In the AFC, the New England Patriots look poised to once again win the division. What happens after that is anybody’s guess. Even with three problematic opponents in the AFC East, it is not a cakewalk for the Pats, but it will probably be close to it. Two big questions are in the air. The first is will Brady have to sit out any games due to Deflategate? The second is do the Pats possess the chops to get back to and win the Super Bowl in successive seasons?
New England Patriots (1st at 12-4)
Last season, the Pats record stood at 12-4. They have a good shot at making the same mark in 2015. Tom Brady is aging but he’s still got it. He is one of the best in the NFL. The team is stocked with quality receivers, including Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell. Plus, at tight end, Rob Gronkowski can be unstoppable.
As is often the case with this team, the running game is in question, as both Steven Ridley and Shane Vereen, who put up solid numbers, have moved on. LaGarrett Blount will be given a shot at the RB slot. There’s excellent news upfront, as the O-line looks solid.
The Patriots defense includes one of the best linebacking units in the game. Jerrod Mayo, Jamie Collins, and Don’t’a Hightower are top performers. Plus, this squad has depth. The defensive line has taken a hit with the loss of Vince Wilfork and the secondary also has some vacant spots. These areas could be problem spots.
The special teams unit is topnotch with Matthew Slater being a premium performer. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski is as consistent as one gets. Coach Bill Belichick is, well, coach Bill Belichick, a winner.
Buffalo Bills (2nd at 9-7)
The Bills, who were 9-7 last season, look to be more of the same in 2015. They could be that second-place team that, once again, does not make the playoffs. The quarterback situation is not good, as Matt Cassel looks like the probable starter. Cassel’s got some decent pass catchers including Sammy Watkins who had a solid rookie season in 2014. Newly signed vet wideout Percy Harvin should be able to stretch out opponent defenses.
The best news for the offense is the Bills’ signing of RB LeSean McCoy, who is able to run and catch for yards. The other good news is the premium offensive line, which should help both the running and passing games.
On defense, the Bills are solid on the line. They have an especially effective group of pass rushers with Kyle Williams leading the squad. The linebacking unit and defensive backs will have some holes to fill. The good news is Mario Williams, who had 14.5 sacks, returns. However, LB Kiki Alonso will need to be replaced. Expect to see Preston Brown attempt to fill his shoes. In the defensive back area, veteran CB Corey Graham will anchor that group, which will need some extra help.
Placekicker Dan Carpenter can hit the long one but is inconsistent. Rex Ryan coaches. Will he create another fiasco as he did with the Jets?
Miami Dolphins (3rd at 8-8)
Some pundits feel as if the Fins will improve this year. Last season they went 8-8. That included a surprise win against the Pats. It’s true they have a fairly light schedule, but not light enough. QB Ryan Tannehill, who learned a new system last season, had his best year yet. He’s got talented rookie WR DeVante Parker to toss to, as well as veteran Jarvis Landry, who led the team in receptions last season.
Brandon Albert leads the offensive line, which must step it up this year. In 2014, the group was porous. At RB, the Dolphins will be looking for Lamar Hill (5.1 YPA) to repeat his career season again. Jay Ajayi, a power back, gives the running attack a new wrinkle and depth.
The hallmark squad on defense is the frontline. They are aggressive and tough and now they have veteran DT Ndamukong Suh, who is one of the most feared front men in the NFL. The linebacking unit is held together by the work-a-day efforts of the tenacious Koa Misi. This unit does have depth concerns and needs some guys to step up. The backfield includes three returning vets with corner Brent Grimes being the cornerstone.
Placekicker Caleb Sturgis missed eight of his 37 field goals last season, while punter Brandon Fields proved to be one of the best in the league. Coach Joe Philbin has to make things happen in 2015, or he’s out.
New York Jets (4th at 6-10)
The Jets are still in search of a quarterback. Gino Smith may be the starter, but who knows? Newly acquired veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick could be the man; that is if he has recovered fully from breaking his leg. The line is the best part of this offense, as it includes two very fine front men, Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson.
At RB, Chris Ivory will get the start. He’s a strong runner who can break tackles and open it up. WR Brandon Marshall, a major player, has come on board and could be this team’s number one pass catcher.
The Jets have a defensive line that can rack up hits. It includes the tough and dogged DLE Muhammed Wilkerson and the agile and quick DRT Sheldon Richardson. In the corners, it’s Darrelle Revis, who is one of the best in the NFL, and Antonio Cromartie, who offers speed and dexterity. The linebacking group includes one of the steadiest performers in the game, ILB David Harris. Plus, LOLB Calvin Pace, who has not missed a game since 2010, offers consistency.
On special teams, placekicker Nick Folk was inconsistent in 2014. He needs to get his touch back. New head coach Todd Bowles has inherited some good players and a very bad QB situation. The Jets will be uneven at best.
The AFC East is the New England Patriots division to lose. No other team has the depth and talent that the Pats possess. Plus, their head coach is one of the best in the business. Buffalo will, once again, not make the playoffs, while Miami and New York both put in very uneven seasons.