AFC East breakdown
September 3, 2012Eastern Indiana Sports
The Patriots would probably admit that they had it a little easier than expected last season. While they hummed along, the Jets, Dolphins and Bills all continued to search for identities. New England benefited again from being the healthiest and deepest team in the division. The Pats were 13-3. No one else was above .500. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that the Jets made the playoffs in 2009 and ’10 and Buffalo aggressively improved its defense in the offseason. This division could realistically have three teams in the playoff picture midway through the season.
The big questions
Is it possible the Patriots could get even more dangerous offensively? Unfortunately for the rest of the division they’ve dominated for a decade, yes. Last season, they turned the league upside down with their explosive two-tight end attack featuring Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Now they welcome back the offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, who was behind their record-setting scoring season of 2007. One of McDaniels’ favorite receivers, Brandon Lloyd, also joins Tom Brady’s impressive array of targets.
How much better did the Patriots get defensively? Last season, the Patriots had a gaping hole in their defense, which meant they gave up a lot of yards (second-most in the league). They limited the damage on the scoreboard with timely sacks and takeaways, but Bill Belichick recognized the need to get younger and faster in the front seven. First-round picks Chandler Jones (edge pass rush) and Dont’a Hightower (rangy tackling) will help the total defense numbers.
Can Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez coexist as Jets quarterbacks? The Jets’ coaches stand by the fact they can make it work using Sanchez as the full-time starter and Tebow as a part-time cog. But of the two, only Tebow took a team to the playoffs last season. Sanchez’s turnovers were a big reason the Jets couldn’t make it three consecutive postseason trips. If Sanchez’s renewed commitment turns to efficient play that translates to early wins, Tebow will be simply along for the ride. If Sanchez shows his ’11 form and Tebow needs to play more extensively, the controversy will only heat up for this season and next.
How much will the addition of Mario Williams improve the Bills? Buffalo couldn’t have picked a better time to splurge on Williams. Dave Wannstedt is installing a 4-3, which is tailored to Williams’ strengths at defensive end. Then consider that the scheme also allows Marcell Dareus to play a more natural inside position rather than nose tackle and also lets Mark Anderson settle back into the role of complementary pass rusher. So with a little tinkering—and a lot of money—the Bills now have one of the league’s best front-four rotations.
Should the Dolphins let Ryan Tannehill loose? It should surprise no one that makeshift solutions David Garrard and Matt Moore quickly gave way to Miami’s first-round pick. The Dolphins learned well from Minnesota’s mistake of using Donovan McNabb as a placeholder for Christian Ponder a year ago. Now that they’ve given Tannehill the reins, there should be no reining him in. With a good left tackle (Jake Long) and feature back (Reggie Bush), it’s time to allow the cool rookie to go to work with a full playbook.