VAVEL NFL Mid-Season Report: The AFC East
Photo via USA TODAY Sports/Brad Penner

VAVEL NFL Mid-Season Report: The AFC East

The AFC East has been dominated by the Patriots for the past decade and it seems like nothing has changed. However, the other three teams will have an interesting run in the second half of the 2015 NFL Regular Season.

jon-michael-bagay
Jon-Michael Bagay

The AFC East really has been lopsided for the past decade, where there has only been one team to rule the division, the New England Patriots. During the offseason, scrutiny around the Patriots organization had star quarterback Tom Brady on the brink of missing the first four games of the season due to the “DeflateGate Scandal.” However, the Wells Report that helped pull the suspension through, was overturned by the Supreme Court and has Brady start the season, as if nothing happened. Since the appeal was successful, the Patriots have not lost a game since. They have won their first eight games of the regular season, in which most have been in comfortable and dominant fashion. Is there really a chance for any other team to catch up, at this point in the season?

New England Patriots: 8-0

New York Jets: 5-3

Buffalo Bills: 4-4

Miami Dolphins: 3-5

The current standings of the division stand with the New England Patriots dominating the standings, holding a victory against all of their division rivals and looking like they will take the AFC East with ease, once again. The bigger picture asks if they can actually finish the regular season at 16-0, like the 2007 Patriots team that went to Super Bowl XLII to lose in an excruciating fashion to the New York Giants. However, this Patriots team is much different. While the circumstances are familiar, they will have two big road tests in three weeks to see if they can salvage the opportunity once again, when they travel to face the Giants this coming Sunday, and in Denver to face the Broncos in two weeks from Sunday. They will also have a Week 16 late-season showdown at MetLife Stadium once again, but to face their fierce rival, the Jets. The dominance of Tom Brady in the AFC East does not look to slow down any time soon, and it will be a fun ride to see how the “revenge tour” that Patriots are putting on ends. Will the defending Super Bowl champions be stopped?

However, next to them are the least likely team that many critics expected to be behind the Patriots by this point in the season with the New York Jets. Under new Head Coach Todd Bowles, their defense feels more organized and revitalized, starred by returning cornerback Darrelle Revis, who was a member of the Super Bowl winning Patriots a season prior. However, what's more impressive about the team is their play on offense, led by unlikely hero, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who gained the job in a bit of an unorthodox manner in where Geno Smith suffered a broken jaw in practice by former linebacker IK Enemkpali. While the “Fitz Magic” still remains with the team at the moment, the team's running game has been spotty, highlighted by Chris Ivory's performance last week, with 23 carries for 26 yards. There is also a cause for concern with the team's always filled-up injury report. If the Jets do want to make a push in the postseason, the team must get healthier now, especially with two late season match-ups with the Buffalo Bills.

Speaking of the Buffalo Bills, the new regime of former Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan has had it's ups and downs in the first eight games of the season. While free agent signing quarterback Tyrod Taylor has done wonders with the aerial attack and the running game for the Bills, an injury that occurred for the quarterback that had forced him to miss two games, with both match-ups ending up with losses for the side. While his play has been big for the Bills, their major concern at the moment would be their inconsistent play by their defense. Criticisms a few weeks back told of players complaining about playing out of position, highlighted by defensive end Mario Williams dropping back into coverage more than he would like. In games the Bills allowed less than 20 points per game, the team has won every single performance, however in games in where they allowed 24 points or more, they have zero. However, the team's major pieces are getting healthier and they need to find a groove to push the Jets around to hopefully end the season with the Bills' first postseason appearance since 1999, the longest active streak in the league.

While the Miami Dolphins are not entirely out of the postseason race, turmoil struck the team early on when players seemed to give up on now fired Head Coach Joe Philbin. However, a two week resurgence, after the bye week, led by Interim Head Coach Dan Campbell, faced a reality check when they played two road games against division rivals, the Patriots and the Bills, with a score differential of -45 (24-69). After receiving a huge contract in the off-season, quarterback Ryan Tannehill has not been consistent enough to have his side pull together performances to fulfill early season expectations. The biggest fish of the free agency market, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, has made very little impact on the defensive line, after being the highest paid defensive player in NFL history, only having 22 tackles and three sacks. The lack of quality defensive line play has shown with the team being the second worst team in stopping the run, allowing over 140 yards per game on the ground. The team's young offense has to be the catalyst for the Dolphins to have any chance to stay in the bubble in December, it will not be an easy task, but the Dolphins have been close for the past couple of seasons, so there is still reason to hope in Miami.

The AFC East will be an interesting division to look at because of the tight race in the bottom three. Each of the three have legitimate chances to salvage their opportunities to play football in January and it seems more than likely at least one of these teams will be there. Will the Patriots do it again (with both a perfect regular season and a Super Bowl appearance) and can any of the first year head coaches in the AFC East pull in a late season surge to send their team to the playoffs? Only time will tell.

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