By: Brandon Blake
Except for 2002 and 2008, the top spot of the AFC East has belonged to the New England Patriots. They have won the division 13 times since 2001 and despite the fact that quarterback Tom Brady will miss the first four games of the regular season due to that event that took place about the footballs not being properly inflated (I refuse to call it Deflategate because the name, like the whole incident, was ridiculous), the Pats should be the favorites to win their 14th division title and should be in the mix to make it to the Super Bowl once again.
The question I have for the Patriots is that can backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo lead the Pats while Brady serves his suspension and keep their core players healthy enough for another Super Bowl run?
Can the Buffalo Bills overcome injuries and suspensions on the defensive side of the ball to give their offense a chance to become a solid unit?
The Jets went 10-6 last year as they were led by a career high performance by Ryan Fitzpatrick. Can they duplicate that performance in 2016?
And can new Dolphins head coach Adam Gase finally turn Ryan Tannehill into a competent NFL quarterback while guiding the Dolphins back to the postseason with a revamped roster?
Here are my projections for the AFC East
*-Denotes who will win the division
#-Denotes who will win the Wild Card
*New England (12-4)- Sure the Patriots don’t have Brady for the first four games, but they still have Belichick, Rob Gronkowski and a very talented defense on hand (Despite Rob Ninkovich’s tricep injury that has him out for 4-6 weeks and the Pats trading Chandler Jones to Arizona). I think Garoppolo can get the Pats to at least a 3-1 record before Brady takes over and once again, dominate the rest of the AFC East.
Buffalo (7-9)- I think that Buffalo’s offense has the potential to be a good unit this season. Tyrod Taylor (whose new contract is basically under a one-year deal) has the tools and he has an outside threat in Sammy Watkins who when healthy is a talented wide receiver. My problem with the Bills is the defense has too many injuries (Reggie Ragland-out for the year with a torn ACL, Shaq Lawson out for a while with a shoulder injury) and suspensions (Marcel Dareus-out four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy) to overcome. And it does not help matters that Rob Ryan is the new defensive coordinator in Buffalo this year. Rob ran the Saints defense last season and was one of the worst units in the NFL so I don’t see how he will turn the Bills defense for them to be a playoff team in 2016.
NY Jets (7-9)- Ryan Fitzpatrick turned in a career level performance in 2015 but I think he and the Jets offense will take a step back in 2016. If you look at Fitzpatrick’s career numbers, the odds are that he will not repeat his 2015 performance again in 2016. And the addition of Matt Forte to the offense would be great if this was 2011. Forte has seen better days and is on the downward trend of his career (There was a reason why the Bears had the chance to re-sign Forte and passed). I think the defense will be good again but a talented defense will be wasted on a sluggish offense as the Jets will miss the postseason once again.
Miami (5-11)- The Dolphins have brought in several new additions (Kiko Alonso, Mario Williams, Arian Foster) to try to bolster their roster under first year head coach Adam Gase. However, I don’t see the Dolphins being any better with the new changes and I think they are actually worse. The new additions are older and injury prone and does not help the Dolphins become competitive now or in the future. The offensive line has some promise with the addition of first-round rookie Larmey Tunsil but I do not believe Ryan Tannehill is a starting NFL quarterback. He has “the look” of a quarterback but after three years, he does not have much to show for and that won’t be enough to get the Dolphins out of the AFC East basement.