No division in the NFL has been as predictable over the past decade as the AFC East. It’s essentially been the Patriots’ to lose and everyone else fighting for second place. But with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick entering the twilight of their careers, can the Dolphins or Jets finally mount a legitimate challenge this season?
The NFC East also has the potential to be a one-team race this year. For more on that division, check out our complete NFC East preview, as well as the the ultra-competitive NFC West, and read on to see if the Pats continue their stranglehold over the division.[sc:Football ]
2014 AFC East Preview
How can the New England Patriots not win over 10 games?
[sc:NFL240banner ]The incredibly consistent New England Patriots have an astonishing streak of 11-consecutive 10+ win seasons. In those 11 years, they’ve won the AFC East 10 times. Their last non-division title-winning season came in 2008 when they survived a season-ending Tom Brady injury to go 11-5 SU, but it was shockingly not enough to win the division.
Last season, even with the the Aaron Hernandez saga as well as the loss of both Rob Gronkowski and Vince Wilfork to season-ending injuries, the Pats still ran away with the division with a 12-4 record and reached the AFC Championship Game.
So, season-ending injuries to their biggest stars barely slow them down. What exactly will it take for the Pats to drop below 10 wins?
Head coach Bill Belichick’s retirement could do the trick, but he won’t be hanging up his hoodie this season, not when he’s got a new weapon in Darrelle Revis to unleash upon opposing offenses. As we touched on in our Patriots season preview, Revis, along with fellow newcomer Brandon Browner figure to make the Pats’ secondary one of the best in the business this season.
Save for a monumental collapse never before seen in the Belichick-Tom Brady era, another Patriots division title this season looks secure.
Who can realistically challenge the Patriots?
When was the last time a team not named the Patriots finished over .500 in the AFC East? Try 2010, with the Mark Sanchez-led New York Jets. In the three seasons since, no one has come away with a winning record, much less challenged the Pats for the division title.
This year, oddmakers have the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets as the team most capable of mounting a challenge, but the reality is both are priced at +700 because a lot would have to fall right for either to win the division.
The Dolphins will have a new offensive coordinator in Bill Lazor, who is expected to bring some of the principles of Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia, where he spent last season as quarterback coach. Meanwhile, the Dolphins also have a very formidable defensive line, led by sack machines Olivier Vernon and Cameron Wake.
Speaking of defense, the New York Jets have two of the best defensive units around. The problem has been fielding an competent offense to match. The Jets’ Geno Smith is one of our 10 breakout players for this year, and he’ll have some new weapons in Chris Johnson and Eric Decker to make his sophomore season successful.
Key Player – Ryan Tannehill (Miami Dolphins)
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill showed improvement in his second year, with increases in completion percentage, yards and touchdowns, which he doubled from his rookie year.
Tannehill will have to learn a brand new offense under first-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, and with weapons like Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Knowshon Moreno at his disposal, Tannehill could yet be a breakout candidate in year three. A marked improvement from Tannehill would make the Dolphins a contender in the division.
Key Game – New England Patriots vs. Miami Dolphins – Week 1, September 7
The Patriots lost their fourth game of the 2013-2014 season in Week 15 in Miami last season, which ultimately cost them the no. 1 seed in the AFC. That also meant they lost homefield advantage in the championship game, which they lost in Denver.
New England will have a chance to get some payback on the Dolphins as the Pats head to Miami to open their new season. Not only would the Pats get a winning start to the season, which is always helpful, they’d also get a crucial win against their biggest perceived rivals in the division.
The Pats (-375) have too much talent and experience not to win another division title, but the Jets will make them work for it harder than in past years. Oh, and the Bills are in this division too.
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