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GZL14 | AFC East | New heir to the throne?
By Anthony Fernandez
Special to gzl-football.com

GZL DIVISION PREVIEW
AFC East
Thursday, January 10th, 2014
Anthony Fernandez, GreenZone Media Committee




The AFC East is a division that has been loaded with fun, exciting, colorful and controversial GMs since GZL opened its doors. The one constant has been talented Matt Spencer, who won the division the first two years of our existence, before slowly sliding into their current rebuild situation. Joe Gaspar (who now resides in Baltimore) helped assemble a Dolphins team that has been very good the last two years, while the Harbingers have recently took over and continued their winning tradition they brought with them from Oakland.

RZL Legend Terry Gall did some good things for the Jets early in our history. Following him was Douglass Williams, who was very well liked in the community. Tom Riddell would take over after that, who was famously scrutinized for "knocking the rust" off his GM boots at the expense of the franchise, but he's done great things in Detroit since moving on. The mess left proved to be too big for GM Jay Hall, and fans in New York have proven very lucky the league pushed GM Corey Smith in that direction, as the Jets makeover in one season was amazing. Nobody was surprised to see Tom Collins disappear in Buffalo, but that team finally saw stabilization last season when Breck took over.

So all of that has led to this. 4 seasons of GZL and the AFC East has only ever known the Patriots (2) and Dolphins (2) as Division Champions. In a comment that no GZL vet would believe two years ago - it will be VERY surprising if that trend does not end in 2014. The Jets and Bills have added outstanding GMs who have done wonderful things for their franchises and the league, and on paper it looks like it will be very tough if one of those teams doesn't get their first playoff trip this offseason. But will crafty vets like Spencer and the Harbingers hold them off one more year?


New York Jets

Key Additions:
QB Matt Shaub (Trade)
QB Kevin Kolb (Trade)
HB Keith Payne (Trade)
HB Ray Graham (Draft)
WR Steve Johnson (Trade)
WR Steve Smith (Trade)
DT B.J. Raji (Trade)
MLB Ernest Munoz (Trade)
SS Sherwood Galarza (Trade)
SS Bacarri Rambo (Draft)
Key Losses:
HB Lamar Miller (Trade)
WR Braylon Edwards (Amnesty)
WR Leonard Hankerson (Trade)
DT Linval Joseph (Trade)
OLB Cameron Wake (Trade)
MLB A.J. Hawk (Trade)

Strengths:
The Jets have quite a few strengths, but it would be disingenuous of me to not start at the GM position. The Jets are getting a heavy dose of the "Breck-factor", if you will, in which they have expedited what appeared to be a few year rebuilding process in just one offseason. All of a sudden this roster that looked completely depleted of talent and draft picks (minus HB Lamar Miller) now looks ripe with potential overachievers and surprising DEPTH. The team looks built to compete immediately, and this completely re-tooled offense is going to score points in bunches. On defense, the Jets strongest position is the most important - Corner. While the team thins out considerably after the Top 2, they have their starters and should generate turnovers in bunches.

Weaknesses:
The Jets will most likely be pretty short on draft picks next offseason, which may limit them as "buyers" at the trade deadline if something goes wrong, but they have enough depth that this should not be a huge concern. On paper, their linebackers don't do much for me, and I personally think they downgraded at DT this offseason. That said, their strengths on D outnumber their weaknesses, but when playing in a division with Mark Sanchez, RG3 and Eli (maybe), they will likely find themselves in a couple shootouts. Their most alarming concern may be an apparent leaky spot at LT, where the team will be heavily relying on a younger, unpolished player to keep ol' Glass Schaub upright for 16 or more games.

MVP:
HB Keith Payne


Prediction:
(10-6) A slew of new talent, a Franchise QB, and a last place schedule? The Jets will compete to be the best team in the AFC East, and maybe even the best in New York.



Buffalo Bills

Key Additions:
HB Darren McFadden (FA)
WR Dwayne Bowe (Trade)
LT Eric Fischer (Draft)
LG Khalif Barnes (Trade)
LE Derrick Morgan (FA)

Key Losses:
WR Steve Johnson (Trade)
RG Eric Wood (Trade)
DT Aubrayo Franklin (Cut)
MLB Karlos Dansby (Cut)
CB Terence Newman (Cut)
FS Aaron Rouse (Trade)

Strengths:
As we started with the Jets, we must mention the GM spot. Breck has done amazing things with Buffalo since taking over in GZL, and it's no surprise the team will be competing for a division title in 2014. I think they'll be neck and neck with the Jets for the crown, but ultimately gave the tiebreaker to the Jets - who have historically owned the Bills to the tune of 5 out of 8, with 1 of the losses coming last year in an all-time low season for the Jets. The first strength that jumps off the page for the Bills is their offensive line. Fischer and Jones are going to be tremendous contributors moving forward, and even 6th round C Benavides has potential. The team upgraded at HB and WR this offseason, and it seems like they're a lock to improve on their 28th ranked scoring offense (19.6ppg). The team also features a pretty nasty interior defensive line, and a very intimidating left side of rushers.

Weaknesses:
Unlike the Jets, the secondary in Buffalo appears to be quite suspect. Barron and Byrd provide a very solid tandem at S, but the talent at CB is very sparse and it almost makes you wonder if Breck has another move on tap. I'm a big fan of Quan Sturdivant at MLB for the Bills Asleep drafted him, after all), but if they rely on him to start it will be interesting to see if he can be the 100+ tackle monster they are used to in Buffalo. The most alarming concern headed into 2014 for the Bills however, and what will ultimately decide how far they go, is how RG3 performs in his new "scrambler" role. He's so damn good though, that I still think the Bills are locked in for another +2 wins.

MVP:
Robert Griffin III

Prediction:
(10-6) Breck moves them up from (8-8) and right into the thick of the division and wild card race. As stated above, I give the slight edge to the Jets, but I think it's going to be a great season in Buffalo.



New England Patriots

Key Additions:
LT Kris Dielman (Trade)
RT Brandon Keith (Trade)
LT Leo Richards (Draft)
DT Star Lotulelei (Draft)
OLB Jarvis Jones (Draft)

Key Losses:
HC Bill Belichick (Contract Expired)
QB Tom Brady (Retirement)
QB Ryan Mallett (Trade)
QB Brian Hoyer (Trade)
LG Logan Mankins (Trade)
RT Sebastian Vollmer (Trade)
RT Marcus Cannon (RFA)
LE Robert Mathis (Trade)

Strengths:
In one swift swoop, the Patriots we knew and loved are gone. No more Brady, no more Belichick. Thankfully for the Patriots, we will continue the "All-Star" GM crew here in the AFC East, as Matthew Spencer is one of the best. There is no denying that when the NFL and GZL merged, if you'd have asked most if the 4 years of Brady/Belichick in NE would have resulted in 1 (or more) Super Bowls, it would have been unanimous. The team unceremoniously would regress to the tune of -1 win a season (11, 10, 9), before falling off completely last year and finishing (6-10). The good news, however, is that the team is coming off the splashiest draft in the league where they added 3 Future Pro Bowlers, and they still have QB Mark Sanchez locked up for 5 years.

Weaknesses:
Around Sanchez and the rookies, there is quite a bit more talent, but there is no denying the team is not complete with the rebuild. The offensive line has some holes, the verdict is still out on LaMichael James as a feature runner, and they did little to improve their CB position in the offseason. With all the offensive talent in the division, and the apparent lack of it at CB, it looks like many of these AFC East battles will be who can score the most. The Patriots are close, but they will need to catch some breaks in 2014 to fend off the upstart Jets and Bills (don't adjust your CPU monitor, you did just read that last line).

MVP:
QB Mark Sanchez

Prediction:
(8-8) This would probably be the most frustrated a team has ever been to go +2 wins from the previous year. Spencer is a competitor, and there is no doubt he thinks he can win the AFC East. I refuse to rule him out, but on paper, they are the underdogs (and after 4 years of Tom Brady hype, that might not be a bad thing).



Miami Dolphins

Key Additions:
CB Fabian Washington (Trade)
DT Carson Oberst (Trade)

Key Losses:
HB Ryan Grant (Cut)
HB Pierre Thomas (Cut)
WR Bernard Berrian (Cut)

Strengths:
The Dolphins won the East last year on the back of Eli Manning and Ryan Grant - and one was unceremoniously cut, and the other has been shopped constantly all offseason. While it's still very possible that Eli returns and Michael Bush can fill the shoes of Grant - but at the very least the team enters the season with some uncertainty. Of the 8 division winners last year, the Dolphins certainly feel like the most prime to disappoint in defense of the crown. Is a drop to the cellar possible? Certainly, but bright spots on the OL and at CB and WR make them a solid contender if they keep Eli. If they turn the team over to pop (warner) superstar Russell Wilson, I think this will be the first of many down years for the south beach crew. That said, the Harbingers have more trophies and awards on their walls than any of the other highly talented GMs in the division, so it's foolish to write them off completely.

Weaknesses:
Did the Dolphins do anything to improve this offseason, or were they just content fielding the same squad in 2014 despite every team in the division getting better? The front 7 of the Dolphins doesn't do much for me at all, and I bet the Harbingers are hoping they do something for them this year. It wouldn't be the first time either, as the Dolphins have historically got some sneaky production from lesser known quantities like DE Marcus Howard. The Dolphins next biggest concern will have to be HB. Ironically, they've also historically got some sneaky production from this position as well, from the likes of Ronnie Brown and Ryan Grant - so who knows, maybe Michael Bush is the next nobody we'll be gushing overcome awards time?

MVP:
QB Eli Manning

Prediction:
(7-9) A big slide for the reigning Champions, but I think the team has no idea how tough this division will be in 2014. The Dolphins could end up shipping Eli Manning out prior to Week 1 kickoff, and I'd give him a 10% chance of still being in Miami by the trade deadline.


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