Even though New England is due for some slippage I’m not convinced that anyone else in the AFC East is prepared to make a big enough leap to supplant them as division champs.
The team most likely to chase should be he DOLPHINS, but not primarily because of the addition of DT/NDAMUKONG SUH. The biggest boost for the boys from Miami should come from the further development of QB/RYAN TANNEHILL, who just got paid, as the saying goes. Considering that TANNEHILL was a WR for half of his college career it is not inconceivable that further growth should be expected from him as a QB. A big part of his development will depend on how quickly he can establish some repartee with an almost entirely brand new group of receivers. Familiar names like HARTLINE, CLAY & WALLACE have moved on to teams far north of South Florida. The team traded for KENNY STILLS/WR/Saints, signed GREG JENNINGS/WR as a VFA, drafted DeVANTE PARKER/WR and signed VFA/TE/JORDAN CAMERON. That’s a lot of new blood. Eve returning vets DION SIMS/TE & RISHARD MATTHEWS/WR are only in their 3rd & 4th years in the League. While the passing game develops it would appear as though a strong young stable of RB will be counted on to control the clock and tempo of the games. LAMAR MILLER is the lead dog of the running attack, while DAMIEN WILLIAMS was a pleasant surprise as an URFA last season. This year R/JAY AJAYI could become a key new cog for the RB corps. He can run and catch and block and looks to be a potential interchangeable part with the others. The biggest key by far needs to come from improvement along a young OL, with talent but a very short résumé’. J.D. WALTON is a new back-up piece for POUNCEY at OC. But the only new player who looks like a serious threat to win a job is R/JAMIL DOUGLAS, who played OT as a college senior, but has a longer history at OG and could push DALLAS THOMAS for a starting slot. THOMAS would make a better utility back-up than a starter overall. This group has got to improve in both run blocking and pass pro for TANNEHILL and the rest of the offense to move forward.
The more you look at team stats from 2014 it’s not hard to see why this was an 8-8 team. Their point differential per game was as slim as it could be. They scored an average of 24.3 ppg and gave up an average of 23.3 ppg. The team also landed right near the median point in many other statistical categories. They were a plus-2 on the turnover table.
On the defensive side of the ball the big rebuild is along the DL. 2 Rookies and 3 VFA have been added to the mix in that unit, led of course by Pro Bowl talent NDAMUKONG SUH, who though not likely to be worth his huge Cap figure can take over games at time with his play. R/JORDAN PHILIPS has a chance to earn some major playing time as well and could perform with more impact in the team’s 4-3 scheme than he did on the Nose in college. The LB group is young and physical with 2nd year man CHRIS McCAIN/OLB having elite physical tools. Now he just needs to learn his position. Three new LB should provide a real boost for Special Teams play: VFA/SPENCER PAYSINGER, R/ZACH VIGIL & R/MIKE HULL. The team is trying to become younger and more athletic in the secondary. RCB could be a huge Training Camp battleground to replace a guy named FINNEGAN. R/BOBBY McCAIN, VFA BRICE McCAIN, will try to move past WILL DAVIS for that slot. ZACK BOWMAN/VFA will be a sub-package candidate. R/TONY LIPPETT is being tried as a CB, after playing WR in his final two seasons in college. LOUIS DELMAS could be in his final year as a Dolphin with his eventual replacement being R/CEDRIC THOMPSON, who may shine on Special Teams right away.
This team could pose a threat to the PATS if they get out of the blocks strongly and the PATS struggle if BRADY is suspended for September. But then again finishing the season strong has been the problem under HC JOE PHILBIN. They went 1-3 last December which was a repeat of a 2013 collapse. It seems very probable that unless this team makes the Play-Offs there will be a new headman on the sidelines on game days in 2016.
The BILLS almost made it to the Play-Offs last season and then abruptly saw their head Coach DOUG MARRONE opt out of his contract after constant bickering with some old-guard BILLS front office folks. Now we’ll see if REX RYAN, who moved up the Hudson, can rally the troops forward after MARRONE’s departure. The biggest bad news is that REX finds himself behind the same 8-Ball he was in the Big Apple: he doesn’t really have a franchise QB to lead is team. Clearly E.J. MANUEL was not worthy of being a first rounder back in 2013. MATT CASSEL has been brought in via trade and will be a game manager for a run heavy Offense. The team certainly has a solid RB group in place. At the top of the list as another trade acquisition in LeSEAN McCOY, who gained over 1300 yards last year in Phily. FRED JACKSON is long in the tooth at 34, but can do it all, and should have the legs to fill a back-up role. ANTHONY DIXON is a power runner, who gets most of his playing time on Special Teams and short yardage situations. BRYCE BROWN’s days could be numbered in this group especially if R/KARLOS WILLIAMS flashes the potential he did the past couple of seasons at FSU. It’s too bad the BILLS don’t have a more dynamic QB in place because their receiving corps is loaded with young athletes. Without some nicks and bruises SAMMY WATKINS could have been in the mix for Rookie of the Year in 2014. ROBERT WOODS is an exciting and explosive young wideout as well. And the team has rolled the dice, on REX’s recommendation and brought in PERCY HARVIN, who has so far been as big of a headache for his own team as he is to defend. CHRIS HOGAN is a solid extra piece as well as a solid Special Teamer. They also added TE/CHARLES CLAY from division rival Miami. R/NICK O’LEARY isn’t of ideal size or athletic ability as an ideal NFL TE, but he is a bulldog and REX and his staff should love his work ethic and clutch productivity. The OL added VFA RICHIE INCOGNITO (another ex-Dolphin) and drafted JOHN MILLER/R and both players will get a shot to win starting jobs and form a new starting OG duo. It is possible that the BILLS Offense could feature 6 or 7 new starters on Offense. That’s a bit scary.
REX and DC DENNIS THURMAN will be trying to scheme their Defense to improvement with schemes more than new player talent. The only new names of note on this side of the ball may be CB/RONALD DARBY/R, TONY STEWARD/LB/ST/R, and ALEX CARRINGTON/DE/VFA & URFA/DE/CEDRIC REED.
The team roster is not as young as you might think, which plays into RYAN’s wheelhouse of needing savvy guys who make few mistakes. There are only 8 guys 30 or older, but another 8 are 29-years old. REX wants to win with vets, who make few mistakes, run the ball on Offense and let his Defense win games. I think the lack of a franchise QB will hinder REX again in his new Western New York playground.
Probably bringing up the rear in the East will be the JETS under new HC TODD BOWLES. The house that REX built is being rebuilt and that will take some time. The Offense is bereft of big time weapons. The best offensive players are functional but past their prime. On their 90-man roster 36 players are new to the team. RYAN FITZPATRICK/VFA and BRYCE PETTY/R have been brought in to “compete” with GENO SMITH. But for this team to progress any time soon SMITH has to accelerate his own learning curve. IN his defense the offensive weapons are limited. He does have some new blood to throw to with the introduction of HENRY MARSHALL/T, DEVIN SMITH/R & DeVIER POSEY/T . The TE slot looks promising with JEFF CUMBERLAND & JACE AMARO in tow. Watch out for URFA/WES SAXTON who looks like an interesting slot option. The RB corps is solid, but unexciting. STEVAN RIDLEY/VFA and ZAC STACY/T will try to share carries with CHRIS IVORY, and BILAL POWELL is a very good receiving option. The JETS OL is solid but aging. The fact alone that they had to bring back WILLIE COLON for another go-round gives you an idea of their OL status. MANGOLD, FERGUSON & COLON are all on the wrong side of 30. Thusly, it is important that younger guys step up this season. BRIAN WINTERS hopes to be fully healthy for the season. JAMES CARPENTER/G (26) was signed away from Seattle. Second year man DAKOTA DOZIER will get a serious shot for playing time. A likely project will be R/JARVIS HARRISON/G/T. His size and athleticism are excellent but some fire and consistency need to be developed.
BOWLES made his mark as DC in Arizona by being a master of disguised blitz packages. A flashback rebuild of the jets secondary could produce a unit that has 4 new starters. All-World DARRELLE REVIS is back in town with his Super Bowl ring from a year in New England. He’ll not add a second one this year, but he and ANTONIO CROMARTIE could be the best known couple rematch since RICHARD & LIZ. BUSTER SKRINE/VFA should man the slot, with VFA/MARCUS GILCHRIST holding down one S slot. The only returning starter may be CALVIN PRYOR who was a Rookie last year. This group will have to contain opposing teams passing attacks while BOWLES tries to develop some young pass-rushers in his front 7. Luckily the team won’t have to learn a whole new scheme since BOWLES is a 3-4 guy who luvs blitzing, much like REX. Some newcomers will be given the chance to step up the heat. They are R/LEONARD WILLIAMS/DE, LORENZO MAULDIN/OLB/R and perhaps URFA/DEION BARNES. BOWLES won’t hesitate to give playing time to old vets like JASON BABIN & CALVIN PACE if they show they can still produce, and perhaps BOWLES can light the lamp to get QUINTON COPLES to play like he means it all of the time.
The keys are really quite simple here. GENO SMITH, under OC CHAN GAILEY needs to progress as an NFL QB. A team that was -11 in Turnovers needs to increase takeaways and reduce turnovers. The Offense needs to score more than 17.7 ppg, which was 27th in the League. That’s an awful lot to ask. I don’t see the jets doing much more than acting like spoilers in 2015.
I would be surprised if anyone other than the PATRIOTS wins this division, or for any of these three teams to even make the Play-Offs for that matter.