AFC East 2011-2012 Predictions
The AFC East has been dominated in the past decade by the New England Patriots as they have won the division eight times in the past ten years. The Dolphins have the most amount of playoff berths of all-time in the division with twenty-two, with the Bills right behind them with eighteen even despite the fact that neither team has been relevant in sometime now. The Patriots lead the division with most amount of Super Bowl wins at three and the Dolphins have two. All the while, the Jets have won the wildcard five times in the past decade as well. Judging by their respective rosters this season looks to be the same. Now that the league is quarterback driven it leaves the Patriots as the clear favorite in the division with the Jets following right behind. The Bills and Dolphins will ultimately struggle in the division until they find a solid quarterback.
1. New England Patriots (13-3)
The Patriots have been a dominant team in the NFL in good part to Bill Belichick and their management. The two have been able to constantly put a competitive team on the field year after year while also adding promising young talent like Aaron Hernandez, Devin McCourty, and Jerod Mayo. The Patriots this season also added Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth this season to bolster their offense and defense. Haynesworth will hopefully improve their pass rush, but he also needs to play inspired football. Haynesworth has a tendency to take plays off frequently and if he does that in New England, they have shown that they will get rid of you. Just look at Randy Moss for proof. Ochocinco was brought in to give Brady that deep threat that they missed with the departure of Moss last season, but he also suffers from taken plays off. Not only does he take plays off, but he tends to not run his routes completely. The Patriots offense is all about timing, with Brady relying on his wide receivers to be at a spot when he throws and which excellent route running is key. Overall, the Patriots have a great team once again this season and look to compete once again.
Player to Watch- Tom Brady
Tom Brady has dominated the AFC East, and for that matter the AFC. His record against the AFC East is 44-12, while he is also 80-28 against all teams in the AFC. Brady is simply one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, if not the best, and it shows in his record. The Patriots will always be a team to worry about as long as Brady stays upright and able to play. It bodes well for the Patriots the he has only missed seventeen games in his career, it helps that he has had for the most part no injuries among the offensive line in his career. Brady had a great season last year even after losing his best deep threat in Randy Moss but he gained another couple of weapons in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Both of which were rookies that combined for 1,100 yards and 16 touchdowns. The Patriots offense last season ranked as the highest scoring team in the league and eighth in passing yards all in big part to Tom Brady's great play last season. Look for Brady to also improve upon those numbers as he gain another weapon in Chad Ochocinco who can give him that deep threat once again.
Player on the Rise - Aaron Hernandez
Hernandez had a very impressive rookie season and came out of the gates strong. In his second game of the season and first against the Jets, he had six catches and one hundred yards. In his first eight games he had thirty-three recpetions for four hundred and thirty-six yards which accounted for most of his numbers in the season. He only started seven games out of the fourteen games he played over the season as Rob Gronkowski, the other rookie tight end on the team, started eleven games. Hernandez should be able to improve upon his numbers from last season as he provides Tom Brady a great option down the middle of the field and has good hands and speed for a tight end.
2. New York Jets (13-3)
The Jets will be consistent in two things, trash talk and great defense. Rex Ryan will always say his team is going to win the Super Bowl, and I believe even if he was the coach of the Panthers then he still would believe his team was going to win the Super Bowl. Ryan exudes confidence and it certainly rubs off on his team, making them into a team that you love or hate. There is no doubting that Rex Ryan is a great coach, you can't argue with it considering that he has made it to the AFC Championship game twice in his first two seasons now in what is the most competitive conference. The most important thing going forward with this time is Mark Sanchez and his continued maturation. If he continues to improve upon his game, it is only a matter of time before this team does meet their wishes of winning the Super Bowl. On the flip side, it would also help if they were to get a pass-rush specialist to.
Player to Watch - Santonio Holmes
Holmes became Sanchez favorite target and it shows as he is the only wide receiver back from last season. Holmes led the team in yards and receptions per game, and he only played twelve games last season. Now with Plaxico Burress, and Derrick Mason being the other two receivers it is expected that Holmes will still get the most amount of looks as he and Sanchez have played together already and have chemistry. Even more important, Holmes played well in two games against their division rival New England Patriots as he put up ten receptions for ninety-two yards and a touchdown. The touchdown came against the Patriots in the playoffs. Holmes became the Jets best offensive weapon as he was the only deep threat on the entire team, and that will not change this season. Bringing in Plaxico Burress may look nice, but it remains unseen if he is even capable of doing better then what Braylon Edwards did for the Jets in the past two seasons.
Holmes last season in twelve games had 52 receptions, 746 yards and 6 touchdowns.
An Example of the "Flyboys"
Player on the Rise - Mark Sanchez
Often with teams the quarterback is an extension of the head coach. Sanchez fits that saying as people either love him or hate him, just like Rex Ryan. The Jets Super Bowl aspirations lie with Sanchez, as he needs to play better and continue to improve. Last season he made strides as he threw the ball 143 more times then he did in his rookie season and he raised his completion percentage by one full point. Still his completion percentage is still 54.4, which when measured against other quarterbacks, isn't very good. However, in the playoffs, Mark Sanchez manages to play better and his completion percentage is 60.5 in 6 playoff games all of which have been on the road. Sanchez for the most part, takes alot of criticism but what he has done in the playoffs has to be taken seriously. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer needs to open up the playbook a bit more to Sanchez and allow him to air it out and use his strong arm. He seemed to be to conservative come playoff time, and needs to shake that and allow Sanchez to play.
Sanchez over the lockout has risen among the team as one of the leaders as he organized camps. He was rewarded when the lockout was lifted by being named one of the team captains. It has also been reported that he has been the first person at practice and often the last person to leave, which is something that hasn't happened in his previous years. All of this may lead to a better year, or all of it could just lead to the same thing, an average quarterback on a great team.
3. Buffalo Bills (6-10)
The Bills are still deep in their rebuilding process but the defense looks to improve upon itself from last season. The Bills defense ranked in the top five against the pass last season, but then dead last against the run. To address that, they the top defensive linemen in the draft in Marcell Dareus who will slide in immediately into a starting role at left defensive end. The Bills top two tacklers left the team however via free agency. They didn't address the loss of safety Donte Whitner but seem content with Jairus Byrd and George Wilson starting, which is serviceable. The loss of Paul Posluszny was a big one to the defense as he was one of the most consistent players on the team, but the Bills were able to sign ILB Nick Barnett to take his spot. Barnett will bring a proven winner to a team filled with young guys that have never been to the playoffs. The Bills defense may improve next season, but mostly likely will be about the same. For this team to improve, then more talent needs to be brought in on the offensive side of the ball. The offense last season ranked almost last in just about every category, but wide receiver Steve Johnson had a breakout year and became one of the bright spots on the team. Potential first overall pick Andrew Luck of the upcoming draft could turn this teams fortunes around, or at least get them a winning record.
Player to Watch - Shawne Merriman
Everyone remembers the terror he was in San Diego before certain unfortunate events that seemed to constantly arise. If "Lights Out" is to return to that form, he would provide the Bills with a legitimate pass-rushing specialist that they have lacked for quite some time now. The leader in sacks last season for the Bills was nose tackle Kyle Williams, and while Williams is a fantastic player it is not ideal for the nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme to be the leading pass-rusher. A 3-4 scheme is designed for outside linebackers to rush the quarterback relentless, which suits Merriman's skills to a tee. In Merriman's first three season he amassed 39.5 sacks in just 42 games. In 2008, he only played in one game. Then in 09' he only played in fourteen games and still wasn't too productive and same goes for last season as he only played three games. If Merriman can stay on the field, then the Bills pass-rush should automatically be improved. In Merriman's first pre-season game of the season, he managed to sack the quarterback twice, which surely was a treat to the coaching staff.
Player on the Rise - C.J Spiller
Spiller was arguably the most talented rookie in last year's class but had a somewhat disappointing season. His biggest contributions to the team came through kick returns, but with the new rules this season expect those contributions to cease. The Bills recently have traded Lee Evans, one of their top offensive weapons, leaving Steve Johnson as the Bills only reliable wide receiver. Johnson will likely get a good deal of attention from opposing defenses which should lead to more carries this season for both Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller. Jackson should still get the majority of the carries, but there is no denying how explosive Spiller is. The Bills will need to find ways to get the ball in his hands, and expect him to have a role similar to what Reggie Bush did for the Saints. Spiller could sometimes be lined up as a slot receiver or in the split back formation with Jackson which could cause serious match-up problems for opposing defenses.
4. Miami Dolphins (5-11)
Quick answer to the caption to the right, that's a no. The Dolphins have an impressive amount of talent on the defensive side of the ball, then when you look at the offensive side, you are also impressed with the talent, but not the production. That has been the problem over the years under head coach Tony Sparano. The Dolphins defense ranked in the top ten in almost every category, while the offense ranked thirtieth in scoring. Many people will place the blame on quarterback Chad Henne, but it would be unfair. Henne last season had a 61.4 completion percentage, which isn't great but it is fair for a team that will run the ball as much as Miami does. With the offensive weapons that Miami have had, the playbook should be opened up. After this season, look for that to happen as Tony Sparano will mostly likely finally be fired.
Player to Watch - Cameron Wake
Cameron Wake emerged last season as one the league's top pass rushers and outside linebackers. It was also only his second season in the NFL, but he managed to get to the quarterback fourteen times last season and force three fumbles. Wake emerged also as a leader of the team. The Dolphins have a very talented group up front filled with solid linebackers, it will hurt them that Channing Crowder retired prematurely however, and it'll be interesting how it will affect Wake's ability to get after the quarterback.
Cameron Wake last season had 48 tackles, 14.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles.
Player on the Rise - Reggie Bush
Reggie Bush's career in New Orleans was a mixed bag. He showed flashes, but then showed that he ultimately cared more about himself. He often danced instead of running straight where he certainly would take a few hits. Now that he is on a run heavy team, it will be interesting to see what will happen with him. I say he is a player on the rise because if he finally lives up to his potential he could be an elite running back. He has all the tools you would want out of a running back, and his skill set you could argue is similar to that of Hall of Fame RB Marshall Faulk. He can run, he has speed, he is shifty and he has great hands. It'll be interesting to see how he plays this season, if he finally decides to leave it all on the field, then he could be something else. However, that is a good deal of "ifs".
Who will win the AFC East?
- AFC North 2011-2012 Predictions
Detailed predictions on how the AFC North will pan out in this upcoming season
- NFL: Predictions for the 2011-2012 Season
Detailed predictions on who could potentially win some of the biggest awards in the upcoming season
- NFC West 2011-2012 Predictions
Detailed predictions on how the much maligned division could do this season.
- NFC South 2011-2012 Predictions
Detailed predictions on how the teams in the NFC South could perform this season.
- NFC North 2011-2012 Predictions
Detailed predictions on how the NFC North could pan out in the upcoming season
- NFC East 2011-2012 Predictions
Detailed predictions on how the NFC East could play out in the upcoming season