2012 NFL Season: Projecting the AFC East in 2012
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After some hustling, bustling and shuffling, the AFC East picture is starting to come into focus. Of course, we still have the draft, more free agency moves and cuts after training camp, but for the most part, teams are going to keep the same cores.
The New England Patriots were kings of the hill last year, winning the AFC East by a whopping five games. With a first-round bye, the Pats punched their ticket to Super Bowl XLVI, only to fall to Eli Manning and the Giants.
The Jets started the season with expectations of competing with the Pats for the division title. The Jets' plans were cut short when the lost to the Pats twice last year.
But after a slew of trades, signings, and cuts, the results are sure to change this year. Without further ado, here is a very early look at what the AFC East will look like in 2012.
4th Place: Miami Dolphins
Will Ryan Tannehill from Texas A&M join the Miami Dolphins next year?
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Where do I even start?
The Miami Dolphins are a mess. Once considered favorites to land either Peyton Manning or Matt Flynn, the Dolphins managed to make their team worse over the offseason. In anticipation of Manning signing with them, Miami traded away star receiver Brandon Marshall to clear up cap space. Manning later inked a deal with the Denver Broncos.
The Dolphins came out of free agency essentially empty-handed.
Last year, the Dolphins had the third-ranked run defense in the league and much of that front-seven was retained. However, the pass defense was subpar, ranking 25th in the league.
The quarterback situation in Miami is not looking good. Chad Henne left for the Jaguars and Matt Moore isn't going to cut it. The Fins are expected to take Ryan Tannehill out of Texas A&M with the No. 8 pick in the draft, even though it might be a reach.
The ceiling for this Dolphins team isn't very high. You can expect six or seven wins if the quarterback position works itself out. Otherwise, the Dolphins will win no more than five games. Either way, the Fins will be cellar dwellers in the AFC East.
3rd Place: New York Jets
What will happen when two mediocre quarterbacks hit the Big Apple?
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One of the biggest moves of the offseason will backfire on the New York Jets in 2012.
Tebow, much maligned for his lack of talent in the passing game, has been hyped since he started to come from behind in games to win in 2011. He led a once 1-4 Broncos team to a playoff berth. The hype that Tebow will get will be magnified in the media frenzy that is New York City.
Sanchez and Tebow will have to fight for the starting role. If Tebow wins, there is sure to be some locker room trouble. As it is, there were reports of bad chemistry among the Jets last year.
The New York defense is still one of the best units in the league, but the offense is in trouble. The wide receivers are disgruntled, the running backs are inconsistent, and the quarterbacks are below average. The Jets ranked 21st and 22nd in passing offense and running offense, respectively.
But it will be the hype and attention that will subdue the Jets in 2012. For the most part, the locker room chemistry isn't good at all, and the team will be scrutinized throughout the season.
The Jets will contend for 2nd place until about mid-season. You can expect 7-8 wins from this Jets team.
2nd Place: Buffalo Bills
Mario Williams will be joining the Bills next year
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The Buffalo Bills had one of the best free agency sessions in the league.
The Bills upgraded their defense tremendously over the offseason, adding marquee free agents Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. Their defensive line is expected to be the best in the league. Williams, Anderson and standout rookie Marcell Dareus should be a feared pass-rushing combination.
The offense is in decent shape, as running back Fred Jackson is coming off an injury that shortened his spectacular season. C.J. Spiller provides good depth at running back and wide receiver. Receiver Stevie Johnson was retained. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick enjoyed a breakout year, and he should improve even more in 2012.
The Bills are turning into a solid team who can contend for a playoff spot. However, they'll have to settle for the wild card spot, as there is another team who reigns supreme.
1st Place: New England Patriots
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The rich get richer.
The line above is the tagline for the New England Patriots' offseason.
Despite being the No. 1 offense in the AFC, the Patriots found a way to get even better on the offensive side of the ball. In free agency, the Pats signed star receiver Brandon Lloyd to a 3-year contract for $12 million. To get a receiver of that caliber for roughly $4 million a year is just unfair.
New England also signed Anthony Gonzalez and Donte Stallworth to round out the free agency period on offense.
As you probably know, the New England defensive unit was abysmal last year. They ranked 31st in total yards allowed. The Pats signed some key players such as Jonathan Fanene in free agency.
As usual, the Pats have a boatload of picks in the draft in the early rounds. This year, instead of trading down, the Pats are expected to either draft at their positions or trade up.
With a near-unstoppable offense and a potentially revamped defense, the Patriots will be the AFC East Champs for the fourth year in a row.