AFC East Preview: Does The Patriot Reign Continue In 2014?
The New England Patriots have won the AFC East 10 times in the 12 years since the NFL realigned in 2002 to eight divisions of four teams apiece. That doesn’t even include the Patriots’ 2001 run to a Super Bowl title. The reign of head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady has to end sometime, doesn’t it? Is this the year?
Here’s a concise breakdown of all four AFC East teams, and concluding with a prediction on how each team will fare against their number on the Las Vegas win futures.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Offense: The health of tight end Rob Gronkowski looms over this entire unit. Even with Tom Brady at the helm, the decimation of the receivers’ corps resulted in a Patriot attack that became more about ball control and game management. Brady, as would be expected, executed that as well as any quarterback, but is it stating the obvious to say that when all Tom Brady can do is manage the game, that his skills are being under-utilized?
Defense: It was defense that keyed New England’s three Super Bowls-in-four-years run of 2001-04, and after spending much of the ‘00s and early ‘10s as a defensive sieve, this side of the ball is again looking a good shape. A front seven that’s already solid gets Vince Wolfork and Tommy Kelly back from injury on the defensive front. The secondary, which already has a terrific free safety in Devin McCourty, now gets an elite corner in Darrelle Revis.
Offense: Two rookies are projected to start on the offensive line, so we’ll have to see if Miami can run the ball effectively, even with Knowshon Moreno having taken his talents to South Beach. The receiving corps is decent, if unspectacular, though if Mike Wallace returns to his Pittsburgh form, it would be a big jump up. But ultimately, your assessment of this offense is simply going to be about whether you think Ryan Tannehill is any good. I’m not a believer.
Defense: Cameron Wake keys a solid defensive front, but there are a lot of question marks in the secondary. Brent Grimes is solid at one corner, but the other side is up in the air and safety is a problem. The linebackers are a weak point. Wake will make his share of plays and this team will stop the run, but this has the look of a defense that will give up a lot of third-and-eight conversions.
NEW YORK JETS
Offense: Will Geno Smith really be “ten times better” at quarterback, as new backup Michael Vick asserted this week? No he won’t, and it won’t matter if Vick comes in if someone in the skill position supporting cast doesn’t step up. There are just no playmakers in this group. D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold are credits to the offensive line. But as I much as I believe in the primacy of line play, if your left tackle and center are the only two players worth talking about, you probably aren’t scoring many points.
Defense: How far can Rex Ryan and a defensive line carry the Jets? That’s what this season boils down to. The three-man front is solid, but the linebacking corps is filled with players in decline—Calvin Pace, David Harris, and Quinton Coples. The secondary isn’t very good. It’s going to take all of Ryan’s defensive savvy to make this defense good enough to win.
Offense: This offense is just really bad. C.J. Spiller is a good player, but has absolutely no support. I liked the draft pick of Sammy Watkins at wideout, but I don’t believe in E.J. Manuel to get him the ball and I don’t believe in the offensive line to protect Manuel.
Defense: I won’t say this defense is really bad, but it is frighteningly average. When you combine that with the fact that the offense is going to put them in bad situations all year, it’s going to result in an ugly statistical performance. Give props to Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus up front, but the back seven is a sea of mediocrity.
TheSportsNotebook’s final predictions will come just prior to the September 4 regular season opener. For now, we’ll begin with simply picking Over or Under on each team’s NFL win prop.
New England (10.5): Normally, the Patriots have a number so unreasonably high that you have to take the Under. This year that’s not the case. Asking this team to go 11-5 or better fits the historical pattern of Brady and Belichick, and with the best defense Foxboro has seen in several years, that pattern should continue. Take the Over.
Miami (7.5): This is a good tight number, and I’m going to go Under. I think Miami’s upside is 9-7, but the low side is 6-10. That leaves a little more maneuvering room on the negative side of the number.
NY Jets (7.0): I respect Ryan’s coaching enough to give the Jets a chance to make it to .500, but I just can’t predict it. I could easily buy the Jets at 7-9 and getting a push, but not higher. And if the season gets away and Ryan becomes a lame duck, it will get ugly fast. I’m taking the Under.
Buffalo (6.0): Given that I just wrote that this team has only three players worth talking about, there’s no way I think that they could win seven games, which is what would be required to actually cash on the Over. I’ll be shocked if they break even at six wins. Buffalo could be the worst team in the NFL, and I’m obviously going Under.
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