AFC East 2013 Preview: Miami Dolphins Poised to Challenge New England Patriots
In the first of a division-by-division look at the NFL landscape ahead of the 2013 season, the AFC East draws first blood. On the surface anybody with brains will say nobody has stopped the New England Patriots from claiming that title for four seasons in a row. Why should it be any different this year? What many don't remember is it was the Miami Dolphins to broke that streak back in 2008. Based on their productive off-season, they appear poised to do it again.
New York Jets - Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith battling for dead offense
For the briefest of moments the New York Jets were on top of the world. They had just slayed the Patriot dragon in Foxborough and advanced to their second AFC title games in a row. Sadly they came up short of the Super Bowl against the Steelers and have gone down hill since. Injuries, free agent losses and frequent coaching changes have derailed a team that seemed on the precipice of playing for a championship. Darrelle Revis is gone. Santonio Holmes still hasn't returned from his badly injured foot and the offense seems lost without him. Indeed the Jets offense is a mess and worst of all they're trying to conduct a quarterback battle in the middle of it, under a new offensive coordinator. That is the definition of chaos. Mark Sanchez must feel the heat after his worst season as a pro in 2012 while rookie Geno Smith is determined to overcome the stigma of falling out of the 1st round of the draft when so many had him going early. Whichever one of them win the job, nobody is very optimistic about their chances with a bevy of unproven receivers and running backs. All fans can hope for is that new coordinator Marty Mornhinweg can work some magic while the defense continues dominating.
Buffalo Bills - E.J. Manuel eager to erase Bills playoff drought
Fourteen years is a long time in any sport. To think a team that once went to four-straight Super Bowls hasn't reached the playoffs in that long is hard to fathom. Yet that is the sad reality for the Buffalo Bills and their fans. The Ryan Fitzpatrick era seemed like it might break that curse but he was never the same after he signed his megadeal. New head coach Doug Marrone understood things had to change if they wanted to win. It started with finding a new quarterback. That is why the Bills took a calculated risk on E.J. Manuel out of FloridaState. Though still inexperienced compared to others coming out of college, scouts agreed that Manuel was easily the most physically gifted in the 2013 class, meaning his upside is huge. Being a quarterback specialist at Syracuse, Marrone feels he can get the young man playing good football. On paper Buffalo doesn't lack the talent to help. C.J. Spiller and Stevie Johnson offer solid options on offense while Mike Pettine hopes to put some of his magic from the Jets where his defenses finished as regulars in the top 10 on a deep but directionless Bills unit. Growing pains are expected, but a few surprises should be as well.
Miami Dolphins - Mike Wallace ready to help Ryan Tannehill ascend
No team sat on the front pages during free agency and the draft more than the Miami Dolphins. They made splashes early when they signed Mike Wallace, Dustin Keller, and Danelle Ellerbe among other to new contracts. Toss in an aggressive move for hyper athletic linebacker Dion Jordan in the draft and the Dolphins are looking quite different from the sub-.500 team they were a year ago. Second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill will enter the season with a faster, more athletic offense around him. Couple that with a defense infused with experience and playmaking ability and it spells big things for SouthBeach. Head coach Joe Philbin has the makings of a great football team on his hands. His job is to get them playing like it early, and to do what he couldn't a year ago: beat the New England Patriots. After all, that is the goal of every AFC East team this season. Miami is the best equipped to do it. If they can't, no one will.
New England Patriots - Tom Brady vulnerable without Rob Gronkowski
Then again that mystique around the Patriots doesn't seem as pronounced as in years past. After they were soundly beaten in the AFC championship game, quarterback Tom Brady watched his offense whittle away to free agency and injuries. Losing star slot receiver Wes Welker to Denver and Peyton Manning was bad enough, but he seems human whenever Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski isn't playing. Seeing as "Gronk" has undergone two surgeries in the off-season, one on his forearm and one on his back, fans wonder if and when he will return. Brady's numbers were pretty mediocre without him last season: 58.9 completion percentage, an 11-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio and an 87.1 passer rating with 7.1 yards per attempt vs. a 65.7 completion percentage, a 23-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 106.6 passer rating with 7.9 yards per attempt with him. Keep in mind those dips in numbers were when Brady still had Welker. That is why fans will watch eagerly to see if replacement Danny Amendola can fill the void at receiver. If he can't, then New England is in trouble.