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The Road To The Super Bowl, AFC East
by Wayne Root - 08/07/2012
This is a continuing series of Conference Previews as the 2012 NFL Season is just one week away from the start of NFL Preseason 2012. As the season progresses, I will be updating these predictions- as upsets and "key" injuries can change the course of action in a nano-second. There have been some off-season trades and the chemistry and the locker-room antics will be closely monitored during the two-a-day practices in the heat of August. This early season guide will allow you to stay updated on last season's strengths and weakness, and what lies ahead for each team this season.
Things will remain the same at the top. But the rest of the Division will be fun to follow. The staff, fans, media and players will all weigh in at some point during the season with the Sanchez vs Tibow ordeal in New York. In Buffalo, they may have the best front 4 in the NFL so it's up to a Harvard guy at QB to lead them to the promise land. And in South Florida, a new coach and a rookie QB looking over Matt Moore and David Garrard's shoulder can not be all that great. But we are sure to see Ryan Tannehill sometime this season!!
NEW ENGLAND---The 2012 AFC East leaders are expected to once again be New England. The Pats have won the AFC East every single year that QB Tom Brady has stayed healthy, and there is just no reason to believe that there will be any exceptions this year. Rob Gronkowski's frat boy lifestyle off the field is proving to be the talk of New England, when instead, people should be talking about how improved the defense will be. It's not hard to believe the Patriots made it as far as they did last year, mainly because of their dynamic offense, but this year, they might be just as dynamic on defense. Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower and Jake Bequette were all drafted early in hopes of fixing a weak pass-rush. Mark Anderson and Andre Carter couldn't be counted on last season, so it was smart to load up on talent when they had the chance. The Brady Bunch has a fantastic offense that just doesn’t quit, and both TE Rob Gronkowski and TE Aaron Hernandez should once again be in for great years. The offense might have gotten even better with the addition of WR Brandon Lloyd to help stretch the field, which might set up an even bigger year for WR Wes Welker, one of the best possession receivers that the league has to offer. QB Tom Brady had his troops in the Super Bowl last year, and with TE Rob Gronkowski and TE Aaron Hernandez leading the way for the passing attack, it really feels like it is only a matter of time until more of the all-time passing records fall by the wayside. New England's schedule seems awfully easy this season, as its two toughest games appear to be Week 3 against Baltimore and Week 15 against San Francisco. It's going to be hard to knock the Patriots out of the AFC East lead, as they play five home games during the second half of the season. They do travel to England this year to play the Rams, but with a bye the following week, the travel effects shouldn't linger. The questions that are still here are on the defensive side of the ball, but in the end, with the way that the Brady Bunch was getting up and down the field, there might not be a team out there that has a shot of competing with the Pats in the AFC East in 2012.
NEW YORK J=E=T=S--- are certainly considered longshots at best. 2011 was a fall from grace for the Jets. After appearing in back-to-back AFC Championship Games, the playoffs were out of reach, and an above-.500 record was too much to ask for. Where does the blame lie? In the offense and the pass-rush? QB Mark Sanchez now has some pressure in the form of QB Tim Tebow, but when you look at the rest of what the Jets really accomplished in the offseason, you really can't be all that impressed. The biggest offseason move that New York made was picking up QB Tim Tebow, and that’s not a good sign knowing that a backup quarterback is taking all of the headlines. Will newly-acquired Tim Tebow be the answer when Sanchez is yanked, or did his luck run out when he left Denver? DB Darrelle Revis is reportedly unhappy with his contract once again and is threatening yet another holdout, and offensively, we just don’t know if new OC Tony Sparano really has enough weapons to work with. WR Braylon Edwards is largely by himself out there, especially with WR Plaxico Burress moving on. We do think that drafting DL Quinton Coples will help out the pass rush, but aside from that, the rest of the defense will only go as far as the blitz schemes of Head Coach Rex Ryan will take it. Do look out for new OC Tony Sparano though, who might be a difference maker with his Wildcat attack with Tebow at the helm.The running game lost the services of RB LaDainian Tomlinson, who retired in the offseason as well. Can QB Mark Sanchez step up his game? If he can, New York will have a shot of making the postseason. If he doesn’t though, it could be Tebow Time in a hurry, and that might ultimately be what ends up being the death of this team if the locker room divides. This year marks the fall of the Jets. Buffalo will take over second place in the division, and the Jets will be trying to keep their head above water as they finish five of their final eight games on the road. They only play two divisional games during the second half of the season. Early division games spell trouble, because sometimes, teams need longer than others to gel.
BUFFALO BILLS---Hopes are high this year for the Bills but it's clear that they aren't going to be a team the oddsmakers like to back.Buffalo got off to a strong start a season ago, but it fizzled out in a hurry when the luster on QB Ryan Fitzpatrick wore off. The good news is that the running game should once again be awfully dangerous with RBs Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller. Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Mark Anderson and Marcell Dareus—what a monster of a front four. I would have a hard time naming a better unit. Buffalo has spent a good amount of time upgrading its defense, but one area that still makes me worry is the group of linebackers. Not a whole lot of talent in that group, but naturally, the defensive line will help mask that weakness. The weapons are there for Buffalo, but this just doesn’t feel like a team that is going to have the abilities to beat the big boys on a regular basis. Beating the Brady Bunch last year at home seemed like a bit of a fluke, and now, we just don’t know if the Bills are going to be sneaking up on anyone any longer. Sure, adding DE Mario Williams will help and help quite a bit, but in the end, this is still a team that is hitched to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, and we just don't see that working out all that well. RBs CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson might be in for another good year, but it just doesn't feel like Buffalo has more than an 8-8 season in it in 2012. The second half of the season should be kind to the Bills, as they play one playoff team in the final eight games. They will need to maximize every opportunity, because keeping pace with the Patriots will prove to be no easy task.
MIAMI DOLPHINS---are continuing their rebuilding. We do give the Fins some credit for the way that they have tried to build their franchise. They tried to get all of the biggest coaching candidates, and their efforts to lure QB Peyton Manning to South Beach were notable as well. However, on all fronts, the team failed, and what was left was a team that just didn’t have a lot of great options. We don’t know if new Head Coach Joe Philbin really has the abilities to get the job done with this team, and we already know that the offense is going to have some problems if rookie QB Ryan Tannehill is going to end up being the man calling the shots from the outset of the year. Opening day is less than 50 days away, and a lot can happen from now until then, but anyone who expects Tannehill to be anything more than a No. 3 is mistaken. Matt Moore has proven he can handle the offense—he won't win a Super Bowl, but neither will any other quarterback on the roster. QB Ryan Tannehill is likely to end up being the starter, if not right away, certainly at some point over the course of the season, and that doesn't bode well for a team that plays in one of the toughest divisions in the game. The receivers on Miami have been serviceable of late, but WR Brandon Marshall was cast out of town, and we just don’t know if we can expect a second straight solid season out of RB Reggie Bush as a featured back. Joe Philbin definitely has his work cut out for him, though we do at least recognize that the Miami defense is young and has the ability to lead the team if the offense can get anything going. The Dolphins made some smart moves by giving Cameron Wake a new deal and bringing over Richard Marshall to help the secondary after Sean Smith bombed last year. If the Dolphins want to get off to a decent start and not finish as bottom-dwellers, it would be smart to focus on some winnable games early on. The season only gets tougher toward the end, as they have to play teams like New England and Buffalo twice in the final eight weeks.
In the end, this is New England against the field for sure, and we really don't like the chances that the field has of surviving. As long as Brady is still upright and those tight ends are running loose in the middle of the field, the Patriots are going to score and score in bunches. They'll win the AFC East, and the rest of the teams will beat each other up and get left out of the postseason.