The AFC East is one of the most predictable divisions in the NFL. Before the beginning of every season, it's a safe bet to say that the New England Patriots will be going to the playoff as the division winners. They haven't missed the playoffs since the 2002 and they have dominated the Jets, Dolphins and Bills for the majority of the last decade. But the Jets, under head coach Rex Ryan have recently made a push to be the dominant team in the division.
Last year, the Patriots won the division with a 14-2 record and earned a first-round bye in the playoffs. However, the Jets, who finished with an 11-5 record defeated the Patriots in the divisional round by a score of 28-21. The Jets went on to the AFC Championship game where they lost to the Steelers. The Dolphins finished the season with a 7-9 record and the Bills came in last place with a 4-12 record.
This year, the Jets and Patriots will fight for the division once again.
1. New England Patriots (2010 Record: 14-2)
Coming off a 14-2 season, the Patriots have no doubt improved yet again. Last year, the team featured a flurry of young players on both sides of the ball. And Although there was no traditional offseason, many of those young players can be expected to improve. That being said, setting a goal of 14-2 is probably a bit unrealistic from a Patriots standpoint, especially when considering the team's tough schedule. However, I think the team should be able to achieve a 12-4 record, as well as a third straight AFC East division title. The question then becomes: does the team have what it takes to get over their recent playoff slump and win a game in January since the first time since 2007?
What I Think:
The Patriots were dominant in 2010 and there's no reason to think they wouldn't be in 2011. Even though they have a tough schedule, they're one of the best teams in the league. The Patriots have added talented veteran receiver Chad Ochocinco to their receiving corps, and even if he takes a little time to adjust to the Patriots system, he should help Brady and company succeed in 2011. With another successful draft and offseason, why would we think the Patriots would be anything other than a Super Bowl contender?
Record Prediction: 13-3 -- Division Winners
2. New York Jets (2010 Record: 11-5)
It is always difficult to predict this because a lot of it is based on injures both for the Jets and their opponents, which are impossible to know at this point.
My pick would probably be a repeat of last year's 11-5 performance. Any defense with Rex Ryan is probably gong to be the top of the league. Another year of development of Mark Sanchez should make the passing game better. With tests like Philadelphia, San Diego, Baltimore and two games agains New England on the schedule, I will not be bold enough to pick a better record, although it is entirely possible.
What I Think:
The Jets are an up-and-coming team in the NFL. After two straight appearances in the AFC Championship game, it's safe to say that the Jets are legit contenders. Their biggest problem is the fact that they play the Patriots twice a year. The addition of Plaxico Burress will prove helpful to Sanchez and the combination of Shonn Green and LeDainian Tomlinson will just as productive as it was last season. With a tough defense, the sky's the limit for the Jets in the future.
Record Prediction: 11-5 -- Go to the playoffs as a wild card team
3. Miami Dolphins (2010 Record: 7-9)
My gut feeling here is 8-8 or 9-7. I would like to think this team can catch the lightning they had in 2008 and make it to 10 or 11 wins again, but I don't see Chad Pennington suddenly dropping into Sun Life Stadium. The "experts" have predicted everything from 3-13 to 11-5. I will safely say they are somewhere in between.
What I Think:
The Dolphins are going to have one of those years that everybody immediately forgets about. It won't be bad and it won't be good -- it's just going to be meh. They've added some talent to the team in running back Reggie Bush and Brandon Marshall will be the team's No. 1 receiver again this year. However, the Dolphins biggest problem lies behind their center. I don't think Chad Henne has what it takes to be a successful quarterback in the NFL and I don't think the Dolphins are going to find a lot of success until they find somebody competent to replace him. Maybe he'll make me eat my words though.
Record Prediction: 7-9
4. Buffalo Bills (2010 Record: 4-12)
The Buffalo Bills have a degree of continuity that many teams do not, and they get a bit of a schedule break this year facing a beatable NFC West in four games. That said, they also get the ultra-competitive NFC East, and they play in a very tough division, as well. Improvement is expected, but not so much that they won't be near the bottom of the league's standings. Let's go with 6-10.
What I Think:
The Bills may not win a division game throughout the season in 2011 and if they do, it will be against the Dolphins and probably just one time. The Patriots and Jets are too much for the Bills and the Dolphins, while not being as good as the other two, are still a better team. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the top quarterback on the depth chart and after him is Tyler Thigpen and neither of them are good enough to lead the Bills anywhere close to the playoffs. Buffalo's strength will be in their defense. First-round pick Marcell Dareus could dominate the line and the addition of Shawne Merriman should help them get to the quarterback. Still, it will be hard to win games if the offense can't score many points.
Record Prediction: 5-11