2013/14 NFL Preview: AFC East
With the National Football League teams completing their OTA’s and preparing for the start of training camps in just about a month (the Dallas Cowboys start on July 21 and the Detroit Lions on July 23), it is time to start taking a look at the upcoming NFL season. As we all remember, the Baltimore Ravens rode the arm of quarterback Joe Flacco to the Super Bowl XLVII championship over the San Francisco 49ers, but the 2013/14 NFL season will begin with no clear cut favorite for taking down the Lombardi Trophy.
In the first of eight segments, we’ll take a look at the individual conferences, the major moves in the offseason and predict where the teams will finish at the end of this season. It’s time to get excited about some football and we will start with the American Football Conference’s (AFC) East Division.
New England Patriots
Long the dominant team in the AFC East, the Patriots will be facing a tough task as they enter the upcoming season. The major loss for the team was the dependable Wes Welker (who signed a free agent deal with the Denver Broncos), but the Pats seem to have replaced him with another cut-from-the-same-cloth receiver in Danny Amendola (from the St. Louis Rams). One thing working against Amendola is his injury history but, if he can stay healthy for an entire season, he could adequately step into Welker’s shoes.
Another big issue for the Patriots will be the multitude of problems that are affecting their star tight ends. Since the close of last season, Rob Gronkowski has gone through five surgeries (on his left forearm and his back) and it is a question as to whether he will be able to start the season with the team. More problematic are the current legal issues that surround his partner in the Pats’ two-TE setup, Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez is facing potential obstruction of justice charges regarding a homicide on his property and any extended legal consequences (a trial, jail time) would definitely have an impact on the team.
This might be the most difficult year for Darth Hoodie (otherwise known as head coach Bill Belichick) and his not-so young apprentice Tom Brady. Fortunately, they are in the AFC East, where the other teams are so far behind them that they should still win, at the minimum, the division crown.
Prediction: First (Record 10-6)
New York Jets
The saga of the New York Jets in 2012/13 read like a horror story. Losing shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis early in the year devastated their defense and the signing of (insert his position here) Tim Tebow only served to be a distraction to the team throughout the season. Perhaps looking over his shoulder, Matt Sanchez – he of the consecutive AFC Championship Games in his first two years – suffered through his worst season as a pro.
Things are a bit brighter this year as the Jets look to right the ship. Gone are both Revis and Tebow and, while head coach Rex Ryan has given a vote of confidence to Sanchez to start the year, the Jets front office drafted quarterback Geno Smith from West Virginia to provide some heat at the position. It is possible that, if Sanchez falters this year, Ryan will be quicker to yank him for Smith than he was in 2012 for Tebow.
This is a penultimate year for Ryan, who is in the final year of a five year contract. He has to get the Jets to perform (and with arguably the worst cast he has had during his tenure), otherwise he could be heading to the unemployment line. While a winning record might be enough, it won’t be to get them in the playoffs.
Prediction: Second (Record: 9-7)
Buffalo struggled last year to a 6-10 record, leading to a complete house cleaning for the team. New head coach Doug Marrone will be looking to build on that dubious past and it does appear they are headed in the right direction. Drafting quarterback E. J. Manuel from Florida State was an excellent step and, in case he falters, the team signed free agent Kevin Kolb to a contract.
While they won’t make much noise this year, the Bills are looking as though they could make a comeback at some point. Still, it won’t be enough this year to get them into any position to make a run at the playoffs.
Prediction: Third (Record: 8-8)
The Dolphins have made the biggest moves in the division, looking to build an offense around quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s shotgun arm. They picked off a quality wide receiver in Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace (through free agency), who is joined by Dustin Keller at tight end. Although they lost running back Reggie Bush (to the Detroit Lions) and left tackle Jake Long, the offense should be an entertaining one for the fans in South Beach.
Where the issues arise is on the defense. Although they picked up another pass rusher in Dion Jordan in the draft to team with Cameron Wake, the losses of linebacker Karlos Dansby and cornerback Sean Smith leaves plenty of questions as to how the Dolphins will stop anybody. It could be a year of 42-38 games in Miami, exciting for the fans but a heart attack in the making for head coach Joe Philbin.
The schedule is a brutal one for the Dolphins, however. Facing three division champions (including the defending champion Ravens) in the first five weeks will get them off to a slow start. Add in late season matchups with both the Steelers and the Patriots and, although they have made some excellent moves, it could be a long year for the Dolphins.
Prediction: Fourth (Record: 6-10)
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