Welcome to the GZL AFC East Preview for the 2015 Season. A division in which all four teams have been recently, or currently, rebuilding. The Buffalo Bills surprised many in 2014 racking up 12 wins on their way to the Division Title and a first round bye. Their magical run ended in their first playoff game, losing to the Cleveland Browns in a closely contested game. There has been plenty of movement within the division which should make for a difficult season to predict.
New England Patriots | GM Matt Spencer
Notable Players Acquired: OLB DeMarcus Ware [Amnesty] | DE Robert Mathis [Trade] | DE Jared Allen [Trade] | OG Todd Herremans [FA] | QB Ryan Mallett
Notable Players Departed: LT Kris Dielman | DT Vince Wilfork | OG Brandon Moore | WR Jacoby Jones
Transaction Overview: A team that was high and low in 2014 took some interesting steps during the offseason. Bringing back Ryan Mallett for a 1st Round Pick shows that they weren't too sure they should have dealt him away in the first place. The three veteran acquisitions up front on the defense reeks of an air of urgency for GM Matt Spencer, who has not steered his Patriots to the playoffs since 2011. Will those additions be enough to make up for a lackluster Cornerback depth chart? The loss of Jacoby Jones takes away a big target in their passing attack, but their last four wins of 2014 were games in which they were very run-centric on offense. Does this sign a return to that scheme permanently?
Offensive Preview: With BenJarvus Green-Ellis returning from his injury plagued 2014 campaign, and LaMichael James proving that he could be an every down back, the Patriots trot out an offense that can go either run-heavy or get pass happy. Although they dealt away Jacoby Jones (and his 11+ million cap hit), the team still retains one of the best in Torrey Smith. They also have one of the best slot receivers in the league in Kealoha Pilares. The intriguing player on this offense will be 3rd Round rookie Caz Dudley who towers at 6'4" and is one of the strongest receivers in the league. Will his lack of route running ability and top end athleticism hinder the Patriots passing game?
Defensive Preview: The aforementioned acquisitions of Allen, Mathis, and Ware combine with the returning Jerod Mayo, 2nd year studs Jarvis Jones and Star Lotulelei, and rookie interior rusher Sylvester Williams to provide the Patriots with one of the better front 7's in the game. Yet they have gone another offseason without addressing their major need for shutdown Cornerback play. GM Spencer convinced CB Marcus McCauley to return to the team on a much friendlier contract, and the team drafted the 6'4" Bralyan Bender and has plans to start him from the get go. It will be interesting if the front 7 play will help alleviate pressure on an inexperienced secondary.
Predictions: If the end of the 2014 season is any indication, this team could be on the way towards competing for the division title. But holes remain throughout the roster. There are many veterans on the team looking for one last shot at glory, so that could push them to the next level. Our prediction: 9-7
New York Jets | GM Corey Smith
Notable Players Acquired: DE Robert Ayers [FA] | HB Peyton Hillis [Trade] | OG Bryan Baluga [Trade]
Notable Players Departed: CB Darrelle Revis | HB Keith Payne
Transaction Overview: A retooling of the icons on the team was the highlight of the offseason for Corey Smith, but the draft was where the real focus and real homeruns of the offseason stood out. They exchanged Darrelle Revis for stud pass rusher Robert Ayers, and swapped out Keith Payne for bruising tailback Peyton Hillis. The Jets hit early and often in the draft, getting possible starters in QB E.J. Manuel, CB D.J. Hayden, DT Datone Jones, WR Markus Wheaton, WR Anthony Perez, OLB Curtis Hudson, and S D.J. Swearinger. If you have an initialized first name, Corey Smith would like to welcome you to the Jets.
Offensive Preview: Seeing first hand the successes of the division rival Buffalo Bills with Robert Griffin III, the Jets nabbed QB E.J Manuel in the first round of the draft. He will likely compete with incumbent Kevin Kolb for the starting job in his first season in the GZL. Peyton Hillis, should he stay healthy should provide the Jets' young QB with a back to hop on and ride as he learns and grows into a more consistent passer. There are plenty of receivers in the stable as well to support the growth of Manuel. I would expect to see Manuel win the starting job over Kolb as the team looks to extract the most progression as possible as soon as possible.
Defensive Preview: The loss of Revis will definitely remove an element of shutting down opposing passers from the Jets defense, but it looks as though Prince Amakamura is ready to fill his shoes and be the lockdown corner every GM dreams of. The addition of Ayers on the edge will surely take some pressure off of the secondary as he's been one of the most consistently great rushers in the GZL. MLB Ernest Munoz enters his 2nd full season as a starter, and I expect him to quickly become one of the league's elite at the position. A very good defense all around for a Jets team that looks to take the next step.
Predictions: If they start Manuel, we should expect to see some growing pains at times and some flashes of brilliance at others. Corey Smith has once again hit a home run in the draft and I think this team is on the rise with a very bright future beyond the 2015 season. Our prediction: 8-8.
Miami Dolphins | GM Ben Harbinger
Notable Players Acquired: CB Clarence Mitchell [FA] | DE Adam Carriker [FA] | TE Jacob Tamme [FA] | WR Ricardo Lockette [FA] |
OLB Rick Jones [FA] | DE Matt Shaugnessy [FA]
Notable Players Departed: QB Russell Wilson | WR Brandon Marshall | SS Oshiomogho Atogwe
Transaction Overview: Similar to the Jets, the Dolphins focused on the draft in turning towards their rebuilding effort. With 4 first round draft picks and two more picks in the 2nd round, the Dolphins added premium talent on both sides of the ball. HB Le'Veon Bell is a huge bruising back who should step into the starting role right away and produce. On the other side of the ball MLB Hugh Harmon will also step in from day 1 as a rookie and be the Quarterback of the defense. The Quarterback on the offense? Gone is Russel Wilson and now they will turn to Mike Glennon, likely from day 1 as well. Cornerback Darius Slay comes out of the draft as one of the more polished, and athletic corners and stop me if you've heard this before, start from day 1. The youth movement is on in Miami.
Offensive Preview: The 6'7" Mike Glennon should be the signal caller out of the gate for the 'Phins, and his rookie campanion Halback Bell provides a big power back to lean on. Glennon has a plethora of big and fast targets in Ricardo Lockette, Kevin Ogletree, and David Clowney. His Tight End's Jordan Cameron and Jacob Tamme provide very solid two way players as receivers and blockers. Up front a very good Offensive Line anchored by Jake Long should provide ample time for Glennon to get rid of the ball and also open up solid running lanes for Bell.
Defensive Preview: Darius Slay joins Sean Smith as a dynamic duo at Cornerback, and Harmon brings a great presence to the middle of the defense, but the rest of this side of the ball for Miami just seems to be a little average. I do like the drafting of Brandon Williams to man the Nose Tackle position, a solid value they found in the 2nd round of the last draft. He should pair well with the pass rushing presence of Jared Odrick.
Predictions: Loaded up on draft picks last season, the Dolphins made it clear that they were going all out on their rebuild. I think it will be more of the same this season and would expect them to possibly ship out CB Smith and OT Long to further stock their coffers with draft picks for the next draft. With rookies at many of the key positions, including QB, HB, MLB, and CB, we should expect to see a rough year out of South Florida. Our prediction: 4-12.
Buffalo Bills | GM Daryl Breckheimer
Notable Players Acquired: WR Miles Austin [Trade] | WR T.J. Moe | K Phil Dawson [FA] | OT Ronnie Bryan [FA] | FS Will Blackmon [FA] |
CB Stanford Routt [FA]
Notable Players Departed: DE Jared Allen | TE Charlie Gantt | OT Anthony Costanzo | WR Ted Ginn
Transaction Overview: Unlike the other teams in the division, the Bills did not have a single selection in the draft until the 5th round. They believe they found possible starters in CB's Keith Schultz and B.W. Webb, but others are not convinced. The additions of WR's Miles Austin and T.J. Moe provide the Bills with likely the most talented depth chart of receivers in the league as they join Robert Woods and Dwayne Bowe. It was interesting that the team decided not to bring back OT Costanzo as he was a key player in providing running lanes for HB Darren McFadden. Many around the league believe that the Bills have had a ho-hum offseason, but I'd put them near the middle of the pack as far as grades.
Offensive Preview: Will this be the offense that featured Darren McFadden running defenders over at will like the 2014 season, or will the additions to the receiving corps lead to a more wide open attack giving RGIII more freedom in the passing game? In his third full season, it may be time for the Bills to see if RGIII has it in him to become the dual threat Quarterback that GM Breckheimer drooled over in the 2013 draft. It may be a case where the team comes out of the gates throwing, and if success is not found, they return to a team who can grind out wins with McFadden leading the way.
Defensive Preview: Leodis McKelvin picked off 7 passes in 2014, but he also allowed twice as many catches as he deflected. Mark Barron and Jairus Byrd will be under plenty of pressure to make up for the somewhat weak Cornerback depth. Marcel Dareus is one of the best Defensive Tackles in the league, and OLB Jerry Gonzalez was a true find a few years ago in the 4th round, but elsewhere on the defense the talent is underwhelming.
Predictions: Surprising the league in 2014 with 12 wins, it seems the Bills could be on their way back towards the mean in 2015, that is unless RGIII becomes the passing threat that Breck envisions. I would think that it would take another season of progression for RGIII to become a league leading passer. Our Prediction: 10-6.