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NFL Pro Football 2014 AFC East Preview

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Fearless Rick's NFL Preview - AFC East

Rick Gagliano | July 16, 2014

AFC East

New England Patriots

2013 Record: 12-4

2014 Expected Finish: 13-3

Winning the AFC East has gotten to be commonplace for the Patriots. The last time they failed to do so was in 2009, when QB Tom Brady missed almost the entire season after suffering an injury in New England's home opener against the Bills.

When healthy, Brady has no equal - except maybe for one of the Manning brothers - and he's expected, as usual, to be calling plays for Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels.

Brady had fewer useful targets than usual last season, missing both tight ends - Brian Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski - for mush of it. Gronk was effective when ready, but he missed almost half the season with injury, though is expected to be at full strength come September.

Danny Amndola and Julian Edelman caught the bulk of the passes, but Stevan Ridley emerged as a potent running back in 2013 and New England can count on him for more production in 2014. The Patriots were third in points scored last season (27.8 per game), and amassed, on average, 129.1 rushing yards. Expect the balanced offense to prevail this season, especially when the Patriots are leading, which should be often.

Defensively, the Patriots ranked 10th overall in points allowed (21.1), despite missing veterans Vince Wilfork and LB Jerod Mayo. Don't expect many teams to try running up the middle this year. New England is poised to be a top five defensive unit if they can meld star cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Bandon Browner into their scheme, which shouldn't be much of a problem.

Last season's 12-4 mark was followed by a monster, 43-22 win over the Colts and then a loss to the Broncos in Denver (26-16) which ended the Patriots' quest for another trip to the Super Bowl.

Conceivably, the Patriots could run the table this season, but are more than likely to run away with the division again, posting a 14-2 or 13-3 mark. Key games include an October 5 meeting with the Bengals and a November 2 game with Denver, both in Foxboro, but they close out the season with Miami, at the Jets and home for the Bills, an easy path to the playoffs.

The Pats were unbeaten at home last year and will be looking to do so again, though it might be a bit tougher this year.


Buffalo Bills

2013 Record: 6-10

2014 Expected Finish: 9-7

Having not made the playoffs this century is a mantle the Bills would like to discard this season. Finally, they seem to have all the pieces in place for a run at the playoffs, but the primary concern will be the health of QB EJ Manuel, who may be a bit too fragile for the read-option offense in Buffalo.

Manuel was injured too often last season to be effective, thus the Bills sunk to 22nd in points scored, at a mere 21.2 per game. That lack of scoring punch left the defense on the field for too many plays, and the resultant ranking of 20th in points allowed (24.3). It also wasn't helpful that the read-option look didn't allow for as many touches by C.J. Spiller, who has the look of an all-pro back. Spiller should get more playing time this season, alternating with workhorse Fred Jackson.

The Bills used their first draft pick to snag another Gamecock, like Spiller, picking Sammy Watkins in the first round. Watkins can disrupt any secondary, and has the speed, hands and route-running skills of a veteran. If the Bills front line can give Manuel time, the offense could really open up this season.

Defensively, Buffalo picked up free agent linebackers Keith Rivers and Brandon Spikes and will transition to a 4-3 look this season, which should aid in stopping the run. Buffalo was second in sacks last year, with 57, so their pass rush is more than sufficient.

After three consecutive seasons at 6-10, Buffalo needs to get off to a fast start and build confidence. The early part of the schedule includes home games against the Dolphins and Chargers, and road meetings at Chicago, Houston and Detroit before an October 12 home tilt with the Patriots.

The best the Bills can hope for is a wild card, because, while they may be as good or better than the Jets and Dolphins, they're no match for the Patriots, who have beaten them seven out of their last eight.


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Miami Dolphins

2013 Record: 8-8

2014 Expected Finish: 7-9

Lots of changes for the Dolphins this off-season, mostly to the coaching staff, which added offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor, and offensive line coach, John Benton.

Knowshon Moreno arrives from Denver to tote the pigskin, but he'll have his work cut out for him with a re-worked offensive line.

In 2013, the Dolphins threw the ball more than almost any other team in the NFL, proving that Ryan Tannehill can withstand a full season of throwing and hits. The Dolphins allowed 58 sacks, tops in the league, a trend that must end if Tannehill is expected to thrive.

Tannehill's favorite targets will be wideouts Jarvis Landry and the speedy Mike Wallace, along with stud tight end, Charles Clay.

Defensively, the Dolphins ranked 8th in points allowed last year, but may not be able to better that mark in 2014. After an 8-8 campaign in 2013, the competition will be tougher.

Overall, the Dolphins look like a real rag-tag bunch which could go either way, but the indication is for more futility. They haven't had a winning record since 2008, the last year they made the playoffs, so 8-8 may be a stretch. Their December 28 home meeting with the Jets may decide whether they make it to .500 or not.

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New York Jets

2013 Record: 8-8

2014 Expected Finish: 5-11

This will be QB Geno Smith's second season as the Jets' full-time starter, and the question marks are popping up everywhere for a team which last made the playoffs in 2010 and has looked anemic since.

What once was one of the top defense in the league slumped to 19th last season, yielding 24.2 points per game, while the offense, despite the sometime heroics of Smith, scored just 18.1 points per game, 29th overall.

Rex Reed and his staff hasn't done much in the off-season to change any of this, besides signing RB Chris Johnson and Philly cast-off Michael Vick. With Vick apparently taking a secondary role to Smith at QB, the situation could become rife with controversy, especially if Smith stumbles as often as he did last season.

Adding to the fact that the Jets don't run the ball particularly well, inconsistency at the quarterback position may spoil the season.

The schedule doesn't help much either, with three straight games against NFC North opponents in weeks 2, 3, and 4 (at Packers, Bears, Lions) and an October 12 visit from the Denver Broncos before their first divisional game, at New England, on Thursday, October 16.

If the Jets make it though Week 7 with a mark better than 3-4, it will have been some kind of miracle and the rest of the season may prove an uphill struggle.

Copyright 2014, 2015, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.

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