Life in the AFC East has been simple for the last decade. Just plug in the New England Patriots at the top of the division, and see how everybody else shakes out.
Bill Belichick & Co. have won nine of the last 10 division
titles, with Tom Brady leading the way. The star quarterback has been a
constant stabilizing presence on an offense that has endured lots of
turnover while the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Buffalo Bills have
all mostly looked up at the Patriots in the standings.
Well, except for 2008, when Brady was sidelined with a knee injury in
Week 1. The Dolphins won the division that year, and they'd like
nothing more than to change things at the top of the AFC East again.
"I'm excited where I'm at and where the team is at this point,"
second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "We want to work to get
better every day and use every opportunity we can, but the work is not
"We are still working to get better."
Meanwhile the Jets and Bills are just trying to figure out who will be
under center. For New York, will it be Mark Sanchez, dealing with a
shoulder injury, or rookie Geno Smith? It's even more uncertain in
Buffalo, which may start the undrafted Jeff Tuel in Week 1, but also
has injured first-rounder E.J. Manuel and journeymen Matt Leinart and
"It's a brand new year, and everything's up for grabs," Bills defensive
star Mario Williams said before training camp. "Everything's up for the
Here are five things to know about the AFC East:
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE QBs: Brady is still one of the NFL's
elite players, and it never seems to matter to whom he's throwing or
handing off. Tannehill is coming off a so-so rookie season he hopes to
build on. Rex Ryan's Jets don't know if Sanchez will be healthy enough,
so they might be forced to go with the raw Smith, a first-round talent
who slipped to the second round because of questions about his
abilities and mental makeup.
As for the Bills, they drafted Manuel in the first round, but he has a
knee injury, and Kevin Kolb has a career-threatening concussion. So
Tuel could become the NFL's first undrafted quarterback to start in
Week 1 directly out of college.
Here's something that might make Brady feel old: When he took over as
the Patriots' starter in early 2001, the potential opposing starting
QBs in the AFC East were barely out of Pop Warner: Tannehill was 13,
while Smith and Tuel were both 10.
PATRIOTS GAMES: Wes Welker is in Denver, and Aaron Hernandez
is in prison facing a murder charge. Brandon Lloyd and Danny Woodhead
are also gone. A rebuilding year on offense for the Patriots? That's
nothing new for Brady. It seems every few years New England changes the
pieces around the quarterback and people wonder if he'll have enough
talent helping him. Somehow, he always seems to make it work, and you
can expect more of the same this season.
Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins and a possibly healthy Rob Gronkowski, along with a solid backfield with Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, should have Brady, Belichick and the Patriots feeling pretty
good about a 10th division crown in 11 seasons.
NEW-LOOK DOLPHINS: The Dolphins went on a spending spree in
the offseason, perhaps thinking the Patriots are vulnerable. There are
11 projected new starters, including Mike Wallace, who gives Tannehill
a speedy and experienced playmaking receiver. The most important move,
however, could be Jonathan Martin, who slides from right tackle to left
tackle — the spot vacated by Jake Long. Miami needs Martin to help
protect Tannehill. This franchise has been looking for a franchise QB
since Dan Marino left.
GROUNDED JETS?: Ryan has gone from one of the most
entertaining and brash coaches in the league to a shell of his former
self. Gone is the bravado and bold guarantees that made Ryan's daily
news conferences a must-watch. Losing can do that to even the most
boisterous of coaches. There's a new GM in town in the buttoned-up John
Idzik, and Ryan's future rides on how he meshes with him and what he
can do with a team that lacks playmakers on offense. Then there's the
quarterback situation — Sanchez or Smith? — which could be a
season-long drama that leads to Ryan's demise.
BUFFALO STANCE: The Bills went through a complete
makeover in the offseason, hiring a new GM in Doug Whaley and coach in
Doug Marrone, then drafting Manuel with the hope he could be a
franchise quarterback. If the Jets have a bad QB situation, the Bills
somehow have an even worse dilemma. The fact that most Bills fans
probably hadn't heard of Tuel until a few weeks ago says it all.
However, if Manuel can bounce back quickly from a left knee injury, the
first QB drafted in April could give a franchise that has gone 13
straight years without a playoff appearance some hope. For next year,
AFC East: Patriots, Then Everyone Else
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