Looking ahead to the 2013 NFL season within the AFC East
With mandatory training camps and preseason football just a few short weeks away, let’s take a look at some story lines heading into the 2013 season within the AFC East, along with their records at the end of the season;
1) Patriots “done” without Gronkowski and Hernandez?
The New England Patriots had already received the news about star Tight End Rob Gronkowski missing significant time due to multiple surgeries this offseason. They had planned on just increasing Aaron Hernandez’s workload this season to offset the loss of “Gronk.” Well, that plan has literally blown up in their faces. With Gronkowski’s return date uncertain, the Pats now have to deal with what happened to Aaron Hernandez and his involvement in the murder of Odin Lloyd. All signs point to Hernandez’s guilt, and the Patriots have already released him from the team to try to “wipe their hands clean” from the whole situation. But, without Gronkowski or Hernandez lining up on Sundays, the Patriots offense takes a major blow.
The offense lost Wes Welker to Denver and replaced him with Danny Amendola, who is injury prone. Tom Brady isn’t getting any younger, and opposing defenses showed last season that they can penetrate the front line of the Pats’ offense, which may not bode well for number 12 behind center this season. Opposing teams can now game plan for Danny Amendola to be locked down pretty much all game without their two best offensive targets. However, you can never count the Patriots out until it’s mathematically impossible to do so. Prediction: 10-6, battling for a Wild Card berth in the AFC.
2) Mike Wallace says the Dolphins will win the AFC East…
Newly acquired wide receiver Mike Wallace made a bold statement during his press conference with the Miami Dolphins; he said that the Dolphins will be the team to beat in the AFC East in 2013. While they’ve gotten a lot of good talent during the offseason on both sides of the ball, it may be too early to jump the gun and make such a bold statement like that. That’s not to say Wallace doesn’t have any talent; he’s one of the best deep threats in the entire league, and his speed is almost incomparable to anyone else. But one good receiver doesn’t change the whole dynamic of a team if you don’t have anyone to throw the ball to you. Brian Hartline is an average receiver at best. He drops passes and doesn’t always run the sharpest routes. He’s just as much of a liability as anyone else. Ryan Tannehill is not the answer behind center. He’s too antsy in the pocket with his footwork and he makes bad reads when under pressure.
Their defense should be one of the better units in the league with the addition of Danell Ellerbe, but you have to wonder if the Dolphins’ new acquisition will gel well together on the field come game day. The offense will not be any better than it was last season, even with Wallace on the roster. Until Tannehill improves his pocket presence and calms down his happy feet, the Dolphins may end up sinking to the bottom of the AFC East with the Jets, who don’t seem to even care anymore about playing football. Prediction: 7-9, no playoffs, and left to wonder how to fix the problems they thought they resolved this offseason.
3) With the 39th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, the New York Jets select Geno Smith…
The turmoil that surrounds the New York Jets continued to amaze and astonish fans at the NFL Draft. After acquiring Tim Tebow last year, only to see him ride the bench all season (aside from some mop up duties in blowouts), the Jets pulled yet another head scratcher in taking Geno Smith. Smith was one of, if not the highest, rated QB on all the big boards prior to the Draft. When he fell to second round, most experts, and even some fans, were left perplexed by the possibility that Geno Smith could fall to one of the teams in dire need of some quarterback help. Then, the Jets swooped in and snagged him up with the seventh pick in the second round. What’s even more confusing is that the Jets had four QB’s already on their roster battling for the starting spot. And Head Coach Rex Ryan stated that Mark Sanchez will be the starter unless one of the “backups” can change his mind. Not only did they draft Smith, but the Jets also added veteran signal caller David Garrard, who wound up retiring due to health issues, and they also still had Tebow on the roster, who was ultimately released and then later caught on with the Patriots.
On top of that, they had third stringer Greg McElroy play a few games last season and had him added into the mix of starting QB for the 2013 season. Matt Simms is also on the roster as a QB, so the Jets became log jammed at the most important position on offense with no surefire winner of the job. The Jets still have an issue with who will be the starting quarterback on Opening Day, and it still seems like they’re more interested in making headlines than winning football games. The defense will be nowhere near as dominant as it once was and is going to suffer from the loss of Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine who signed with Buffalo and Rex Ryan can’t even control his own team. The Jets are heading in a downward spiral with more divas on the roster than football players. Prediction: 3-13, last in the AFC East, and fighting for the #1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. My, how the mighty have fallen. From a team that went to two consecutive AFC Championship games to a team that can’t seem to find its identity in just 4 short years. Times have changed significantly for a franchise that showed so much promise and success in the early stages of Rex Ryan’s tenure.
4) And the winner is…
With all the controversies surrounding all the other teams in the AFC East, the Buffalo Bills have managed to fly significantly under the radar this offseason, save for their draft day decision to trade down eight picks only to select EJ Manuel with the 16th overall pick in the draft. With a new head coach and coordinators, a new outlook, and a new GM, the 2013 Buffalo Bills appear poised to make a deep playoff run and end the drought. Optimistic? Sure. Out of the question? Absolutely not. The Bills have rebuilt their team rather quickly since letting Adam Levitre, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Chad Rhinehart walk and firing Head Coach Chan Gailey and his entire staff. Owner Ralph Wilson relinquished his power to CEO Russ Brandon, who has changed the entire attitude and philosophy of this team along with new Head Coach Doug Marrone. They had one of their best drafts in recent memory, and they added depth to the defense through free agency. There’s plenty to look forward to in 2013 for the Buffalo Bills, and this team is the only team who will challenge the Patriots for the AFC East title. Prediction: 11-5 with their first AFC East Championship in over a decade filled with heartache and disappointment. Bottom line: This is the season the Bills turn the tables and become legitimate contenders for years to come.