Over the past decade, as teams across the NFL have risen and fallen in the standings from year to year, few – if any – teams were more consistent than the New England Patriots. In the last 11 years, New England has claimed 10 division titles. The only year the team didn’t finish atop the AFC East was 2008, a campaign in which Tom Brady went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 1 and the Pats still finished with an 11-5 record, losing a division tiebreaker to the Dolphins.
After an offseason that saw the Pats bring back most of their key contributors and add one of the best cornerbacks in football (Darrelle Revis), New England seems to be the safe bet to win the AFC East once again. But the rest of the division appears ready to compete in the short term, and won’t go down quietly.
The Jets, who finished 8-8 in 2013, had trouble scoring points last season, but revamped their offense this spring, adding Eric Decker, Chris Johnson, and Michael Vick in free agency. Johnson’s best years may be behind him, and Vick won’t necessarily get the chance to start immediately, but even so, the veteran additions could give a boost to a unit that lacked the ability to make big plays a year ago.
As for the Dolphins, the East’s other .500 team, their success may hinge on a revamped offensive line, which now features free agent signees Branden Albert and Shelley Smith, as well as rookies Ja’Wuan James and Billy Turner. Miami’s coaching staff, led by head coach Joe Philbin, may be entering a make-or-break year, so they’ll certainly be motivated to find a way to get the Dolphins a couple extra wins and playoff spot.
Finally, last year’s East cellar-dweller – the Bills – swung for the fences on draft day two months ago, trading 2015’s first-round pick to the Browns in order to move up to snag wide receiver Sammy Watkins fourth overall. Watkins should have an immediate impact and will make E.J. Manuel‘s life much easier, but it’s not clear yet if Manuel is ready to take that next step and become an above-average NFL quarterback. Additionally, the loss of Kiko Alonso to a season-ending injury will have a significant impact on a defense that saw its 2013 coordinator (Mike Pettine) depart in the offseason for a head coaching job in Cleveland. Although the Bills still have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, a lot would have to break right for the club to compete for a division crown.
What do you think? Will the Pats take the AFC East for the 11th time in 12 years, or will one of the three upstarts steal it away from New England in 2014?