Culture of Hoops

2015 NFL Season Preview: AFC East

Image courtesy of June Rivera/Flickr.

Image courtesy of June Rivera/Flickr.

AFC Division Previews: AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
NFC Division Previews: NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West
Preseason Power Rankings | Top 10 Storylines | NFL Players on New Teams | Top 10 Offensive Players | Top 10 Defensive Players | NFL Rookie of the Year | Breakout Players | Bust Players

Position Lists: Top 20 By Position List | Top QBs to Target | Top RBs to Target | Top WRs to Target | Top TEs to Target | Top Ks to Target | Top Team D/STs to Target
Sleepers | Shouldn’t Drafts | Rookies | Breakout Players | Draft Strategy

The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots reside in this division, which has seen some defensive improvement from the other teams in the AFC East. The New York Jets added, or re-added, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie to strengthen their cornerback position, as well as received a gift of a defensive lineman in rookie Leonard Williams who fell down in the NFL Draft into the Jets’ laps. The Miami Dolphins signed a defensive behemoth in Ndamukong Su to make their defense and be a potentially very disruptive unit. The Buffalo Bills added head coach Rex Ryan who, for all his quirks and shortcomings of expectations in New York, is still known for his defensive acumen.

Add all of that to Tom Brady likely to miss the first four games of the season due to DeflateGate, and there’s a stronger possibility of the Patriots falling down from the top of the division than ever before. But will it happen? It never seems like a good bet to do so against Bill Belichick.

Most Important Player: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
I was thinking about putting Jimmy Garoppolo here, as well as in the next section below for X-factor, but let’s get serious. If Brady’s four-game suspension holds up, Garoppolo is the likely QB to take snaps under center. Will the Patriots quality dip without Brady? Of course. Will Garoppolo play an important role with the team? Of course, assuming he’s good enough to start the Brady-less quadruple of contests. But, this is the Patriots. The Super Bowl champions.

And it’s only going to be 25 percent of the regular season. Even with an 0-4 start, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Patriots then went 12-0 with Brady. As long as the Patriots get into the playoffs, even as a Wild Card, because of Brady, the Patriots will have a very good chance of defending their title. It’s easy to talk about Brady’s greatness, which has been relatively extreme, as well as how the ship will sink without him… for four games. Both are valid, but in the end, for the Patriots to succeed once again to hold up another Lombardi trophy, Brady needs to be around. That there can be no speculation about.

X-Factor: Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, New York Jets
Fitzpatrick was signed during the offseason to provide the ubiquitous steady veteran leadership, but after a punch to Geno Smith from IK Enemkpali, a defensive player now on Rex Ryan’s Bills squad, Fitzpatrick finds himself as the guy for the Jets. He has the opportunity to actually keep the job, and if he does, while that wouldn’t be a big surprise or even say much considering it’s Smith he’s replacing, it would probably signal that the Jets are doing well. You know, the whole “why fix it if it ain’t broke” concept.

While Fitzpatrick’s statistics don’t inspire “oohs” and “aahs,” they don’t exactly make one cringe all that much either. In his last full season two years ago with the Bills, Fitzpatrick threw for 3,400 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. Not too bad at all. If he can reach similar statistics to go along with the Jets potentially elite defense, the Jets could go very far.

Best Team: New England Patriots
It pains me, as a Jets fan, to admit this, but it’s only right. The Patsies are the champs thanks to the Seattle Seahawks’ decision to not run one of the best running backs in the game during the Super Bowl. But, also because those damn Patsies always finds a way to be one of the top teams in the league, and forget about forecasting their demise, it seems that’s been common practice for the last several years, and just because Brady may miss out on several games means jack. In the AFC East, it’s the Patsies and everyone else.

Team That Could Surprise: New York Jets
Can the Jets go from 4-12 to good, maybe even a .500 record or better? The defensive deficiency last season (secondary was horrendous) has been addressed exponentially with the acquisitions of Revis, Cromartie, Buster Skrine, and Marcus Gilchrist. Once Sheldon Richardson returns from a four-game suspension (hopefully he returns a lot smarter off the field), the defense can be downright scary with Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson. And, if the offense can be, at the very least, steady and limit turnovers, the Jets can really go far. Which brings me to my bold prediction…

Bold Prediction: The New York Jets make it to the Super Bowl
Now, I know that sounds crazy, but this is supposed to be a bold prediction, right? Nothing really holds this to be of credible or even remotely possible quality. I just need to make it known and that’s what I just did. But, when you think about it, when you look at recent Super Bowl champions in the 2000s, most have had a high-quality defense. One team, that I’m thinking of in particular is the 2003 Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had a great front seven and secondary, but a so-so offense led by a veteran quarterback closer to his mid-30s than early 30s. So, there’s precedent. Maybe this isn’t such a bold prediction after all then, huh?

Offensive Player of the Year: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami Dolphins
I hate to say it, but I really like Tannehill as a quarterback. Unfortunately, he gets sacked and pressured way too much, but despite that, he has still improved year-over-year-over-year in his three NFL seasons. He’s increased his passing yards (3,294 to 3,913 to 4,045), completion percentage (58.3 to 60.4 to 66.4), and touchdowns (12 to 24 to 27) from his rookie season to last season, throwing a career-best 12 interceptions last year.

Some semblance of a running game emerged with Lamar Miller in 2014 as he ran for over 1,000 yards with eight scores, which translate to opposing defenses finally respecting the run that should theoretically give Tannehill and his receivers that split-second more of breathing room. The additions of Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings, and a healthy Jordan Cameron, as well as the drafting of Devante Parker should really improve the passing game for the Dolphins and that’s only going to mean that Tannehill will be the top gun in the division. It also helps that Brady will be out four games.

Defensive Player of the Year: Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets
Revis Island. That is all.

Final Standings:
1. New England Patriots 11-5
2. New York Jets 10-6
3. Miami Dolphins 9-7
4. Buffalo Bills 7-9


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