Photo credit: Keith Allison
Author: Joey Carr
For pretty much every year since the turn of the century the AFC East has been dominated by one team: the New England Patriots. With the exception of a couple of fluke years in the early 2000’s and the 2008 season that saw Matt Cassel take the helm, the Patriots have controlled the AFC East. This is no doubt due to the dynamic duo that is Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Possibly the greatest coach-quarterback combo the NFL has even seen, Belichick and Brady almost effortlessly have their way with their division year in and year out. However, with some significant departures in the offseason for New England and the Deflategate suspension looming, are the stars aligning for the rest of the AFC East? Some massive revamps and key additions have a lot of people thinking: yes.
For starters, each team signed or traded for players that are arguably the best at their respected position. The Buffalo Bills traded for Lesean McCoy, possibly the best running back in the league over the past three years. Last year, Shady was only second to Demarco Murray in touches with 312 carries and third in yards with 1,319. However, they gave up Kiko Alonso, by far their best linebacker and a leader on the Bills scary defense. They also gained a head coach that appears in headlines more than most celebrities, Rex Ryan. The former Jets coach promises to deliver an exciting and “Super Bowl bound” season for the Bills Mafia. The Miami Dolphins attracted Ndamukong Suh, a force to be reckoned with along the defensive front. Suh, one of the best interior defensive lineman and one of the dirtiest players in the league, figures to add to an already formidable front seven that boasts Cameron Wake on the outside. Although, a questionable secondary and linebacker corps could prove costly for the Fins when the season begins. While also signing quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a 4 year $96 million dollar contract extension, the Dolphins look to be a threat to the Patriots for years to come. However, another turnover at the wide receiver position that saw the departure of Charles Clay (replaced with Jordan Cameron), Mike Wallace (replaced with Kenny Stills), and Brian Hartline (replaced with Devante Parker) might be enough to see a slump from Tannehill at the start of the season that could jeopardize their chance at a playoff spot. The New York Jets saw an offseason that lost Rex Ryan but gained a defensive genius in Todd Bowles, the former Arizona defensive coordinator. They also landed a few toys for Bowles to play with in the secondary, namely Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and Buster Skrine. Reuniting Cromartie and Revis is huge not only for the Jets, but the fans as well. The past couple of seasons have been tumultuous for the Jets faithful and a revamped secondary and intimidating front seven, even without Sheldon Richardson, promises an improved season. Of course, there are problems with the quarterbacks in the AFC East, specifically with the Bills, Jets, and surprisingly the Patriots. The Bills have named 5-year vet Tyrod Taylor their starter, but he has yet to prove himself as a solid player. The Jets seemingly always have a problem at quarterback and now with Geno Smith out for at least 6 weeks due to a fractured jaw courtesy of his own teammate, Ryan Fitzpatrick looks to lead the Jets but uncertainty surrounds him, along with the entire Jets offense. And now, the Patriots; Tom Brady will eventually lead the defending champs but time will tell
when he will. Until then, Jimmy Garropolo gets thrust into the spotlight. After a decent 2014 season where he showed glimpses of talent, Patriots personnel feel like he will be the guy to eventually replace Tom Terrific. He has shown promise throughout this preseason but has also shown weaknesses. Depending on the Deflategate decision, the Patriots could start the season with a question mark at the quarterback position for the first time since the Belichick era began.
Time seems to be the tell all with the Patriots and the AFC East. When will Brady start for the Pats? Will the acquisitions made be enough to impact the Pats run at another title? Is this the year another AFC East team knocks off the champs? Only time will tell and answer these questions. However, one thing is certain: Buffalo, Miami, and New York are all gaining ground in the hunt to take down the winners of Super Bowl 49.
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