X-New England Patriots 12-4
Since 2001, the New England Patriots have been the team to beat in the AFC East and that will once again be the case in 2014. Since 2001, New England has won 11 AFC East Division Titles and under Patriots head coach Bill Belichick they are looking for another in 2014. Aside from looking to once again win the AFC East, the Pats ended 2013 with a bitter taste in their mouths. For the second consecutive season the Patriots lost the AFC Championship Game which can be a lonely feeling. But under Belichick, the Pats are not in the business of feeling sorry for themselves.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is set to begin his 15th season in New England. At the age of 37, some folks are attempting to write Brady off, but he still has some gas in the tank and more importantly some zip in his magical right arm.
The Patriots do have some questions about their running game as Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley have some red flags about their durability and ball security. In four seasons with the Carolina Panthers, wide receiver Brandon LaFell was an afterthought, but he could be an improved player in 2014 now that he’ll catching the football from Brady. The Patriots need wide receiver Danny Amendola and tight end Rob Gronkowski to be healthy this season as they’ll each be vital to the Patriots passing game.
Belichick recently shook things up when he traded longtime guard Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But on their offensive line New England still has an offensive tackle by the name of Nate Solder who is rapidly turning into one of the best anchors in the business.
Defensively the Patriots will once again be a motley crew of interchangeable parts, but it will be imperative for a defensive line that features defensive end Chandler Jones to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork returns to the Patriots after missing the majority of 2013 with an Achilles injury and if he is able to regain the form that has made him a five-time Pro Bowl selection it will symbolize big things for the Pats this year.
The Patriots biggest defensive acquisition during the off-season was that of cornerback Darrelle Revis. The Patriots lost cornerback Aqib Talib in free agency to the Denver Broncos, but they didn’t miss out on Revis. Previously Revis was a thorn in the side of the Patriots as he spent the first six years of his National Football League career with the New York Jets. Now Revis has crossed over to the other side of the Boston-New York rivalry and he is still one of the best shutdown corners in the game.
Four of the Patriots first six games this season will be on the road, but Belichick is one of the best head coaches in the business as far as getting his team prepared for a challenge and another deep playoff run should be on the horizon in Foxboro.
New York Jets 8-8
In the current National Football League it isn’t that often that a head coach is able to retain his job after three consecutive seasons with a playoff appearance, but that doesn’t apply to New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan. In Ryan’s first two seasons with the Jets he led the team to the AFC Championship Game. But since then Gang Green is 22-26 and Ryan apparently has nine lives. Unlike the past three seasons the Jets have a better chance to make the postseason in 2014.
Last season the Jets were 25th in total offense in the NFL, but they are hopeful that things will be different this season. As a rookie in 2013, Jets quarterback Geno Smith threw 12 touchdowns while serving up 21 interceptions. Ryan and Jets general manager John Idzik signed veteran quarterback Michael Vick to push the youngster Smith. After gaining 2,006 rushing yards in 2009, running back Chris Johnson has been unable to come close to matching that production. The Tennessee Titans gave up on Johnson, but the Jets see a player that still has some explosion in his legs. Last season wide receiver Eric Decker was one of quarterback Peyton Manning’s top targets with the Denver Broncos. But Decker is going to find out real quick this season that he is no longer playing with Manning.
But as long as Ryan is the head coach of the Jets, they will have one of the best defensive units in the NFL. The Jets defensive line can be a force this season if Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson are able to apply pressure on opposing offenses. But the Jets are still thin at linebacker and in the secondary which could hamper them this season.
Three of the Jets first four games are at home this season. But if Gang Green gets off to a slow start you will hear the boo birds in New York looking for the team to can both Ryan and Smith.
Miami Dolphins 7-9
The Miami Dolphins have the talent at their offensive skill positions to be a playoff team this season, but that alone won’t be enough. After the “bullying scandal” destroyed the Dolphins offensive line last season, the team really didn’t do a great job in upgrading their line in the off-season and it is important for Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill to be protected.
In two seasons in the National Football League, Tannehill has progressed as passer and he is poised to become the first Dolphins quarterback since Dan Marino in 1992 to pass for more than 4,000 yards in one season. But just like the days in Miami when Dan Marino was the quarterback, the current Dolphins are unable to run the football as they were 26th last season in rushing which puts more pressure on Tannehill and the passing game to produce. If Tannehill begins this season as the starting quarterback in Miami it will be the first time since 2003 that the Dolphins would have had the same starting quarterback for three consecutive seasons.
Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin was hopeful that second year defensive end Dion Jordan would be able to offset defensive end Cameron Wake, but that will have to wait as Jordan has been suspended for four games by the NFL after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
With games against divisional rivals in the Patriots and Buffalo Bills in the first two games of the season, it will be penthouse or outhouse for the Dolphins. But if the Dolphins were to miss the postseason for a third consecutive year it could mark the end of Philbin’s tenure in South Florida.
Buffalo Bills 6-10
The Buffalo Bills have the longest current streak in the National Football League without a trip to the postseason. 1999 was the last time that the Bills played in the postseason and they are hopeful that things will change in 2014. Since their last postseason appearance the Bills have only had one winning season and they are trying to end a stretch where they have had five consecutive seasons in which they’ve lost at least 10 games.
Bills head coach Doug Marrone is entering his second year in Buffalo and any success that he is going to have starts with his quarterback EJ Manuel. Manuel is entering his second season as the Bills quarterback. In 10 starts last season for the Bills, Manuel had a 58.8 completion percentage to go along with 1,927 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. Marrone is hopeful that Manuel is ready to take the next step in his progression which will include completing 65 percent of his passes.
The Bills traded up in the first round of last spring’s NFL Draft to select wide receiver Sammy Watkins whom the people in Western New York are very high on. At 6’1″, 211 lbs., Watkins comes to Western New York as a three-time All-American from Clemson University and he is a burner. Because of Watkins’ potential, the Bills traded wide receiver Steve Johnson to the San Francisco 49ers. Watkins has the ability to be the first Bills wide receiver to consistently command a double team since the days of Eric Moulds in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.
Last season the Bills had the tenth ranked defense in the National Football League and they will have a new defensive coordinator this season in former Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz that will look to make this defensive units one of the toughest in pro football. With defensive tackle Kyle Williams, defensive end Mario Williams, and defensive end/outside linebacker Jerry Hughes leading the way the Bills can rush the quarterback with the best of them in football and Schwartz will look to turn them loose in 2014.
The first five games of the upcoming season will be important for the Bills as they will only face one team that had a winning record in 2013 and it will be important for Buffalo to get off to a good start if they are going to end their long playoff drought.