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2012 NFL Preview – AFC East

The Bills are hoping the paths of Mario Williams and Tom Brady cross many times this season. But let’s be honest, the AFC East is a race for second.

1. New England Patriots
I wonder, has anyone picked a team other than the Patriots to win the AFC East this season? I’ve heard reasonable cases as to why the Bills will have a strong team but I’d be fascinated to hear why anyone believes they could win the division.
It was nice to see Bill Belichick and the Patriots finally address the team’s most glaring weakness in the offseason; defense. Not only did the Patriots trade up twice in the first round to select impact players on the defensive side of the football, but they also selected a defensive player with all but one of their seven 2012 draft picks. But don’t think the Patriots held pat on the offensive side of the football. Oh no, no, no. To surround Tom Brady with even more goodies, the Patriots added the speedy Brandon Lloyd to finally give the offense the deep threat it sorely missed after Randy Moss went missing early in the 2010 season. New England also locked up their impressive tight end duo for the foreseeable future. There’s no team in the NFL with a more decisive advantage than what Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez give the Patriots. With Wes Welker and the addition of Lloyd, Brady has unmatched speed and quickness outside to compliment the size and athleticism of his tight ends, who are probably two of the top five tight ends in football. Good luck to defenses in the AFC East this year.

DWC’s Take: Patriots – The Patriots continue to amaze me. How can a team with a defense ranked in the bottom 20 and a non-existent running game be within one possession of a championship? Even in today’s NFL this seems bizarre. You have to do two things well in order to succeed in the NFL, yet the Patriots continue to find success as a one-trick pony. I guess that serves as another reason why Bill Belichick is a champion and I am not. It also helps when Tom Brady is your quarterback. I like watching this team on offense. Rob Gronkowski is a beast, Wes Welker is nearly unstoppable, and Brady carves defenses like a surgeon. However, the real question for this team is whether or not the defense has improved. They drafted heavily on that side of the ball, and they will need that unit to step up to avoid another postseason failure.

2. Buffalo Bills
I like what Buffalo did in the offseason. To compete in a division dominated by Tom Brady, the Bills added an elite pass-rusher through free agency and a promising cornerback in the first round of the NFL draft. Still, I doubt it will be enough to surpass the Patriots or even sneak into a Wildcard spot. Sadly, the Ryan Fitzpatrick we all saw over the second half of last season was more representative of his abilities than the Fitzpatrick that earned a hefty contract extension a month earlier. Additionally, Buffalo’s best offensive player is returning from injury at the age of 31, which is, you know, when most running backs start to fade.

DWC’s Take: Jets – I really wanted to put anyone else in this spot. The Jets are a nightmare waiting to happen. Santonio Holmes still plays on the team after single-handedly destroying the locker room last season with his immature behavior. The organization also foolishly brought in Tim Tebow to “help” Mark Sanchez. While I like Tebow from a leadership perspective, the truth is a QB can only lead when he is the starter. I don’t particularly like Sanchez, but even I feel bad for his situation. Every incompletion, interception, fumble, bad game, or mistake will start the Tebow-time rumblings. Sanchez will undoubtedly hear the crowd chanting for #15 to enter the game. The only way Sanchez can quiet the naysayers is to have a lights-outs season, which I don’t see coming. The New York offense is light years behind their defense. The Jets only saving grace is seeing the AFC South and NFC West on their calendar.

3. New York Jets
I appreciate Rex Ryan’s flare. It’s fun to see an individual so passionate about his work. However, coaches don’t throw the football on Sundays, so the Jets will struggle offensively. Like the Bills, the Jets panicked and threw money at an unproven quarterback with limited potential. Paying a sub standard quarterback is the quickest way to take your team out of contention in the NFL. And don’t tell me Tim Tebow will rescue the Jets. It’s amazing he’s still employed. I’ve seen high-schoolers with more accurate arms. Outside of their defense there is nothing to like about the Jets.

DWC’s Take: Bills – I went back and forth over putting the Buffalo Bills above the Jets. For one, they have a serviceable offense. It’s not great, but it’s better than their cousins across the state. Stevie Johnson is a good receiver, and Fred Jackson/C.J. Spiller make a good backfield duo. (If Jackson makes a full comeback it could be even better.) However, Ryan Fitzpatrick scares me. He throws for yards but just as many interceptions as touchdowns. That won’t work. The true measure for this team will be the defense. Only a few seasons ago, they were young and ready to take the league by storm. Now they have retooled the whole thing starting with the huge signing of Mario Williams from Houston. It was a risk, but if he can do for Buffalo what he did for Houston, the Bills will easily leapfrog the Jets in this division.

4. Miami Dolphins
Dear Joe Philbin,
Congratulations on your new job as Dolphins head coach. You’ll love being a coach in the NFL. Players are always accepting of new coaches, especially those that play hard ball right from the start. If you want some advice, I found that trading away talented players right off the bat really helped players buy in to the new culture. Nothing says, “We’re here to win” more than dumping proven players for draft picks. Although I didn’t even last two full seasons, being a head coach was the best job ever. Good luck!
Josh McDaniels.

DWC’s Take: Dolphins – In all honesty, I know very little about the Dolphins. I know a rookie quarterback won the starting job (and it had nothing to do with the popularity of his extremely attractive wife). I know Miami traded Brandon Marshall, which is both a blessing (considering his track record) and a curse (considering his replacements). I know Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas are capable running backs. I know the defense can stop the run, but not the pass. I also know this season is more about a new coach trying to establish a “winning” culture in what has become a losing atmosphere. Good luck, Joe Philbin.

For those keeping score, last season’s AFC East predictions:
Actual Results: NE, NYJ, BUF, MIA

Score: DWC 1, Me 1, Fail 2, Tie 3

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