As training camp continues to entice fans and pundits alike with clues as to how teams are playing, how new players fit into strange environments and how new coaches are trying to to get their schemes across in new destinations, what shape teams will be in come Week One is still anyone's guess.
That said, we are closer to making educated guesses than we were during draft weekend, and we here at VAVEL are putting together previews of each division based on how they're looking in camp, how they drafted, how they did in FA and who they lost. Who will win each division? Who will bottom out and look forward to a high draft pick? Who will be a wildcard bet?
This edition looks at the AFC East
New England Patriots
2012 Record: 12-4
Key Offseason Losses: Wes Welker, WR; Brandon Lloyd, WR; Aaron Hernandez, TE; Danny Woodhead, RB; Kyle Love, DE; Brandon Deaderick, DT; Patrick Chung, SS.
Key Free Agents: Danny Amendola, WR; LeGarrette Blount, RB; Tim Tebow, QB; Will Svitek, OT; Tommy Kelly, DT; Armon Armstead, DT; Adrian Wilson, SS; Aqib Talib, CB; Leon Washington, KR/RB; Kenbrell Thompkins, (R)WR.
Draft: Jamie Collins, LB; Aaron Dobson, WR;Logan Ryan, CB;Duron Harmon, S;Josh Boyce, WR
By NFL standards a 12-4 record and a trip to your conference championship game is deemed a successful season. By New England Patriots standards that is a disappointing one. The most consistently elite franchise of the new millennium has been oh so close, yet so far away of that elusive fourth Lombardi Trophy for many seasons now. Handily losing the AFC title on your home field is a gut check to how good you really are as a team. Coming off a Super Bowl loss last season, the Patriots searched for balance on offense. So they became one of the top rushing teams in the league with 134.5 yards per game, good for eighth in the league. In the 2013 campaign they will once again need to find a balance but this time on the other side of the ball. The Patriots rush defense has always been stout with Vince Wilfork plugging up the middle but in a growing pass happy league their backfield has been torched over and over again eventually leading to the Patriots’ demise the past few seasons. Although, they now have a puncher’s chance with several first round draft picks (Talib, Devin McCourty, Jerod Mayo, Don’ta Hightower, Chandler Jones, and Wilfork) manning positions at all three levels of the defense. Hightower and Jones are primed for even more impactful seasons than their rookie campaigns. Having a year under their belt along with some continuity from previous seasons the talented defense is being called upon to answer the bell and become a feared combo punch to go along with Brady’s haymakers and the running games’ uppercuts. (Sorry about the jab LeGarrette) Tom, who looks like a stud on the cover of Men’s Health, has continued that form on the field early this preseason. As much as his age and receiving core may be questioned, one thing Patriots fans should not question is how good Brady will continue to be. He is a living legend and if anyone can lead an unknown receiving core to a Super Bowl its Tom Brady. With an inferior AFC east schedule in their favor look for the Patriots to be in a similar position come late January. This time the entire the offense and the defense will look to show up together.
2013 Prediction: 12-4, Super Bowl Champions
2012 Record: 7-9
Key Offseason Losses: Reggie Bush,RB; Anthony Fasano, TE; Karlos Dansby, LB; Sean Smith, CB. Jake Long, OT.
Key Free Agents: Mike Wallace, WR; Dannelle Ellerbee, LB;Phillip Wheeler, LB; Dustin Keller, TE; Brent Grimes, CB.
Draft: Dion Jordan, DE; Jamar Taylor, CB; Dallas Thomas, OL; Will Davis CB; Jelani Jenkins, LB.
Allow me to reintroduce the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles. Well, not literally I guess but a poor man’s version of them. And the previous edition was poorer than that homeless guy you drive by every day so don’t get your hopes up yet Dolphins fans. I know there is a lot of excitement about all the new additions on offense and defense, not to mention those umm sweet new uniforms and logo. Somehow Marc Anthony, Gloria Estefan and Jimmy Buffett found a way to make the dolphin look less intimidating. Yet as we’ve witnessed in other NFL cities and in other sports we do not always see instant results when an owner overspends and changes the look of a team overnight. That’s not how to achieve success in the NFL. There is no doubt that the talent signed by Miami is impressive. Attracting two former Super Bowl winners in Mike Wallace and Dannelle Ellerbee along with other veteran free agents was the move to make but the cost of doing business also meant the Dolphins parted ways with a lot of talent. Integral parts of their offense last season are gone and if people are doubting Tom Brady’s ability to adapt to new pieces on offense then why assume Ryan Tannehill will be able to deliver the ball to his new weapons. A prime candidate for the sophomore slump due mostly to the talented QB’s drafted ahead of him last year, Ryan is being expected to orchestrate the new Dolphins and that may be too much to ask of him without a strong running back to help him like the other QB’s from his draft class have. There is clearly room for improvement but the Miami Dolphins will not be able to overtake the Patriots in the division. They may fight for a wildcard berth but with so many new pieces look for the Dolphins to once again sputter early before finding their rhythm late, although it may be too late like it usually is. So like I said, we’ve seen it before.
2013 Prediction; 8-8 out of playoffs
2012 Record: 6-10
Key Offseason Losses: Chad Rinehart G;Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB;Andy Levitre, G; Shawne Merriman, LB.
Key Free Agents: Manny Lawson,LB; Leodis McKelvin, CB; Mike Caussin, TE; Dorin Dickerson, TE; Bryan Scott, LB.
Draft: EJ Manuel, QB;Robert Woods WR; Kiko Alonso LB; Marquise Goodwin WR; Duke Williams, S; Jonathan Meeks, S.
I would bet the farm if I had one that you’ll hear Chris Berman say nobody circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills at some point in the next few weeks. While it may have been true before the newest version of the Buffalo Bills are on the Oregon Trail to nowhere and half their team has dysentery. While this team won’t be as fun to watch as the game was the Bills do hold a lot of shock potential when speaking of the teams in the bottom half of the league. The EJ Manuel era has arrived in Buffalo, like it or not, as a first round pick. Many wonder how good he can be in the NFL especially with the string of luck Buffalo has had with QB’s where it has been like a revolving saloon door. Although, For EJ, Stevie Johnson is a nice target to throw to along with CJ Spiller out of the backfield early on. When you consider the additions of Many Lawson this season and Mario Williams last season, their defense also has high potential for being a problem, especially to Tom Brady. With a solid draft class around Manuel, the Bills are rebuilding once again and seemed to have found some possible gems in Robert Woods and Kiko Alonso but they won’t be serious contenders in the AFC East just yet. Their talent at the skill positions will allow for their offense to put up points and win some games. Their season like many teams will depend on their defense and their QB. If big signings can have big impacts the Bills stand to improve on last season. Ultimately with away games in New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Tampa not to mention two games against New England you can expect the wheels to fall off. Maybe even as early as week one after the Patriots kick off the season in Buffalo.
2013 Prediction: 5-11
New York Jets
2012 Record: 6-10
Key Offseason Losses: Bart Scott,LB;Calvin Pace, DT;Eric Smith, FS;Jason Smith, OT;Sione Pouha, DT;Tim Tebow, QB;Darrelle Revis, CB.(Trade)*
Key Free Agents: Chris Ivory,RB(Trade)*; Mike Goodson, RB; Willie Colon, OL; Antonio Garay, DT; Dawan Landry, S; Calvin Pace, DT.
Draft: Dee Milliner, CB; Sheldon Richardson, DT; Geno Smith, QB; Brian Winters G
The New York Jets went into “full” rebuild mode this offseason. They got a new GM, a slew of new assistant and position coaches to go along with new coordinators. Then… they kept the head coach and his starting QB. Oh and they traded away their best player. Boldstrategy Cotton! It appears that Tim Tebow has left the circus behind in New York as the shenanigans never cease to exist there. This half rebuild or lame duck year for Rex Ryan has the makings of a disaster worse than the “Butt Fumble”. Mark Sanchez should’ve been cut immediately following the play that has now been the Worse of the Worst on SportsCenter for 35 weeks running. The Jets didn’t cut him right then and there because they had previously given Marky Mark an extension for leading the funky bunch to an 8-8 record the season before. I imagine whoever they have had in charge over there as Mr. Swackhammer leading the Jets on Moron Mountain, an eternity of failure. Yet Jets fans will argue they were just in back to back AFC title games and are not that far away. Yes you are, you are very far away. The Jets need to come back to earth and start functioning properly before they can be considered a real threat again. Mark Sanchez will continue to have Rex Ryan’s support since he drafted Mark. That will interfere with new “Mr. Swackhammer” John Idzik’s plan to develop Geno Smith as the QB of the future. With fewer weapons than Switzerland on offense and no proven QB the Jets will continue to look pitiful. The defense that used to be their saving grace lost “Revis Island” and is stuck with a bunch of Gilliganson that side of the ball. Except for Dee Milliner, he does seem like a good replacement for Revis at least but he won’t be Darrelle yet. If the Jets can have zero butt fumbles this season, I would consider it a success even if their record may not say the same. The Jets will be bad this year but that may be good, so they can actually start going in the direction they maybe sort of wanted to try and go this year, but not really. Who knows, Idzik may try and steal some NFL players powers during the preseason, maybe then the Jets will be good.
2013 Prediction: 4-12