Patriots a Decade of Dominance!
By Cole Sherratt
For the past decade the AFC East has been dominated by the New England Patriots. In fact the Pats have won a staggering 10 of the last 11 division crowns. Despite the Jets making a strong push in free agency and the Dolphins and Bills making strategic positional upgrades, the 2014 NFL season appears by all accounts to have an all too familiar outcome. I will breakdown the probable and also not so probable potential outcomes of the AFC East Division.
The New England Patriots:
Tom Brady and company are once again the heavy favorites to come out on top in the AFC East. Though the Pats are perennial contenders they seem to have in place what many consider a Super Bowl contending team. Obviously they feature an elite coaching staff and QB. What’s not so obvious is the balance that this offense features. New England posted the 7th ranked offensive attack in 2013. You may think Tom Brady, but they actually were 9th in the NFL in rushing offense and 10th in passing. In addition to that they will be adding a healthy Gronk and another big target WR Brandon LaFell to the mix. The front 7 on defense also gets a boost with the return of Mayo and Wilfolk. The additions of all pro Revis and Super Bowl champion Browner to the secondary the Patriots seem to have a stranglehold on the division. It would take a serious injury to some key players to prevent the Patriots from running away with the division crown. Super Bowl or Bust in New England.
The Miami Dolphins:
Miami fans have some reason for hope. They are seeing progressive steps being made every year from Ryan Tannehill. The additions of T Branden Albert, RB Knowshon , Moreno, and rookie WR Jarvis Landry were all solid offseason moves. That said, the Dolphins still have too many question marks to give the Pats a run for the crown. Tannehill was the most sacked QB in the NFL last year, and though that number should go down this year, he will still be on his backside frequently. Tannehill will also need to be better taking care of the football. The Dolphins defense is always pesky and will need to improve on that knack if they are to contend for a wildcard spot in the AFC playoffs. If Miami is able to protect Ryan Tannehill and he in turn can limit his mistakes. The Dolphins could find themselves in the playoff hunt. Especially if the defense is able to find the consistant level of high play that evaded them throughout the 2013 season.
The New York Jets:
This season very well may mark the end of the Rex Ryan run in New York. The Jets have done a decent job in free agency adding weapons for Geno Smith chapter 2. They have also given him some healthy competition in his rearview mirror by adding QB Michael Vick. Will the additions of RB Chris Johnson, WR Eric Decker, WR Jacoby Ford, and TE Jace Amaro be enough to boost the Jets back to the playoffs? I doubt it! I do foresee an improved Jets offense in 2014 however. Their defense will also remain somewhat of a force under Ryan despite virtually their entire starting secondary going down to long term injuries. I just don’t believe it will be enough to reclaim a spot in the playoff rounds. I believe they will be swept by the Pats, have a hard time with Miami’s balance, and split wins with the Bills. Factor in to that a relatively tough schedule and I believe no playoffs for Ryan and company. If the Jets players want to redeem their coach’s reputation, we are going to need to see a significant improvement in the passing game. If Geno Smith or Michael Vick are able to provide chemistry there, it may open up the running game for Chris Johnson and company. Don’t sleep on the Jets because they have the talent to compete. But I am not too optimistic about their chances.
The Buffalo Bills:
Bills fans unfortunately are going to have to suffer through another roller coaster season. WR Sammy Watkins will come close to filling the void left by WR Stevie Johnson, but the passing game is just too suspect to hang with the rest of the AFC. The solid running game and stout defense will be the only reason Buffalo has a chance at hitting the .500 mark. Unless EJ Manuel explodes on the NFL this season, we should once again find the Bills at the bottom of the AFC East. Hopefully Coach Marrone has an ace up his sleeve because Buffalos GM seems determined to keep the Bills on the fast track to relocation. Keep your head up Bills fans, this is the NFL so one never really knows. I am a big fan of this defense. They were streaky last season, but at times dominant. The key to this bandwagon really is the QB position. I am very interested to see what EJ can do in his second year of command in an offense that featured the NFL’s 2nd ranked rushing attack. The Buffalo Bills have potential, but they always seem to find new ways to lose close games. I anticipate that trend continuing in 2014.
The AFC East may hold a couple of potential Cinderella seasons, but the clock has not run out on Tom Brady just yet. The gap from the top may have closed slightly but I still believe the Patriots to be the heavy favorites once again. If Geno Smith, EJ Manuel, and Ryan Tannehill had struggles against last seasons New England team, how are they going to handle Revis island? I don’t believe any of the three have enough fire power to dethrown the defending division champs. Just how long will this Decade of Dominance last?