For the better part of a decade, the AFC East has been ruled by the New England Patriots, while the New York Jets found sporadic success and the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins dwelled in the basement.
This season, however, could bring a more even playing field within the division.
The Patriots showed their flaws during the regular season last year. Their young defense proved to be vulnerable and their offense, while still very prolific, is aging. The Patriots did find themselves in the AFC Championship game a year ago, but this season could be the beginning of the end for the powerhouse. Reliable receiver Wes Welker is no longer Tom Brady's safety net, as he will be catching passes for Peyton Manning in Denver this year. Then, there is the investigation on Aaron Hernandez's possible link to a murder, and an unrelated shooting. Rob Gronkowski is injured, again, and the Patriots suddenly seem as if they could be vulnerable. Make no mistake, New England will be far from a pushover, but even Superman is susceptible when he's around kryptonite. A kink in the Patriots' armor could lead to the changing of the guards in the AFC East.
The Jets have become a ridiculous circus that even James Franco's character, Oscar Diggs, wouldn't endorse. Darelle Revis is in Tampa Bay, Mark Sanchez will eventually be overrun by Geno Smith, ending his tumultuous tenure and Rex Ryan will undoubtedly predict his team will win the Super Bowl at some point before the season begins. The Jets are a group of Broadway divas who couldn't make it to Hollywood, and their secret is beginning to leak.
The Miami Dolphins, on the other hand, are on their way up. Ryan Tannehill played very well in his rookie season and led the Dolphins to a 7-9 record, which of course is no real accomplishment. Unless one looks at the problems Miami had faced before last season. Like Buffalo, Miami has been lost at the quarterback position since Dan Marino retired, but they seem to have found their signal caller in Tannehill. Miami has a young group that is going to gel together for some time, and could become a serious threat in the division. But this season may still include a few too many growing pains.
Then, there are the Bills. Doug Marrone has expressed his excitement about his team in Buffalo more than Tim Tebow did when he was traded to the Jets. Buffalo has a top-10 defense skill wise on paper, which under performed greatly last season. Buffalo decided to fix that by adding Mike Pettine to run the defense. The Bills have a solid running game returning with CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson set to carry the load once again, and EJ Manuel and Kevin Kolb will battle for the starting quarterback position.
Now, a team doesn't miss the playoffs every season for more than a decade and not create a stigma of itself. Buffalo will have to escape its reputation of "being Buffalo" in order to get back into relevancy. But the division is beginning to shift, and become more of an even playing field, and the Bills could quite possibly shock the league and find themselves playing in meaningful games in December, or even January.
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