Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Tim Tebow! Clearly the rest of the AFC East has no chance of matching the New England Patriots, right?
Not so fast.
It’s a division, from top to bottom, that is becoming more physical which goes against the pass-happy norm throughout pro football. As a result, New England won’t be relying solely on Brady to spread the field and dice up coverage.
On the other hand, some explosive receivers and veterans have entered the division as well. So, we can’t sleep on those passing games. Defensively, the AFC East is not overly impressive, but there are promising aspects.
With that in mind, let’s dive into this first of eight divisional installments previewing the 2013 NFL season.
Even with the drafting of quarterback E.J. Manuel and acquisition of Kevin Kolb, the Bills will have to ride C.J. Spiller. His explosiveness on the ground and ability to dodge in open space must be continuously utilized. At the very least, his presence will draw attention to then set up play-action.
Also, we can’t forget about Fred Jackson to change the pace and rookie receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Goodwin. Now with a complete receiving corps, Steve Johnson won’t be so isolated and Buffalo can create balance to control the tempo. Scott Chandler is a decent tight end as well, which come in handy for additional pass and run blocking as the offensive line is quite young (only Erik Pears is over age 30).
After ranking 31st against the run in 2012, the Bills’ failure to control the line of scrimmage allowed for a deceiving No. 10 ranking against the pass.
That said, Stephon Gilmore’s potential remains unlimited (though he’ll be out until at least Week 6) and Mario Williams will only continue to build on last fall. As long as Jairus Byrd comes around sooner than later, the defense can expect to remain on the upswing. Obviously, actually seeing Byrd on the field come Week 1 must still happen. If not, then anticipate opponents attacking Buffalo downfield earlier in games and more often.
In a nutshell:
Wins will come down to passing game’s production and defense’s ability to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
This year will determine whether Ryan Tannehill is the team’s future under center. After a not-so-bad rookie campaign, the Dolphins have now provided him with a deep threat in Mike Wallace and fellow receiver Brandon Gibson. His development at spreading the field and making pre-snap reads will be key in producing a consistent passing attack.
As for the ground game, Lamar Miller has to make an immediate impact in place of Reggie Bush. With a young signal-caller Miami must establish a running game for balance, however, the offensive line must pick up a boatload of slack after Jake Long’s departure. The good news is, Wallace will likely draw double coverage, which restricts what opposing defenses can do against the Dolphins.
The pass coverage was just unreliable last year. Fortunately, that can be expected to change this year. With stud cornerback Brent Grimes to lock down half the field, his presence will certainly help the front seven get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Rookie defensive end Dion Jordan joins the team, and he is an excellent complement to Cameron Wake. Getting Dannell Ellerbe was crucial as well, and Miami’s front seven remains quite impressive. Provided the coverage forces more turnovers (only 10 interceptions in 2012), this defense has incredible potential.
In a nutshell:
Tannehill must produce when needed, but Miami cannot get overly pass happy either. Defensively, it’s simply about generating turnovers.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
When we think of the Patriots, instantly Tom Brady comes to mind.
Well, for New England to remain the standard in the AFC East, running back Stevan Ridley must be relied on even more. With Wes Welker gone, Aaron Hernandez’s situation and Rob Gronkowski’s health issues, Ridley needs to be the guy. And why not? He averaged 4.4 yards per carry in 2012 and racked up 1,263 yards on the ground. Although Brady has Danny Amendola to count on, he’s nowhere near the slot machine Welker was.
So, as long as Ridley maintains his consistency, New England will move the chains and keep the opposing pass rush in check, along with the threat play action.
A season ago coach Bill Belichick’s defense gave up 271.4 passing yards per game (ranked 29th in the NFL) and 27 passing touchdowns.
Heading into 2013, though, Belichick now has safety Adrian Wilson to help younger playmakers like Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington. The front seven looks to be in great shape as well. The Pats ranked ninth against the run last season, and got good performances from Rob Ninkovich, Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones, Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes.
After forcing a combined 32 fumbles in 2012 (ranked No. 1 in the NFL), replicating that this autumn is realistic given the playmakers residing at each level.
In a nutshell:
The Patriots must have Brady control the tempo by feeding Ridley often. The defense must continue forcing turnovers, which obviously gets the ball to Brady and co.
NEW YORK JETS
Not surprisingly, the quarterback position remains the weak point of the Jets offense.
Now Geno Smith certainly brings the numbers after tossing 42 touchdowns to just six picks during his final collegiate season in 2012, but there’s no guarantee he’ll beat Mark Sanchez out for the starting job. Whoever gets under center, though, doesn’t have receivers to throw to. Santonio Holmes is a veteran, but isn’t the playmaker he once was.
If anything, expect Gang Green to feed the combo of Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory in the backfield. They are the two most experienced running backs on the roster and have the size to push the line and create a respectable play action game.
Darrelle Revis will be extremely difficult to replace, but Dee Milliner’s potential is capable of taking over quickly.
Fellow cornerback Antonio Cromartie still brings the ability to shield half the field, so it’s up to veteran Dawan Landry to make more plays back deep and when rolling down. Up front is where the most improvements are required. The Jets allowed 4.3 yards per carry in 2012 and amassed just 30 sacks. In short, Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson must lead as Quinton Coples is currently out according to Associated Press via USA Today. Without controlling the line up front, Gang Green will be in for another long season.
In a nutshell:
Find an offensive identity on the ground and win the battle up front defensively.
The Pats remain the front-runners heading into the 2013 campaign. Unfortunately for them, Miami and Buffalo have closed the gap recently. It’s also becoming a more physical division as New England must pound the trenches more with Ridley.
The Bills and Dolphins are in a similar spot with youth at the helm and can’t afford to be one-dimensional. As for the Jets, not coughing up turnovers and winning the line of scrimmage has to be the foundation for rebuilding.
1. New England Patriots
2. Miami Dolphins
3. Buffalo Bills
4. New York Jets
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