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2015 Division Preview: AFC East

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The New England Patriots have won this division 12 of the last 14 years and despite some strong defenses, I don't see anything changing in 2015.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

No division in the NFL can boast four better defenses than the 2015 AFC East, and if not for the lack of quality quarterbacks, this would be the best division in football. While I don't believe the 2015 Patriots are as dominant a team as they were in 2014, they are the defending Super Bowl champions and will be one of the best teams in the NFL this year. Beyond the Patriots, there are a lot of question marks in the AFC East.

Are the Dolphins actually contenders, or just a shiny pretender like they have been the past few seasons? Is Tyrod Taylor really an NFL starting quarterback and can he lead his team to the playoffs they've been so desperately seeking? Can the Jets win with defense and Ryan Fitzpatrick/Geno Smith? Or, will the Patriots once again be the talk of the town and dominate the rest of the division?

1) New England Patriots

2015 Prediction: 11-5

2014 Record: 12-4, 1st Place

Confidence in Pick: 75%

Why they win the division:

Tom Brady - Regardless of the amount of air in his balls, he is a 4-Time Super Bowl champion, has 6 Super Bowl appearances, is 5th all-time in yards (53,546), touchdowns (396) and passer rating (96.1) and astonishing .774 career winning percentage (161-47) - .724 in the playoffs (21-8). Tom Brady has won the AFC East in 12 of his 13 seasons and made the playoffs 12 of his 13 seasons. He has 0 losing seasons in his career, has won 11+ regular season games in 10 of his 13 years as a starter, 10+ wins 12 of those 13 years and has been elected to 10 Pro Bowls...and for most of his career, he has never had a true #1 WR. Until someone in the AFC East proves otherwise, Brady's team will win this division.

Bill Belichick - Spy Gate or no Spy Gate, he is clearly the best coach of his time - arguably of all-time. He has a career winning percentage of .659 (.729 in NE), 6 Super Bowl appearances and 4 Super Bowl wins. With Brady and Belichick, the Patriots enter every game with the advantage.

Rob Gronkowski - There is not a more difficult player to cover in the NFL right now. Period.

Knowing the rules better than their opponent - What is most impressive to me when it comes to Belichick is how he seems to know the rules so much better than his counterparts. About once a year, you hear one team/one coach complaining that the Patriots are doing something against the rules - only to find out that said team/coach is wrong. Last year it was the Ravens. Often times, it results in a change in the rule book the following year. Either way, Belichick - whether within the rules or not - seems to always be one step ahead of his opponent.

Angry with the league - You bet anything that Brady, Belichick and the entire Patriots organization wants to show up the league this year and give Roger Goodell the proverbial finger all year long. The only thing that makes the combination of Brady and Belichick more dangerous is a pissed off version of Brady and Belichck and they will attempt to win every game 50-0 if they can. They have been known to run up the score in the past and you can bet they won't stop this year.

Reasons they may not win the division:

Wide Receivers/overall talent - I am a firm believer that without Brady and Belichick, this is a three or four win team. Outside of Gronkowski, there simply is a lack of world class talent on this team. Julian Edelman is a solid player, but is far from a No. 1 receiver, Danny Amendola is average at best and made of glass and their other wide receivers are a list of "who's who." The running back position is no better. LeGarrette Blount was cut mid-season by the Steelers he was so bad, yet he is the No. 1 back in New England and his backups wouldn't make a single other roster in the NFL.

Overall:

A lot of analysts seem to think the Dolphins have finally caught the Patriots and are poised to dethrone them. They have been claiming this for years - mostly with the Jets, this year the Dolphins are the hot pick. I don't buy it and will believe it when I see it. When push comes to shove, the Patriots have Brady/Belichick and the rest of the East has Ryan Tannehill/Joe Philbin, Tyrod Taylor/Rex Ryan and Ryan Fitzpatrick (Geno Smith)/ Todd Bowles. If you are putting money down on these combinations, who would you take?

2) Miami Dolphins

2015 Prediction: 8-8

2014 Record: 8-8, 3rd Place

Confidence in Pick: 35%

How they win the division:

Defensive Line - The Dolphins had a solid defensive line in 2014, but the addition of Ndamukong Suh may make this the best defensive line in the NFL. If the line can gel and become as dominant on the field as they appear on paper, the Dolphins have a shot at knocking the Patriots off the AFC East throne.

Offensive Weapons - They are not a top unit in the NFL, but in terms of the division, no other team boasts as much talent at the skill positions as the Dolphins. I expect Lamar Miller to have a big year. Jordan Camerons is a top tight end (when healthy). Jarvis Landry is a solid receiver, I like the pick of Davante Parker and I think Greg Jennings and Kenny Stills can play solid supporting roles.

Why they won't win the division:

Ryan Tannehill - Thus far I have been wrong on Tannehill in most regards and this may sound odd since he has improved his completion percentage, yards, touchdowns and rating in each of his first three seasons and is coming off a 27 touchdown, 12 interceptions campaign in 2014, but here is why I have Tannehill on this side of the analysis: Wins. Tannehill has zero winning seasons and has struggled down the stretch. In 2013, the Dolphins were 8-6 with a shot at the playoffs and Tannehill went 0-2 over the last two weeks, completing less than 50% of this passes and throwing one touchdown and three interceptions. In 2014, the Dolphins entered Week 12 with a 6-4 record and a real shot at the playoffs, but went 2-4 down the stretch, including a loss at home to Geno Smith and the Jets in a must win Week 17 game. Until Tannehill proves he can win down the stretch and make the playoffs, I am not buying in.

Joe Philbin - I am not impressed with him as a coach or a leader...watch Hard Knocks 2012...or his handling of the Incognito/Martin issue and you will see why. Three years as a head coach and he has zero winning seasons, is two games under .500 and was in charge of the teams I just talked about that faltered down the stretch.

Management - In the 2013 offseason, the Dolphins spent wildly. It didn't work. They did it again in 2015 and the results are yet to come, but when has big spending ever been a recipe for success in the NFL? Remember the Haynesworth Redskins team? Or Philadelphia's "Dream Team?" The team that "wins" the offseason rarely carries that success over to the field. It is hard to knock a team for signing the biggest free agent in years (Suh), but let's see if it works. History seems to suggest it will not.

Overall:

The Dolphins start the season with what should be two easy games - at Washington and at Jacksonville. After those two games, I don't see an easy one on their schedule. I have predicted them to win eight again, but I am not sure how they get there without a few breakout seasons from skill position players.

3) Buffalo Bills

2015 Prediction: 8-8

2014 Record: 9-7, 2nd Place

Confidence in Pick: 35%

How they win the division:

A dominant defense - The Bills have one of the most talented defenses in the NFL and should be a top 5 unit by the end of the season. If they can play lights out on the defensive side of the ball, they may be able to sneak into the playoffs.

Rex Ryan - I am not a big Rex Ryan as a head coach fan, but the guy knows how to coach a defense and he was able to get to the playoffs (and win) with defense and Mark Sanchez, so doing it in Buffalo with this defense and Tyrod Taylor is not completely out of the picture. With Rex Ryan, this could be the best defense in the league.

A heavy dose of LeSean McCoy - If McCoy can get 2,000 total yards, combined with this defense, the Bills have an outside chance at the division and a decent shot at the playoffs.

Why they won't win the division:

Quarterback situation - I know I just got done saying Rex made it to the playoffs with Mark Sanchez, but let's be honest, Taylor is the third best quarterback in his own division (maybe fourth) and is likely one of the bottom three quarterbacks in the AFC.

Rex Ryan - Rex is a great defensive mind and will have this team very competitive, but with this roster and a deep AFC, I don't see them passing the Patriots and/or cracking the playoffs.

History - The Bills have just two winning seasons - both 9-7 campaigns - in the last 15 years (2004 and 2014) and haven't made the playoffs since 1999.

Overall:

I think this could be a scary good defense, and they have some weapons (Sammie Watkins, LeSean McCoy), but Tyrod Taylor is not going to beat Tom Brady and Bill Belichick for the division and in a deep AFC, I can't see them making the playoffs either.

4) NY Jets

2015 Prediction: 4-12

2014 Record: 4-12, 4th Place

Confidence in Pick: 75%

How they win the division:

Defense - The Jets should have a playoff worthy defense and with Todd Bowles as their coach, this could be a top five unit as well. As long as the offense protects the ball, the Jets should find themselves in every game.

Added Weapons - I liked the trade for Brandon Marshall and with Eric Decker and Chris Ivory, this will be the most competent group of skill players the Jets have seen in a while.

Why they won't win the division:

Quarterback situation - Geno Smith is not a starting NFL quarterback. Period. Neither is Ryan Fitzpatrick. I actually think the Jets have a better chance of winning with Fitzpatrick at the helm, but that isn't saying much. When Geno is done drinking from a straw, I think management will force him on Todd Bowles. In two years, Smith is 11-18 with an embarrassing 57.5% completion percentage and 25 touchdowns to 34 interceptions (50 turnovers).

Soap opera locker room - I don't care what the coach or players say, any time your starting quarterback gets punched in the face in his own locker room, something is wrong with his leadership and that locker room.

Management - In my opinion, the Jets are in the running with the Browns, Raiders and Redskins for the worst run franchises. When the top of your organization is a mess, it trickles down to the sideline and the field.

Overall:

This is a bad team with a good defense and a busted locker room. They have no leadership (quarterback getting punched in the face by teammate), no management, no ability to deal with adversity and they work in the biggest and most scrutinized market in the world. Good luck. If it weren't for the defense, I would struggle to give this team four wins.

Final division analysis:

As it has for the last 14 years, this division goes through New England and I see it ending there as well. There are some championship worthy defenses in the AFC East, but no one else has the coach and quarterback to make a legitimate run at the Patriots.