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NFL Pro Football 2015 AFC East Preview

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Fearless Rick's NFL Preview - AFC East

Rick Gagliano | July 22, 2015

AFC East

New England Patriots

2014 Record: 12-4 (won Super Bowl XLIX)

2015 Expected Finish: 11-5

OK, Seattle fans, the Patriots are the reigning world champions of professional football only because of one of the most significantly-bad play calls in the history of the league.

With Òbeast modeÓ Marshawn Lynch drooling over the opportunity to ram the ball over the goal line from New EnglandÕs one-yard line, Seattle head coach call for a pass on third down, despite having a time out in his back pocket.

The result - as weÕre all-too-well aware - was an interception and a 28-24 New England victory, followed by all kinds of laudatory praise of head coach Bill Belichick and Super Bowl MVP, Tom Brady. The win was the fourth for the coach-QB combo, but their first since 2005, a span of ten years, which also saw the Patriots play and lose two other Super Bowls (2008, 2012).

But, time marches on and the Patriots certainly canÕt afford to rest upon their many laurels, though the 2015-16 season appears to set up as another in a series of winning seasons for the mighty New England franchise. TheyÕve won the AFC East five straight years, and the last time they didnÕt was when Brady was out for essentially the entire season.

There isnÕt much to say about the prospects for the newly-minted champions except that the rest of the league should expect more of the same. BradyÕs game skills, combined with BelichickÕs planning and attention to detail should provide enough wins to take the division at the very least.

Though Brady may miss the first four games of the regular season (an outgrowth of the absurd Òdeflate-gateÓ scandal), he has appealed the suspension, and, even though Commissioner Roger Goodell has issue a verdict keeping the suspension in place, Brady swears he will continue to fight it. As the regular season approaches, there may be a change, though that would likely be decided by a court of law, rather than the NFL.

Without Brady, there is the chance that the Pats could open the season 0-4, but itÕs a long shot. The Pats open at home against Pittsburgh, a team they can beat with a solid defensive effort. Week two finds them at Buffalo, where hopes for a playoff spot are high, but BillsÕ fans have issues at quarterback. The Patriots host Jacksonville in week 3 and travel to Dallas in week 4. With or without Brady, they can get through at 2-2, easily good enough a start to not worry at all.

New England is at Indianapolis in week 5, but after that, the schedule becomes relatively easy, with only games at Denver (11/29) and home for the Eagles (12/6) tough spots.

It would be a shocker if the Patriots donÕt dominate the AFC East once again, and, considering that Commissioner Goodell has to be thinking about the best outcome for the league as a whole, the chances that he reduces BradyÕs suspension by a game or two are very good.

Miami Dolphins

2014 Record: 8-8

2015 Expected Finish: 10-6

Miami had a fairly successful season in 2014, registering an 8-8 mark for the second straight year.

WhatÕs got Miami fan excited, though, is the success of their offense, ranked 10th in points scored for the regular season, putting up 24.3, on average, against opponents. #1 draft pick, DeVante Parker (Louisville) will add to the targets for Ryan Tannehill, who put up his best numbers in three years as MiamiÕs starting QB.

Tannehill completed 66% of his passes for 4045 yards, 27 TDs and just 12 picks. It was also the third straight season that he played in all 16 games, proving his durability.

Surprisingly, Miami developed a decent running game over the course of the season, despite injuries, as Lamar Miller racked up1099 ads and averaged 5.1 yards per tote.

MiamiÕs offense will be one to watch with the successful return of Knowshon Moreno, who was expected to handle most of the load last season, but carried the ball only 31 times due to injury.

On defense, the addition of Ndamukong Suh (from Detroit) to a healthy bunch up front will provide a solid pass rush and keep opposing quarterbacks on their toes. Miami ranked #20 on defense, allowing an average of 23.3 points per game. If the defense improves and the offense only repeats its 2014 exploits, Miami could be in line for some post-season action.

Key games for the Dolphins are, naturally, those against the Patriots, but the theyÕll have to also handle the Bills, with who they split homes games last year.

ItÕs conceivable that the Dolphins could get off to a 4-0 start before their bye week, since they face, Washington, Jacksonville, Buffalo and the Jets right out of the gate.

Any positive momentum would likely help build towards the second half of the season, when injuries usually mount and the games become more critical. The downside for the Dolphins is that they finish the regular season at San Diego, then home for the Colts and Patriots. All three of those opponents figure to be playoff contenders, so Miami will have to pile up wins early because a third straight 8-8 season isnÕt going to cut it in South Florida.

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Buffalo Bills

2014 Record: 9-7

2015 Expected Finish: 8-8

ThereÕs been nothing but a steady buzz of happiness in BuffaloÕs off-season, centered on the hiring of Rex Reed as head coach after he was fired by the Jets.

BuffaloÕs defense was top-notch in 2014, allowing just 18.1 points per game, good or 4th overall, and better than New England (8th, 19.6), and most of the veterans will be returning, seeking a playoff spot, something which has eluded the Bills for the entirety of the 21st century, thus far.

What had to be frustrating for the Bills and their fans was the utter ineptitude of the offense, at times. Starting QB E.J. Manuel continued to look like a complete bust, playing in just five games and completing only 58% of his 131 throws for 76 catches.

Manuel is proving to be less than a durable commodity, playing in just 15 games over two seasons. Veteran Kyle Orton filled in admirably, despite obvious limitations. Sammy Watkins was a thrill-a-minute in his rookie season, grabbing 65 balls for 982 yards and six TDs, but the rushing game was non-existent as both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller were down at various times with assorted injuries.

With both of them back to good health, thereÕs little reason for anybody to believe the Bills canÕt improve offensively and they likely will. Buffalo averaged just 21.4 points per game and rushed for just 92.6, among the lowest rushing totals in the league.

What everybody is talking about are the successes and potential for a winning season, especially after Buffalo went 9-7 with an injury-ridden offense. Add Rex Ryan to the mix and everything looks good to go except for the quarterback situation. Manuel may not be the answer, and a QB feud is brewing between Manuel, Tyrod Taylor and Matt Cassel.

The troubling aspect is that whichever QB ends up the starter, theyÕre still relatively unproven and not highly skilled, which could signal troubles down the stretch.

BuffaloÕs schedule may be a little tougher than last seasonÕs, but the odd part is they end with three straight games against the NFC East, before closing out at home against the Jets. Week 14, the Bills are at Philly, then travel to Washington, and host Dallas December 27. All of those could be meaningful games and the Bills will have to prove they can win in crunch time, lest the fans revolt.

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New York Jets

2014 Record: 4-12

2015 Expected Finish: 3-13

QB Geno Smith's third season as the Jets' full-time starter will be a make-or-break situation for him and possibly for first-year head coach Todd Bowles. The Jets last made the playoffs in 2010 and since then have become a punching bag for much of the rest of the league. Little wonder Rex Ryan was dismissed. The Jets need some fresh blood, on and off the field, if they expect not to become a cartoonish caricature of a once-proud franchise.

What once was one of the top defenses in the league slumped to 19th in 2013, yielding 24.2 points per game, but rebounded on a yards per game basis to finish sixth overall in 2014. However, in the all-important scoreboard end of things, the Jets allowed even more points per game last season, averaging 25.1, putting them squarely at number 24 in the league.

Rex Reed (and one wonders why he was so sought after, especially by the Bills) has moved on, taking the head coaching job for the Buffalo Bills, a move which many believe will result in two nearly-automatic losses for the Jets, but, while there's plenty of optimism in Buffalo, the Jets surviving Reed's horrific tenure as head coach might be in the mood for some revenge, served, cold, when they meet their division rivals at home on November 12, but especially when they make the annual trek to Orchard Park, on January 3, 2016, ending the regular season.

While it's unlikely that the Jets will be alive for post-season glory is doubtful, the Bills - according to most "experts," will be looking at a playoff spot, so, the season finale for both teams could turn out to be a collasal dud or a spoiler alert.

Since the defense may be marginally better, the offense needs lots of help. The Jets averaged just 17.7 points per game last season, better than only four other teams - Jacksonville, Oakland, Tennessee, and Tampa Bay.

The upside to that part of the story is the Jets get to play two of those offensively-impaired teams, playing at Oakland on November 1, and hosting the Titans on December 13.

Playing all of the NFC East teams doesn't seem too inviting for faithful fans of the Jets, who are likely to be grounded by the Eagles, Dallas and possibly their stadium-sharing neighbors, the Giants. Plus, they are expected to be clobbered twice by New England, something that's becoming irritating to New Yorkers, but, that's just the hand they've been dealt, playing in the AFC East.

If the Jets make it though their first seven games with a mark of 3-4 or better, fans should be hopeful, But, seriously, Geno Smith needs to become more accurate and make better decisions overall. Rookie head coach Todd Bowles has his hands full with a team that's got a shaky QB, a deficient defense and a fan base that may become unruly and ungracious.

Copyright 2015, 2016, 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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