2014 Scout AFC East Preview

A look at the AFC East heading in to the 2014 season...

Buffalo Bills
BuffaloFootballReport.com

OUTLOOK: Coming off a 6-10 season in 2012, the Bills wasted a chance at a better showing in 2013 with two of the other teams in the AFC East -- the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins -- finding plenty of turmoil on their way to 8-8 records. In the ever-shortening leash on losing head coaches, Doug Marrone may have to avoid consecutive losing seasons as he enters his second year. To do that, QB EJ Manuel will have to develop into a more efficient starter but having first-round pick Sammy Watkins should foster that.

OFFSEASON: The offseason didn’t start well as the Bills lost their best player when safety Jairus Byrd signed a six-year, $54 million contract with the New Orleans Saints that included $27.9 million in guarantees. That was too rich for a team that needs upgrades at several positions, and they got one of those needed upgrades right away in the draft when they selected Watkins No. 4 overall.

OFFENSE: Last year, the Bills finished a mediocre 19th in total offense, but they got there mainly with their two-pronged rushing attack – C.J. Spiller as the speedster and Fred Jackson more for the hard yards and near the goal line. They each had more than 200 carries and 800 yards, but Jackson had nine touchdowns compared to Spiller’s two. The key will be improving a passing game that finished a paltry 28th in the league in 2013 and much of that will be on Manuel.

DEFENSE:The Bills will be navigating rough waters on defense after the loss of Byrd, who helped lead them to the No. 4 pass defense, in free agency and Kiko Alonso to an offseason injury.  Byrd tied for the team lead with four interceptions and Alonso easily led the team with 159 tackles, 70 more than anyone else. Welcome to the reconstruction project, new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.

SCHEDULE: If the Bills hope to overcome the odds and reach the playoffs following a 6-10 season, they will have to get off to a strong start and put themselves in position early. The opening half of their schedule features games against six teams in the first eight games that didn’t have winning records. Then comes the bye at the beginning of November, and they will have to be rested for a closing stretch that includes Denver, Green Bay and New England among their final four games.

ROOKIES: Watkins will have to live up to his predraft billing if he is going to pay off for the Bills, who gave up their 2015 first-round pick to move up and grab the playmaking receiver after he nabbed 240 catches for 3,391 yards and 27 touchdowns at Clemson. The remaining picks were focused mostly on the offensive line (Cyrus Kouandjio, Cyril Richardson and Seantrel Henderson) and linebacker (Preston Brown and Randell Johnson).

WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS IF... they can overcome devastating losses. Adding CB Corey Graham and Brandon Spikes might help on defense, but they hardly make up for the loss of Byrd and the unexpected injury to Alonso, who tore an anterior cruciate ligament while working out in Oregon in June. The Bills will have to win with offense and patch together their defense, and to do that they need more consistency from Manuel, who missed six games in two separate stints with different knee injuries last year.

THE FRANCHISE:
DE Mario Williams

MVP - Offense:
RB C.J. Spiller

MVP - Defense:
LB Kiko Alonso

BREAKOUT PLAYER:
WR Sammy Watkins

FAN FAVORITE:
RB C.J. Spiller

OVERRATED:
DE Mario Williams

SWAN SONG:
LB Manny Lawson

ROOKIE STUD:
WR Sammy Watkins

ROOKIE DUD:
T Cyrus Kouandjio

BEST FA SIGNING:
G Chris Williams

WORST FA SIGNING:
LB Brandon Spikes

BIGGEST FA LOSS:
S Jairus Byrd

TEAM TO BEAT:
New England Patriots

MUST-WIN GAME:
Miami Dolphins

BIGGEST FAN RIVAL:
New England Patriots

Miami Dolphins
By Dave Jones, DolphinDigest.com

OUTLOOK: Make no mistake, there are a lot of questions when it comes to the Dolphins personnel. The Dolphins may have come one victory short of making the playoffs in 2013, but there are question marks in several areas of the roster. The biggest question mark, by far, is at quarterback. Ryan Tannehill has  played two years in his NFL career now and unfortunately, the Dolphins still don’t know whether he’s a franchise quarterback or merely a quarterback with some ability and some limitations.

OFFSEASON: Along with possessing what appears to be a stronger starting five, it seems the Dolphins have improved their depth along the offensive line. Nate Garner, Sam Brenner and free agent pick-up Jason Fox all have starting experience, and 2013 third-round pick Dallas Thomas also could be a factor if he can show improvement after a quiet rookie season.

OFFENSE: Miami made a great move with the signing of running back Knowshon Moreno. Not only is he in the prime of his career and coming off his finest season, but he has the skills to be an every-down back, a clear upgrade over both Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. If Moreno can follow up that 2013 season with another productive one for the Dolphins, then he could be in line for a long-term deal, similar to what transpired for cornerback Brent Grimes. What is clear at this precise moment, though, is that Moreno will help the Dolphins in a variety of ways and very well could be the right back to take some of the pressure off Tannehill.

DEFENSE:As much as the needs on the offensive line have dominated headlines — and rightly so — the problems with stopping the run a season ago is something that can’t be ignored during this retooling year. The Dolphins clearly regressed a season ago. There were far too many breakdowns, far too many missed tackles, and far too much yardage surrendered.

SCHEDULE: The Dolphins open the season at home against the Patriots. They also play the Chargers for the second year in a row.  The Dolphins travel back to London to play the Raiders (Week 4) and then have to face off against the Bears and Packers. They also have a Monday Night game against the Jets and a Thursday game against the Bills. The Dolphins will also face the Ravens, a team they have lost to four time in a row. Hopefully, they are still in the Wild Card hunt by the time they face the Vikings and Jets to finish up the season.

ROOKIES: The selections of Ja’Wuan James and Billy Turner in the first and third rounds of the 2014 NFL draft completed the offseason reconstruction project along the offensive line. Adding James and Turner also removed whatever doubt might have remained that the offensive line will look almost completely different this fall from the version we saw during the 2013 season.

WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS IF... the revamped offensive line plays well and Tannehill cuts down his mistakes and has a higher completion percentage than his first two seasons.
The Franchise
QB Ryan Tannehill

MVP - Offense:
QB Ryan Tannehill

MVP - Defense:
DT Randy Starks

BREAKOUT PLAYER:
RB Knowshon Moreno

FAN FAVORITE:
QB Ryan Tannehill

OVERRATED:
Dion Jordan

SWAN SONG:
G Richie Incognito

ROOKIE STUD:
Jamar Taylor

ROOKIE DUD:
N/A

BEST FA SIGNING:
T Branden Albert (Kansas City)

WORST FA SIGNING:
DT Earl Mitchell (Houston)

BIGGEST FA LOSS:
CB Nolan Carroll (Philadelphia)

TEAM TO BEAT:
NY Jets

MUST-WIN GAME:
New England Patriots, Dec. 14

BIGGEST FAN RIVAL:
Buffalo Bills

New England Patriots
By Jon Scott, PatriotsInsider.com

OUTLOOK: Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork, Rob Gronkowski and Bill Belichick return, primed for another trip to the playoffs in 2014. Injuries were the story in 2013, but the return of healthy bodies will help in 2014. The defense will benefit from the return of Jerod May and Vince Wilfork, while the return of Rob Gronkowski and Sebastian Vollmer will aid the offense.

OFFSEASON: The Patriots improved the roster in spots during the offseason, although they lost some talent on both sides of the ball. Aqib Talib will be playing for rival Denver while LeGarrette Blount dons the Gold and Black in Pittsburgh. The additions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner should help mitigate Taib’s departure, while new additions in the backfield will help offset the loss of Blount.

OFFENSE: The Patriots lost a bit of their swagger last season after rolling on the ground early. Whether it was an identity crisis or the typical bumps and bruises that held them back, this season looks promising. The rookie receivers who showed flashes have more experience. Veterans who were new last year will be back, and the return of injured players Gronkowski and Vollmer should have an immediate impact.

DEFENSE:After losing Wilfork, Mayo and host of other veterans for periods of time last season, the healthy return of those leaders should bolster a defense that fell to the bottom third of the league. An influx of youthful talent via the draft and veteran experience provided by Revis should immediately improve the group as a whole.

SCHEDULE: Tough challenges against the Bengals, Colts and Packers highlight non-divisional games on the schedule. The Patriots should be able to control their destiny against division rivals early, but if they stumble – which is possible -- December will seal their fate. In the final month they face the Chargers, Dolphins, Jets and Bills. If any of those teams have playoff hopes, it will be a dogfight to the end.

ROOKIES: Jimmy Garappolo, you ask? Yes, the Patriots selected a quarterback early in the draft. It was a bold move for the future, but what about now? First-round pick Dominique Easley and sixth-rounder Zach Moore should help the pass rush, while mid-rounders Brian Stork, Cameron Fleming and Jon Halapio could become part of the next front five protecting Brady.

WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS IF... They don’t stumble against their division rivals. The Jets, Dolphins and Bills all made strides during the offseason, but New York still has QB issues, the Dolphins have ongoing concerns with Tannehill’s weapons and the Bills are dealing with a season of change. If New England stays ahead in the division matchups, they will make it to the postseason again.

THE FRANCHISE:
QB Tom Brady

MVP - Offense:
QB Tom Brady

MVP - Defense:
DL Vince Wilfork

BREAKOUT PLAYER:
LB Jamie Collins

FAN FAVORITE:
TE Rob Gronkowski

OVERRATED:
S Tavon Wilson

SWAN SONG:
QB Vince WIlfork

ROOKIE STUD:
DT Dominique Easley

ROOKIE DUD:
WR Jeremy Gallon

BEST FA SIGNING:
CB Darrelle Revis

WORST FA SIGNING:
WR Brandon LaFell

BIGGEST FA LOSS:
CB Aqib Talib

TEAM TO BEAT:
Denver Broncos

MUST-WIN GAME:
Denver

BIGGEST FAN RIVAL:
New York Jets

New York Jets
By Rick Laughland, TheJetsBeat.com

OUTLOOK: The Jets finished with a surprising 8-8 record in 2013 after being pegged as the NFL’s doormat last preseason, but another .500 season won’t cut it for Rex Ryan and company. The Jets can contend for a wild-card berth, and could challenge in the division with effective play at quarterback. While Geno Smith is still held in high regard by the staff, look for Michael Vick to jump-start New York’s offense and bring the franchise back into the postseason for the first time since 2010.

OFFSEASON: Gang Green wasted little time overhauling its roster, adding key free agent playmakers Eric Decker, Chris Johnson and Michael Vick. General Manager John Idzik has made a habit of bringing in impact rookies, and safety Calvin Pryor, tight end Jace Amaro and cornerback Dexter McDougle all fit that mold. An infusion of youthful exuberance and veteran leadership could bring a tight-knit Jets locker room even closer together this upcoming season.

OFFENSE: With new weapons in his arsenal, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg hopes improve a Jets’ passing attack that finished No. 30 in the NFL last year. The offense should get a much-needed shot in the arm at running back in Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson, while pass-catchers Amaro and Decker are capable of creating nightmares for opposing secondaries. The Jets’ aerial attack was laughable at times last season; expect the unit to return to respectability this year.

DEFENSE:The Jets’ front seven is arguably the best in the league, but its secondary is a major question mark after being victimized last season. Cornerback Dee Milliner showed some flashes of brilliance down the stretch after a tumultuous start to his rookie campaign, and the Jets need him to grow up in a hurry and evolve into a shutdown corner.

SCHEDULE: The Jets don’t play a divisional contest until a Week 7 meeting against the Patriots, which is a bit of an oddity in today’s NFL. New York will face a rugged NFC North and high-powered AFC West, with six of those eight opponents on the slate before the Week 11 bye. The final six games are more forgiving, with the Patriots the only remaining team that posted a winning record last year.

ROOKIES: Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson may have found his offensive counterpart in tight end Amaro. Almost a carbon copy of the Saints’ Jimmy Graham, Amaro is a walking mismatch. Pryor and McDougle bring a physicality and intimidation factor that the secondary has missed since Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie left the squad. Wide receiver Jalen Saunders will make a major impact on special teams, but wideout Shaq Evans has bust written all over him.

WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS IF... Michael Vick turns back the clock and finds his MVP form. The Jets need Decker to emerge as a legitimate No. 1 target and Amaro to punish defenders with his hulking frame and deceptive speed. If Johnson has anything left in the tank, New York could feature a top rushing attack and formidable passing game to pair with a hard-nosed defense for the first time in the Rex Ryan era.

THE FRANCHISE:
DE Muhammad Wilkerson

MVP - Offense:
QB Michael Vick

MVP - Defense:
DE Muhammad Wilkerson

BREAKOUT PLAYER:
TE Jace Amaro

FAN FAVORITE:
SS Calvin Pryor

OVERRATED:
CB Dee Milliner

SWAN SONG:
OLB Calvin Pace

ROOKIE STUD:
TE Jace Amaro

ROOKIE DUD:
WR Shaq Evans

BEST FA SIGNING:
WR Eric Decker

WORST FA SIGNING:
WR Jacoby Ford

BIGGEST FA LOSS:
CB Antonio Cromartie

TEAM TO BEAT:
New England Patriots

MUST-WIN GAME:
New England Patriots, Oct. 16

BIGGEST FAN RIVAL:
New England Patriots


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