AFC East Predictions
The New England Patriots won the AFC East once again in 2011 with a 13-3 record. They would go on to make the Super Bowl, only to lose to the New York Giants for the second time in five years. After back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances, the New York Jets stumbled to an 8-8 record last season. Both Buffalo and Miami went in opposite directions last year. The Bills opened 5-2 while the Dolphins started 0-7, but each finished with identical 6-10 records.
This was one of the weaker divisions in the NFL last season, but it should be stronger in 2012 with the Jets and Bills likely to push for playoff spots. Here is a brief preview of each team, as well as my prediction on where they finish in the final AFC East standings.
1. New England Patriots (13-3) – I have the Patriots finishing with the same record they did a year ago and running away with this division. They had the No. 2 offense (428 yards/game) in the league last season behind Tom Brady, and this unit should pick up right where it left off. The Patriots have added Brandon Lloyd from St. Louis to give the offense the deep threat it needs. After finishing No. 31 in total defense (411 yards/game), the defense must improve. First-round pick Chandler Jones (DE) brings pass-rushing ability that they’re desperately missing. Despite getting to the Super Bowl, the Patriots will actually have the No. 31 schedule in the league this year because they play the weak NFC West and AFC South divisions. I have them reaching the AFC Championship Game in ’12.
2. New York Jets (10-6) – The Jets opened 8-5 last season, which put them in an excellent position to make the playoffs. However, things unraveled and they lost their final three games of the season to miss out on a Wildcard berth. Look for New York to come back hungry this season. They’ve traded for Tim Tebow, which clearly means that Rex Ryan is going to get back to ground and pound offensively. The Jets were No. 5 in total defense (312 yards/game) last year and should be even better. Second-round pick Stephen Hill (WR) gives Mark Sanchez a solid No. 2 receiver opposite Santonio Holmes. First-rounder Quinton Coples (DE) gives the defense yet another pass-rusher. While they haven’t made huge upgrades, the Jets have done enough to get back to the playoffs as a dangerous Wildcard team.
3. Buffalo Bills (8-8) – The Bills opened 5-2 last season and were the talk of the league. But seven straight losses and a 6-10 finish later, they were once again the loveable losers. Buffalo hasn’t been to the playoffs since 1999, but it is a popular choice by many experts to end that streak in 2012. That’s because the Bills have added some great talent defensively. They brought in two pass-rushing specialists in DE Mario Williams from Houston and DE Mark Anderson from New England. Buffalo also used its first-round pick on CB Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina), who is expected to start right away. After finishing No. 29 in scoring defense (27.1 points/game) last year, this could be one of the most improved units in the league. I still don’t think it’s enough to get the Bills over the top, and an 8-8 finish is the likely end result.
4. Miami Dolphins (5-11) – The Dolphins showed a ton of pride last year. After opening 0-7, Miami went 6-3 the rest of the way to finish 6-10. Two of those three losses came by a combined four points as well. That gives them a lot of momentum heading into ’12, but unfortunately management has been a buzz kill. Somehow the Dolphins traded Brandon Marshall to Chicago, leaving them with arguably the worst receiving corps in the league. That’s not good news for first-round pick Ryan Tannehill, who I believe is going to be a bust at this level. First-year head coach Joh Philbin has been dealt a bad hand. Miami will have a respectable defense, but unfortunately this looks like one of the worst offenses in the NFL. Five or six wins is the best the Dolphins can do in ’12.
Individual Team NFL Season Predictions