2014 NFL Season Preview: AFC East

New England Patriots

Additions: DE Will Smith, OLB James Anderson, CB Darrelle Revis, CB Brandon Browner.

Draft Picks: 
Rnd.  Pick# Pos.    Player                         College
1           29        DT       Dominique Easley     Florida
2          62         QB       Jimmy Garoppolo     Eastern Illinois
4          105       C          Bryan Stork                Florida State
4          130       RB       James White              Wisconsin
4          140       OT       Cameron Fleming      Stanford
6          179        G         Jon Halapio                Florida
6          198        DE       Zach Moore               Concordia (St. Paul)
6          206        S         Jemea Thomas           Georgia Tech
7          244        WR     Jeremy Gallon           Michigan

Losses: 
RB LeGarrette Blount, NT Isaac Sopoaga, ILB Brandon Spikes, ILB Dane Fletcher, CB Aqib Talib, S Steve Gregory, S Adrian Wilson.

Analysis:

This is the most talented team that Bill Belichick has had in a long time. Probably since the Patriots lost in the Super Bowl to the Giants. The addition of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner adds an element that Belichick hasn’t had with a shutdown corner plus another one who is good enough to handle his own if put on an island. I can see a few more zero-blitzes from the Pats this year.

Dominique Easley is potentially a penetrating force upfront next to Vince Wilfork. Rob Ninkovich is a savvy pass rusher and Chandler Jones can be dominant when he decides to use his length and power and not the hesitation move he loves so much. Jamie Collins, Jerod Mayo, and Donta Hightower are athletic and superbly smart players. Collins really came on at the end of 2013 and could make a name for himself as a full-time starter this season.

The secondary will use Alfonzo Dennard as the #2 CB while Browner serves his suspension but then Dennard will move to the nickel back position and that’s a very deep rotation. Devin McCourty was phenomenal last season and if he plays that same way, this is going to be a defense that creates a ton of short fields for its offense.

Tom Brady hasn’t been as sharp as the Brady you might expect the last couple of years. He’s missed some throws he usually makes in his sleep. Hopefully with another year with these receivers those become completions. Kenbrell Thompkins reminds me of Chad Johnson in how he’s so smooth and quick with his feet. He’ll consistently get open for Brady. Danny Amendola will try to stay healthy and provide a game piece for Belichick to play chess with. Rob Gronkowski returns. If he’s anything like he was before his injury, this offense becomes a monster in the red zone. There are some other legitimate deep threats in TE Tim Wright, Aaron Dobson, and potential sleeper Brandon LaFell.

The offensive line has some major question marks. Losing Mankins hurts the run game. Josh Kline steps into the LG role next to Nate Solder at LT. Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell, and Sebastian Vollmer round out the rest of the line. Any injury means that Marcus Cannon likely hits the field and that’s bad news for the Patriots. Cannon was awful in preseason at the tackle position and the word is that the Pats think he doesn’t have the quick reaction time to handle the guard position where things happen faster than on the outside.

Stevan Ridley didn’t look terrific in preseason. If he continues to fumble, the Pats may render him obsolete and go with a mix of Shane Vereen (more of a receiver and 3rd down back), Brandon Bolden, and rookie James White who looked very good in the preseason. It’s interesting to note that the Patriots kept 5 running backs, including James Develin who operates as a fullback.

This is a supremely talented team and Belichick is going to scheme teams to death with it. It’s such a versatile roster and Belichick can identify and attack opposing team’s weaknesses with precision. It’s going to be a good year for the Patriots. Perhaps even a Super year.

New York Jets

Additions: 
RB Chris Johnson, WR Eric Decker, WR/KR Jacoby Ford, OT Breno Giacomini, CB Dimitri Patterson.

Draft Picks: 
Rnd.  Pick# Pos.     Player                         College
1          18         S           Calvin Pryor               Louisville
2          49        TE         Jace Amaro                Texas Tech
3          80        CB        Dexter McDougle      Maryland
4          104      WR       Jalen Saunders          Oklahoma
4          115       WR       Shaq Evans                 UCLA
4          137       G          Dakota Dozier            Furman
5          154       LB        Jeremiah George        Iowa State
6          195       CB        Brandon Dixon           Northwest Missouri State
6          209      WR      Quincy Enunwa          Nebraska
6          210       DE       IK Enemkpali             Louisiana Tech
6          213       QB       Tajh Boyd                    Clemson
7          233       LB       Trevor Reilly               Utah

Losses: 
QB Mark Sanchez, WR Santonio Holmes, OT Austin Howard, G Vladimir Ducasse, CB Antonio Cromartie.

Analysis:

I love the addition of Calvin Pryor to the Jets. He’s such a Jets-type of player. He flies all over the field and lays the wood to anyone that even thinks about touching the football. He’s not currently listed as the starter but he’s going to play early and often. He’ll be a good fit next to Dawaan Landry. Dee Milliner, Leon McFadden, and Kyle Wilson round out the big players in the secondary. Milliner is injured and that really eats into what little depth the Jets had. Look for Darin Walls to get some snaps early on as he looked very good in the preseason and the Jets may want to see if he can handle playing when it really counts.

Up front, the Jets have 2 phenomenal players in Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson. They’re the guys that make everything go because they either create penetration or eat up a ton of blockers allowing other guys like Quinton Coples or Calvin Pace to get to the QB. Coples looked better this preseason than he did last season and the hope is that as he continues to progress, he can become a dominant pass rusher. David Harris is still the leader of this defense at ILB. Also look for new addition Jason Babin to get some snaps in pass rush situations which is his specialty.

On offense, Geno Smith really came along well towards the end of the season last year. He seems to still have issues getting through his reads but really the jump in Smith’s play came from his willingness to take off and run more later in the season. Before he held onto the ball too long and then eventually tried to make a play under duress and it didn’t turn out well. When he became more willing to run before the defense was closing in on him the offense opened up because it made defenses respect his running. That helps to create larger throwing lanes and less reading for Geno in the pocket.

The offensive line has to be better. Brian Winters was terrible last season. Really, the only bright spot was Nick Mangold. Willie Colon was decent at RG but inconsistent. New York dumped Vladimir Ducasse and added Brent Giacomini which is an upgrade. D’Brickishaw Ferguson was a decent pass blocker but has to get better in the run game this year if that’s the type of offense the Jets want to run.

I like the addition of rookie TE Jace Amaro but there are still limited weapons for Geno to throw to. Eric Decker should help but Jeremy Kerley needs to take a big leap forward and show he’s worthy of being a #2 receiver. Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson make for an interesting pair of tailbacks. One runs violently into contact and one runs away from it. Johnson still shows flashes but it appears that his vision has eroded recently. He has to have everything blocked perfectly or he doesn’t see the hole. Look for Ivory to be the more efficient and more productive back.

The Jets went 8-8 in what was a very good coaching season for Rex Ryan. Not often do 8-8 seasons solicit coach of the year consideration but that performance probably should have. Ryan dealt with a rookie QB, injuries, and an overall lack of weapons and fought through a period when the organization was in transition. Rex and his staff deserve a ton of credit for the season they had in 2013 and now they look to continue to build on it.

Miami Dolphins

Additions: 
RB Knowshon Moreno, WR Damian Williams, OT Branden Albert, OT Jason Fox, G Daryn Colledge, NT Earl Mitchell, CB Cortland Finnegan, CB R.J. Stanford, S Louis Delmas.

Draft Picks: 
Rnd. Pick# Pos.    Player                 College
1          19        OT       Ja’Wuan James   Tennessee
2         63        WR      Jarvis Landry      LSU
3         67        OT       Billy Turner         North Dakota State
4         125      CB       Walt Aikens          Liberty
5         155       TE       Arthur Lynch       Georgia
5         171       LB        Jordan Tripp       Montana
6         190      WR      Matt Hazel          Coastal Carolina
7         234      DE       Terrence Fede     Marist

Losses: 
OT Jonathan Martin, G Richie Incognito, G John Jerry, NT Paul Soliai, CB Dimitri Patterson, CB Nolan Carroll, S Chris Clemons.

Analysis: 

At first I was a believer in Joe Philbin but my faith is starting to wane. I probably should have known better considering that he hired Mike Sherman as his offensive coordinator as one of his first moves as a head coach. Then there was the Incognito/Martin incident. The Dolphins actually rallied after that to post a respectable 8-8 season.

New OC Bill Lazor should be able to point this offense in the right direction. They added Branden Albert and drafted Ja’Wuan James to help shore up the tackle position. James probably isn’t ready for full-time duty but he’s the best option at RT at this point. Basically this is still a suspect OL, especially if Mike Pouncey is out for any extended period of time.

Ryan Tannehill started seeing ghosts last year and that’s never good for a young QB. Hopefully his internal clock isn’t sped up because he has been under so much pressure since coming into the league. It will also help that Lazor will likely use Tannehill’s athleticism more and move him around a bit and move the pocket to help eliminate some of the pressure he typically sees.

Lamar Miller is listed as the starter at RB. Knowshon Moreno may end up taking that job from him early on. Miller is still dynamic and shows burst but is much like Chris Johnson in that if he’s running up the middle he needs the play to be blocked perfectly to spring it. I’d expect Lazor to get Miller to the edge more while letting Moreno handle the downhill runs and 3rd down duties because he’s such a good pass blocker. At WR, Mike Wallace provides a deep threat and Brian Hartline is Mr. Dependable. Brandon Gibson was terrific as the 3rd receiver last season and filling in for when Harline was injured.

The offense actually isn’t my main concern. Now it’s the defense. They let some important pieces walk – Soliai, Carroll, Clemons – and replaced them with Earl Mitchell and Louis Delmas. Delmas is a talented player that can’t stay on the field due to injury and Mitchell wasn’t very good in Arizona last year. Courtland Finnegan played poorly before injury last season in St. Louis so he’s a bit of a wild card as he’s shown he can be a terrific defender.

The defense is still led by Cameron Wake, easily one of the league’s best pass rushers. The defensive line is solid, aside from Mitchell, with Jared Odrick and Randy Starks. Starks has a great season last year. The unfortunate part is the the linebackers behind them aren’t very good. Dannell Ellerbe was bad last year. The hope is that Dion Jordan will finally live up to his expectations and take over one of the linebacker spots. Koa Misi wasn’t awful last year.

This is a Dolphins team with too many holes in the roster and still trying to find it’s way. It doesn’t really have an identity at this point.

Buffalo Bills

Additions: 
RB Anthony Dixon, WR Mike Williams, G Chris Williams, OLB Keith Rivers, ILB Brandon Spikes, CB/S Corey Graham.

Draft Picks: 
Rnd.  Pick# Pos.     Player                         College
1           4          WR       Sammy Watkins         Clemson
2          44        OT        Cyrus Kouandjio         Alabama
3          73        LB         Preston Brown            Louisville
4          109      CB         Ross Cockrell              Duke
5          153       G           Cyril Richardson        Baylor
7          221       LB        Randell Johnson         Florida Atlantic
7          237       OT       Seantrel Henderson   Miami

Losses: 
QB Kevin Kolb, WR Stevie Johnson, DE/DT Alex Carrington, S Jairus Byrd.

Analysis:

The roster says this should be a 10-win team. The QB plays says it’s a 3-win team. EJ Manuel brings this team down that much. He can’t read a defense and when he does he’s highly inaccurate. It’s such a shame as the skill positions are loaded – Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Mike Williams, CJ Spiller, Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown, Marqise Goodwin, and Scott Chandler.

Some of the blame has to fall on the coaching staff. There is too much talent to let it go to waste. The offensive line can share some of that blame as last season only Cordy Glenn was good at his job. Oddly enough, Kraig Urbik wasn’t awful at his job and he goes from starter to bench with the addition of Chris Williams who starts at center.

On defense, the big blow was the loss of lightning rod LB Kiko Alonso going down with an injury. The addition of Keith Rivers and Brandon Spikes should help soften the blow but neither are the same type of player. Jerry Hughes was terrific as a pass rusher last year. Let’s hope the loss of Mike Pettine doesn’t inhibit his production this year. The front line is kind of unfair. Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, and Marcel Dareus are powerful players and free up the linebackers to make big plays. Dareus in particular was a beast in preseason and was pancaking offensive linemen with consistency.

The loss of Jairus Byrd is going to hurt the secondary. Da’Norris Searcy is a decent player but not near the level of Byrd. Stephon Gilmore is a terrific young CB but is dealing with an injury right now. Leodis McKelvin and Corey Graham are solid 2nd and 3rd options at CB but not really great functioning as #1 and #2 CBs.

The Bills have a ton of talent and it’s all going to waste.

Overall AFC East Outlook

New England Patriots (13-3)

New England may not be better than Seattle overall, but I think they matchup well and will beat them in the Super Bowl.

New York Jets (9-7)

The Jets are better but a lack of offensive weapons makes it hard to project them to 10-wins though they might push for the playoffs in the AFC.

Miami Dolphins (6-10)

Miami seems lost as a franchise. Hopefully new GM Dennis Hickey can get it fixed after this season.

Buffalo Bills (3-13)

Kyle Orton takes this team from a 3 win team to a 5-win team. I think the loss of Mike Pettine hurts more than people realize.

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