With the regular season bearing down on us, let’s take a look at the 2014 AFC East Predictions.
The AFC East teams have to play the AFC West and NFC North this season in addition to their divisional schedule.
I am making predictions as if injuries did not occur unless otherwise specified and each projected finish is from looking through each game over the course of the season and predicting each winner from each matchup.
For playoff predictions and award predictions, check out Football Fan Source’s 2014 NFL Season Preview!
1. New England Patriots
Projected Finish: 11-5
Tom Brady and company remain the class of the AFC East and should be able to make their way through the divisional slate without much contest. Divisional foes tend to be the most difficult tests as they know as much about each other as anyone, courtesy of multiple matchups a year, so I see the Patriots slipping up somewhere, but for the most part, the AFC East remains New England’s to lose.
The talent on the Patriots roster has actually improved over last season with playmakers like nose tackle Vince Wilfork, running back Shane Vereen and, presumably, tight end Rob Gronkowski returning from injury, in addition to the acquisition of cornerback Darrelle Revis to replace Aqib Talib. Another year for the receivers and Brady make this offense frightening yet again and I fully expect Brady’s numbers to return to the upper echelon in terms of quarterback production, assuming Vereen and Gronkowski remain healthy. The running game remains formidable, particularly if Stevan Ridley can figure out how to hold onto the ball, and the offensive line isn’t talked about much. That means they are solid and shouldn’t be detrimental to New England’s prospects.
The defense has quietly become a sturdy, tough unit capable of keeping New England in games when the offense is off. I expect Revis to return to prominence in a scheme that fits his skill set better than it did in Tampa Bay and Wilfork’s return cannot be understated. He is the difference between New England’s rush defense being a strength to it being a weakness.
As per usual, New England is a solid team that is more than capable of making a Super Bowl run. Injuries are really the only thing that can do them in and prevent a deep playoff run.
Player to Watch: RB Shane Vereen – By the end of the season, we will be talking about this guy as an “X-Factor” for the Patriots. He is practically a receiver playing running back and while most of his damage will be done through the air, he will be hard to contain in all aspects over the course of the season.
2. New York Jets
Projected Finish: 7-9
New York is always a bit of a conundrum. You look at their roster and you question the secondary. You may question if the additions on offense are really enough to help second-year quarterback Geno Smith. Heck, you may question Smith as the starter. All of that said, the Jets will probably be in the playoff picture by the very end. Head coach Rex Ryan can be infuriating, but he always seems to get more out of his teams than you think he will at first glance. I imagine it will be one of those seasons.
Smith will be better this season than in his rookie year. He has talent, but he made numerous mistakes last season. Mistakes are one of those things that normally gets taken care of with experience. His accuracy is still a bit of a problem, but nonetheless, Smith will be better. He has to be. The key additions on offense center around running back Chris Johnson and wide receiver Eric Decker. Johnson won’t suddenly be a game-changer or anything. He will have his runs, but I just don’t think he will impact the season too greatly. Decker is huge for Smith and will be a factor, but I don’t think he will step in as a true number one receiver. I have been a huge fan of Decker since his college days at Minnesota, but I don’t think he was worth quite the money they paid for him to be their number one. Playing as one of the group in Denver is different from being “the guy” in New York.
The defense is… interesting. The defensive line is intact from last season and the linebackers remain solid, yet relatively unknown. The secondary is relying heavily on second-year corner Dee Milliner and whoever plays on the other side (right now it’s Anthony Allen) to be, at the very least, serviceable. Milliner was a guy I liked in the draft a year ago, but he has a lot of growing up to do before we can consider him a top-notch player on the outside, much less “the best in the NFL“. Safety Calvin Pryor will make a name for himself this season though. He should be an impact safety right off the bat.
The Jets have a brutal start to their season with Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit, San Diego, Denver and New England lined up after the opener against Oakland, but the back half is a little nicer as it gets into more of their divisional games. I expect this team to start slow, but maybe steal a couple which gets them into playoff consideration towards the end of the year.
Player to Watch: S Calvin Pryor – This is a guy that was talked up like crazy heading up to the 2014 NFL Draft as he plays with the speed and physicality that defensive coordinators covet. He has a chance to be a bright spot on a weak secondary unit.
3. Miami Dolphins
Projected Finish: 7-9
Miami has improved over the past couple years, but they can’t seem to do enough to compete with New England or push for a playoff appearance. I think this year will follow suit.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is a guy I expect to make huge strides in his third season at the helm. He has played well early in his career and has all the physical tools to play quarterback for a long time in this league and now I think he puts it together into a promising season for the future. He isn’t going to go out and throw 500 yards a game, but he will be a bright spot offensively and won’t hurt the team’s chances week in and week out. The rest of the offense features running backs Lamar Miller and newly acquired Knowshon Moreno who will probably be sharing duties over the season. I think Miller could have the season in 2014 that people expected from him last year. He has incredible physical tools, which have to be put on display at some point. The offensive line isn’t going to be as bad as they were a year ago and the receiving core is solid. The problem is there doesn’t appear to be anything “exceptional” that makes me think they can challenge star-studded teams like New England.
The defense will be solid this season and will do enough to keep Miami in contests against lesser competition, but not enough to influence outcomes against top-flight offensive firepower. The pass rush has to be their strongest asset with Cameron Wake spear-heading the effort. Beyond Wake though, Miami’s defense remains average and not dynamic enough to carry the Dolphins. The addition of Cortland Finnegan at corner could be huge depending on what he has left in the tank, but the linebackers in Miami are just average. Miami’s first-round pick from a year ago, Dion Jordan, will miss the first four games of the season due to banned substances. It would be great to see him do something… anything this season on a defense that needs some star power.
Miami is a team with a limit. They don’t really have the star power to push them over the top, but the offense has promise and the defense is good at rushing the passer, which is arguably the most important thing for a defense to do effectively. There is some potential here if Tannehill or Miller become stars this season, but I have Miami just under .500.
Player to Watch: RB Lamar Miller – This season he doesn’t have the fanfare he had entering last season. He also has Moreno to contend with now, but Miller’s ability makes me think it is only a matter of time before he is a legitimate playmaker in this league.
4. Buffalo Bills
Projected Finish: 5-11
I was a big fan of quarterback E.J. Manuel when he was drafted last year and after a decent rookie season, there was a lot to like going into year two. Throw in the addition of rookie receiver Sammy Watkins and the Bills look like a talented team poised to surprise people. Then the preseason hit and now there may be more questions than answers in Buffalo.
Offensively, Manuel is the key. He has all the physical skills, but he just couldn’t move the Buffalo offense this August. He was inaccurate and…”off”. I still think Manuel has a future in the NFL, but Buffalo was concerned enough to bring in Kyle Orton as a backup and I don’t blame them. Watkins is going to be an incredible player as he was a man among boys in college and those are the sorts of players who make a name for themselves in the pros. He already seems to have a bit of an injury bug, which could limit production this season, but, if healthy, he is a star in the making. The Bills offense also possesses running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller (and newly acquired Bryce Brown), which makes their inability to move the ball in the preseason all the more concerning. Spiller can’t seem to get enough carries to really unleash his immense talent, but Jackson remains timeless and quite serviceable. You would expect more from this offense, particularly if the games were played on paper.
The Buffalo defense, a year ago, was actually quite good. They were terrifying in passing situations with a great defensive line and an opportunistic secondary. The defensive line is loaded with players who possess great pass-rushing ability. Last season, linebacker Kiko Alonso was a star, but he will now, most likely, miss the entire season due to a training camp injury. Brandon Spikes, from New England, should play well in his absence, but Alonso is a big void to fill and played with athleticism that Spikes simply can’t replicate. The Buffalo secondary is actually quite good with Stephon Gilmore continuing to develop at corner and Leodis McKelvin on the opposite side.
I mentioned with Miami how they seemed to lack the “star power” to make a run, but Buffalo actually possesses a lot of intriguing talent if they could just get the quarterback situation fleshed out. If Manuel can get his head on straight, Buffalo could be a dangerous team to play because of a solid defense and big-play offense. That said, injuries have already done a number on them.
Player to Watch: QB E.J. Manuel – As I said above, he can make or break their season. In my 2014 AFC East Prediction, he breaks it.