The New England Patriots have won the AFC East in 11 out of the last 12 seasons. So based purely on history, it would seem that they again have the inside track on the division. However, the Miami Dolphins have arisen to offer serious competition, while the Buffalo Bills will also be formidable foes. The New York Jets, on the other hand, appear locked in as the AFC East doormat. Below you can see what to expect from each of these four teams in 2015.
4th in Division: New York Jets; 4-12 W/L Projection
Strengths: New York’s defensive line appears destined to crush opposing signal callers, with D-ends Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson combining with top-10 pick Leonard Williams and the underrated Damon Harrison. It’s not exactly like opposing QBs will pick apart the secondary either, thanks to new additions Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. This defense is certainly good enough to keep plenty of games close for the Jets.
Weaknesses: The main problem for New York will be moving the ball since they don’t have an elite-level quarterback on the roster. Geno Smith, who’s just 11-18 as a starter, is out 6-10 weeks with a broken jaw. Journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick is probably better than Smith, but he’s never been to a postseason game. The running back corp is strengthened with the additions of Zac Stacy and Stevan Ridley, who join Chris Ivory. But teams will likely just stack the box until New York can generate any sort of passing offense.
3rd in Division: Buffalo Bills; 9-7 W/L Projection
Strengths: As good as the Jets D-line is, Buffalo has an even better one with Pro Bowlers Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus all teeing off on QBs. Defensive end Jerry Hughes is also quite good, meaning this unit should again approach their league-leading sack total of 54. These guys aren’t just pass rushers, though, because they also held opposing teams to 106.4 rushing YPG, ranking them just outside the top 10.
Weaknesses: The Bills offense seems set to explode, with the additions of RB LeSean McCoy, TE Charles Clay and utility man Percy Harvin. There’s just one problem: who’s going to lead them? Buffalo still has an open competition going at quarterback, with neither Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel or Tyrod Taylor looking like an impressive option.
2nd in Division: New England Patriots; 10-6 W/L Projection
Strengths: It’s always tough betting against the Patriots, namely because Tom Brady is so good. The jury is still out on whether courts will uphold the 4-game suspension for Deflate-gate. But whenever Brady does take the field, he’s a guaranteed winner, no matter whom he’s throwing the ball to. The 37-year-old threw for 4,109 yards, 33 touchdowns and just 9 interceptions in his 15th season. Oh yeah, and he also has four Super Bowl rings, including the one last year. The same winner billing can be attached to head coach Bill Belichick, who has led the Patriots to 14-straight winning seasons
Weaknesses: New England has plenty of offseason losses to cover up, but the worst are at corner, where Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner have departed. Bradley Fletcher and Tarell Brown were (cheaply) signed to take their places, but they figure to be stop gaps at best.
1st in Division: Miami Dolphins; 12-4 W/L Projection
Strengths: Yet another AFC East team with a great D-line, Miami’s only got better when they signed Ndamukong Suh to a massive 6-year, $114 million deal. Suh should help the Dolphins boost their sack total of 39, but where he’ll really help is in shoring up the run defense, which ranked 23rd in the league. Add in 4-time Pro Bowler Cameron Wake and the possibilities are endless for this unit. And let’s not forget the offense, which, led by QB Ryan Tannehill, added wideouts Greg Jennings, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker along with TE Jordan Cameron.
Weaknesses: Middle linebacker Koa Misi is one of the league’s best at his position. Unfortunately, Miami needs too many other linebackers to fill the losses of Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe. What’s left will be especially bad in coverage situations, meaning the defensive line and young corners must step up to mask the linebacking problems.