NFL Season Preview: AFC/NFC East
Hype, expectations, and potential. All three are coach killers, and all three can be placed on any team in the NFL. But there is not as much unearned and undeserved hype across the league as there is in the AFC and NFC east this year. From the Jets and the Sanchez/Tebow drama, to the annually underachieving Cowboys, this season should be more of the same.
Buffalo Surprised everyone at the start of last year before injuries and inconsistency across the board Dragged them down to a 6-10 record. During the off-season Buffalo rebuilt their defense from the inside out, acquiring DE Mario Williams in free agency along with Mark Anderson before drafting CB Stephon Gilmore in the first round of the NFL draft. The Bills defense should be able to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks and have one of the best duos at safety with Jairus Byrd and George Wilson. The weak point of the Bills defense is their linebackers, but in their new 4-3 set the linebackers won't be leaned on to make plays. On offense, Buffalo's best off-season move was to get healthy and re-sign their best players. WR Stevie Johnson and RB Fred Jackson signed new deals in the off-season and along with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, should be able to get the offense back on track.
Projection: 10-6, 2nd in AFC East
Hard Knocks' latest victim will carry the name of the HBO show with them for the whole season as they struggle to get through the season. The Dolphins could be on everybody's early surprise list though, as three of their first four opponents (Raiders, Jets, Cardinals) are just as bad as the 'Phins. Newly drafted franchise QB Ryan Tannehill picked up the offense quickly, but only because it's the exact same offense he ran in college. And with one of the weakest wide receiving corps in the NFL, Miami may struggle to put points on the board.
Projection: 4-12, 4th in AFC East
New England Patriots
After having one of the worst defenses in the league last year, the Patriots had only one focus this offseason, to improve their defensive unit. New England chose to rebuild their defense through the draft, taking a defensive player in every round except the 7th, including DE Chandler Jones and LB Dont'a Hightower in the first round. On offense the Patriots brought back offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and one of McDaniels' most potent weapons the last few years, WR Brandon Lloyd. With Lloyd, Tom Brady finally has his first legitimate deep threat since Randy Moss, stretching the field to allow the rest of his receivers to roam free all over the field. The Offense will continue to be dominant, and if the defense can live up to their new-found hype they shold be the favorites to make it back to the Super Bowl.
Projection: 14-2, 1st in AFC East
New York Jets
This team is going to be like a fatal car accident. You don't want to look because it's so brutal, but just can't seem to bring yourself to look away. The defense should be good, but will be overshadowed by how abhorrently bad the offense is going to be. Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow are both below average quarterbacks, Shonn Green has the size to be a bruising runner but hasn't displayed the ability, and other than a declining Santonio Holmes the Jets have no receivers. This season doesn't look good for head coach Rex Ryan.
Projection: 6-10, 3rd in AFC East
Another year, another season hearing about how talented "america's team" is. Tony Romo needs his receiving corps and running backs to stay healthy, and needs his offensive line to over-achieve. The defense will be hoping that a revamped secondary built on the shoulders of new cornerbacks Maurice Claiborne (draft) and Brandon Carr (free-agency) can finally keep opposing offenses out of the end-zone. If there is one word to describe the Cowboys the last few years, it's inconsistent. Unless they can reverse that stigma, Jerry Jones' team will continue to wallow in mediocrity.
Projection: 6-10, 3rd in NFC East
New York Giants
After winning a second Super Bowl, Eli Manning was anointed by the media as an automatic hall-of-famer. Lucky for Manning, he won't have to play like a superstar to help his team win a weak division. The Giants' have a great receiving duo in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, but need to have a consistent ground game and the emergence of a 3rd receiver to replace Mario Manningham in order to keep defenses from keying on Nicks and Cruz. The defense will rely heavily on their defensive line, but should be just as dominant as they've been the last 4-5 years.
Projection: 10-6, 1st in NFC East
There is one major factor determining how the Eagles' season is going to go this year. Michael Vick. If Vick can stay healthy, the passing game should be explosive, but that's a BIG IF. The Eagles can help Vick out immensely by leaning heavily on RB LeSean McCoy, but Vick has not played through a full 16 game season since 2006. The defense has revamped itself up the middle, trading for ILB DeMeco Ryans and drafting LB Mychal Kendricks and DT Fletcher Cox. The defense was one of the best in the league at rushing the quarterback, but if they can stop teams from running, this team might be able to survive in the case of an inevitable Vick injury.
Projection: 7-9, 2nd in the NFC East
Probably having the most unearned hype attached to them of any team in the division, the Redskins did NOTHING to improve a 5-11 team except for drafting Robert Griffin III with the 2nd overall pick in the draft. There is a ton of hype surrounding the 2011 Heisman trophy winner, but many people forget that before last year Griffin was expected to be a receiver in the league before having his incredible season. And let's not forget that Heisman winners don't traditionally do well in the NFL. The defense will play well enough to win a few games, but a big turnaround doesn't seem likely. And no matter how the 'Skins do this year, rebuilding will be tough the next few years with their 1st round draft picks going to the Rams.
Projection: 3-13, 4th in NFC East
Photo Credit: Getty Images