC East and much of the NFL. They got off to a hot start at the beginning of last season, but faded away when Fred Jackson got hurt and the play of Ryan Fitzpatrick went downhill fast. They made big moves on the defensive side though, signing Mario Williams and Mark Andersen while also adding Stephon Gilmore in the draft. The Bills are going to have a dangerous pass rush in 2012, and that could be a big help to get them over the hump.

They can’t go anywhere without their offense though. I’m not sold on Ryan Fitzpatrick being more or less than an average quarterback after what he showed in 2011. He showed flashes of brilliance at times but made way too many bad mistakes the rest of the time. He may or may not have played injured for part of last year, but if he doesn’t perform this year he may find himself being replaced while the rest of the team tries to become a serious contender. I am sold, however, on running back Fred Jackson having a huge year. Before he got hurt in 2011, Jackson had rushed for 934 yards and 6 touchdowns in just 10 games. If healthy, he can have a huge year. They also have CJ Spiller who makes that backfield even more dangerous.

They may not be better than the Patriots yet, but the Bills are on their way. They’ve leaped the Jets and Dolphins in the AFC East, and could be a playoff team in 2012.

3. New York Jets, Predicted Record: 7-9

Mark Sanchez. Tim Tebow. It really doesn’t matter at this point, because that offense looks like it’s in big trouble. Sanchez just isn’t good, and probably isn’t one of the 15 best QB’s in the league. To win in this league, you need somebody who’s at least in the Top 15. Tebow on the other hand, still not a Top 15 QB but I think he should be the starter. His decision making and throwing skills are a little worse than Sanchez’, but he brings more in the running game and may be the best playmaker on their offense. Either way, they’re in trouble. It may be time for them to upgrade at RB too, because for a team that wants to run as much as they do they could use somebody who’s better than Shonn Greene.

The defense is still good, and will keep them in games. They still have good corners and attempted to make their safeties better with the addition of Laron Landry. They still have good linebackers and D-Lineman, and have big hopes for their first round pick Quinton Couples.

4. Miami Dolphins, Predicted Record: 5-11

The Dolphins are one of the many teams who still don’t know who their quarterback will be for the 2012 season, but I’m not sure it matters. This team isn’t going anywhere, so I would play Ryan Tannehill. He’s looked good in the preseason and it would be good to get him experience now. Reggie Bush broke out last year, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him run for 1,000 yards again. If he stays healthy, he’s found a nice place in that offense where I think he’s capable of doing it again. No matter who plays QB for the Dolphins in 2012, they aren’t going to have much to throw too. After cutting Chad Johnson-who was probably the best they had- the Dolphins now have Davone Bess and Brian Hartline at WR. Good luck with that Tannehill.

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