10 Reasons New England Patriots' Hold on AFC East Is Slipping

Devin Noonan@@devinnoonanCorrespondent IIIJuly 9, 2012

10 Reasons New England Patriots' Hold on AFC East Is Slipping

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    The New England Patriots have dominated the AFC East over the past decade.

    Bill Belichick and company have proved time and time again that they have what it takes to make a serious run at the Lombardi Trophy.

    Unfortunately, good things don't last forever.

    As time moves on, the Patriots are slowly but surely going to watch their hold on the division dissipate before their eyes.

    Here's a look at why the New England Patriots are going to start fading away as the No. 1 team in the AFC East.

New York Jets Are Ready

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    Before last season, the New York Jets made it to two consecutive AFC Championship games before falling to the Indianapolis Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    The NFC has now won three straight titles, and the New York Jets are hoping to change that as they continue to eye the Lombardi Trophy.

    Either Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow will emerge as their offensive leader, with former Superbowl MVP Santonio Holmes adding some character to the huddle as well.

    The Dolphins' former head coach Tony Sparano will be shaking things up as the new offensive coordinator next season, hoping to ignite the spark that this team is missing.

    As far as the defense goes, they have the one of the best secondaries in the league with Antonio Cromartie and the always-intimidating "Revis Island" shutting down opposing threats.

    The Jets will continue to be a team to worry about.

Dolphins' New Leadership

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    Tony Sparano and the rest of his staff are out.

    It's time for Joe Philbin, Mike Sherman and Kevin Coyle to show what they can do in Miami.

    Sherman coached the Dolphins' quarterback of the future, Ryan Tannehill, to success at Texas A&M. He plans on reinventing the offense with a West Coast style that increases the pace of the game.

    Coyle, the Cincinnati Bengals former defensive backs coach, is switching things up too. He's implementing a 4-3 defense to better utilize pass rushers and hopes to reiterate the importance of fundamentals.

    Head coach Joe Philbin has a Super Bowl ring under his belt and is hoping to bring Green Bay's winning tradition over to Miami to add to his collection.

Lack of Running Game

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    BenJarvus Green-Ellis was the New England Patriots' feature back all of last season. In 2010, he even rushed for over 1,000 yards on over 200 carries.

    As he now heads to Cincinnati for 2012, it's time to see if the Patriots can find another running back to step up and fill his shoes.

    The team will certainly continue to use Danny Woodhead's speed out of the backfield for some touches as well as passing opportunities.

    They'll also look to their younger backs in Stevan Ridley from LSU and Shane Vereen from the University of California, both of whom are only 23-years-old.

    Their most intriguing back yet, however, may be Joseph Addai from Indianapolis, a former 1,000-yard rusher back in 2006 and 2007.

    He's been riddled with injuries the past few years but could be the Patriots' best shot at having a quality back.

    For now, the running back slot remains a big question mark going into the 2012 season.

Buffalo Bills Are on the Rise

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    The acquisition of Mario Williams is one of many quality moves that the Buffalo Bills have made in recent years.

    Running back Fred Jackson just signed on for two more seasons, and C.J. Spiller has proved himself as the future feature back.

    Ryan Fitzpatrick also inked a six-year deal that has made him the team's newest franchise quarterback.

    With a new look on the defensive line led by Williams and Mark Anderson, opposing quarterbacks are going to find themselves in trouble all season long.

    Be warned, the Bills are finally ready to be relevant in the AFC East once again.

Tom Brady Is Getting Old

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    Tom Brady has been the Patriots' fearless leader since quarterback Drew Bledsoe fell to injury early in 2001.

    In his 10 years as the team's starter, he has led them to five Super Bowls, which isn't too bad for a sixth-round pick out of Michigan.

    Brady still appears to be at the top of his game, but he will turn 35 years old before the start of the 2012 season.

    Most quarterbacks start to deteriorate as they approach age 40, so don't be shocked if the Patriots' star slowly starts to fade with each passing year. 

Rex Ryan Wants a Ring

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    Rex Ryan may regret his Super Bowl guarantee from last season, but that doesn't mean he's given up his will to make it happen.

    With Mark Sanchez entering what should be the prime of his career and a brand new offensive look with Tony Sparano, the Jets have all the pieces in place to make a Super Bowl run.

    It will be interesting to see what the New York Jets can do with a little motivation from their head coach in 2012.

    Ryan has a lot of talent under his command, and after what he's proved in his first few seasons with the Jets, you can count on him to make the most of what he has to work with.

New Star Players in Miami

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    Reggie Bush has emerged as a star running back and locker-room leader in Miami. He'll likely continue to improve upon his performance from last year as an every-down back.

    The acquisition of Chad Ochocinco may end up being one of the best free agency signings this offseason as well. Apparently, thus far, he's shown some signs of the Chad Johnson of old.

    Ryan Tanehill, whose stock rose quickly before the NFL draft, was the eighth overall selection this year for the Miami Dolphins.

    With the young offensive line led by Pro Bowler Jake Long, Mike Pouncey and Stanford rookie Jonathon Martin, he'll have the protection he needs to succeed for years to come.

    Cameron Wake will continue to be a pass rush threat, while their secondary led by Vontae Davis will only keep getting better with time.

    Look out, because the Dolphins are ready to start making some serious noise in the AFC East.

Struggling Defense

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    The Patriots' defense ranked 30th in the NFL last season, a major reason why they couldn't close out the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI.

    Bill Belichick has always prided himself on intricate defensive schemes, but the team's pass defense seriously struggled all season long.

    They spent two first-round draft picks this year on DE Chandler Jones from Syracuse and Alabama's LB Dont'a Hightower in hopes of adding some depth and talent.

    I'd expect them to be contributors in their first season, but not the major impact players that the team is in desperate need of.

    Patrick Chung will be back from injury at safety, which will certainly help bolster the pitiful secondary from last season.

    However, last year's sack leader, Mark Anderson, has made his way over to Buffalo, a void which free-agent acquisition Jonathan Fanene will not be able to fill adequately enough.

    It will be interesting to see if a Belichick defense is capable of posting two consecutive poor seasons.

Healthy Fred Jackson

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    The Bills started off last season at 5-2 before falling into a seven-game losing streak which completely crushed their playoff hopes.

    During that skid, Fred Jackson still ranked third in the NFL in rushing before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 10 against Miami.

    Luckily for Bills fans, he'll be returning for the 2012-13 season ready to run with a clean bill of health.

    Jackson signed a two-year contract extension this offseason too, so expect him to give the struggling Patriots defense all they can handle for at least two more years.

    Fred Jackson has proved that he has what it takes to be one of the league's premier rushers, and the Patriots still need to prove that they can prevent the run.

Belichick Can't Coach Forever

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    The Bill Belichick era will go down in New England Patriots history as the franchise's greatest period of all time.

    His only losing season thus far was in 2000, his first with the team.

    That's not too bad, especially considering that in 2001 he came back and won the first Superbowl in Patriots' history.

    During his 12-year tenure, he's only failed to miss the playoffs three times, leading the Patriots to victory in three out of five Super Bowl appearances.

    Unfortunately for the Patriots, Bill Belichick is not the next Joe Paterno.

    The 60-year-old head coach won't stay with the team forever, and the organization will find themselves at a loss once he finally decides to call it quits.

    I'd be surprised if he left before Tom Brady's career was over, but wouldn't be shocked if he bailed when Brady is done.