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2013 NFL Previews: AFC East

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Buffalo Bills

Though lacking the coverage and the disdain from the media, the Bills have had just as bad of a pre-season as the Jets. Buffalo’s top two QB candidates have gone down with injuries, leading to the incredibly depressing report that undrafted free agent Jeff Tuel could be their starter in week one against the Patriots. There’s a chance that E.J. Manuel, whom the Bills drafted in the first round this off-season, will recover from the minor knee surgery he had earlier this month in time to play in week one, but the team is moving forward with Tuel as the projected starter. Kevin Kolb was the other player vying for the starting job, but sadly he suffered a concussion on Saturday that may end his career.

On the brightside for Buffalo, Manuel should definitely be back for week two, and when he gets onto the field, we should be in for an exciting season of experimenting from new head coach Doug Marrone. While his record at Syracuse was far from impressive, the Marrone’s redeeming quality is how adaptive he is for a head coach. He isn’t married to a system nor is he entrenched with a particular offensive philosophy. Manuel has a very similar story, as the Seminoles used a variation of formations and strategies during his tenure at Florida State. When you have a quarterback that can succeed in many different ways and a coach whose willing to diversify his gameplan to give defenses distinctly different looks, there is some potential for a very successful offense.

Manuel is not an elite speedster in the way that Colin Kaepernick or RGIII are, but he does possess a Russell Wilson-esque ability to maneuver around the field with agility and grace. Assuming some spread elements are implemented by Marrone this season, there will be few funner plays to watch than any kind of read-option stuff involving Manuel and C.J. Spiller, who was the best running back in the league last season on a per play basis. Spiller is one of the most electric players in the league and someone capable of making a whole lot of something even when he had nothing to work with last season. With a better offensive scheme in place this season and a “new” new offensive line, Spiller will likely have a few more gaps to work with this season, and that means trouble for any opponent.

Speaking of that “new” offensive line. Aside from a few minor additions, the major difference in the trenches for the Bills this season has to do with slimming down. Marrone plans on running an up-tempo, no-huddle attack that relies on the offensive line to be able to get up and down the field and to promptly get set. A more agile approach has worked out very well for other teams in the past, and it certainly fits with the idea of having a lot of team speed. With Manuel and Spiller in the backfield, a quicker offensive line and a nice, potential-laden receiving core featuring rookies like Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin, the Bills have a chance to at least put a scare into teams with their offense this season.

Defensively, the Bills were awful last season, and they’re not likely to be much better this year. Marrone has shifted to an aggressive 3-4 attack, but the personnel on this side of the ball is still lacking.

Best case scenario: 9-7, Manuel figures it out early, the offense runs smoothly and the Bills score a lot

Worst-case scenario: 4-12, Manuel struggles mightily, Spiller gets hurt, and the Bills get scored on a lot

Prediction: 7-9 and a positive outlook on the future for a change.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins showed promise last season as Ryan Tannehill stepped onto the scene as a surprisingly effective rookie quarterback, but Miami doesn’t appear to be on the upswing just yet after their 7-9 2012 campaign. Though the addition of wide receiver Mike Wallace gives Tannehill a vertical threat to work with, the loss of Reggie Bush puts a lot of weight on the shoulders of Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas to be productive in the run game and in the passing game. And it will be tough for them to do that with such a porous offensive line.

General Manager Jeff Ireland had an opportunity to build on Miami’s successful 2012 season, but instead he made questionable decisions and built a team with more flaws than they had a year ago. After Jake Long, once considered Miami’s franchise cornerstone, left for St. Louis this summer, partly because of a lowball offer from Ireland, the Dolphins traded their first and second round picks to move up in the draft and pick third. Following the selections of Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel, it seemed logical for the Dolphins to take Lane Johnson, a massive and agile offensive tackle. Instead, the Dolphins took Dion Jordan, a defensive end out of Oregon, which is a position they already had covered.

Jordan is a nice player, but you don’t need to trade up to #3 to draft a defensive end who wasn’t dominant in college, particularly when the best player on your team is also a defensive end: monster passrusher Cameron Wake. It gives the Dolphins a dynamic duo of athletic freaks, but the tradeoff is weaknesses at other key spots. It’s one thing to draft a luxury when you’ve already got a playoff foundation in place, but in Miami’s case, there were glaring needs elsewhere on the roster and Ireland decided to give himself a surplus of talent on the bookends of his defensive line.

As a result, Miami does have a strong passrush and should get to the quarterback often this season. Linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler were both added this off-season to give the Dolphins even more blitzing prowess, and both players can hold their own in the run game as well. Miami has added a lot of weapons they believe will pressure opposing quarterbacks, and that will be huge this season since their cornerbacks can’t cover anybody. Safeties Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones are solid players, but they can’t do enough to cover the blemishes of the defenders lining up out wide.

Best-case scenario: 9-7, Tannehill and Wallace click instantly and Wake and Jordan reek havoc on opponents

Worst-case scenario: 4-12, Tannehill regresses behind a poor offensive line and the defense gets roasted weekly

Prediction: 6-10 with a lot of questions about who should be in charge of the team coming up in the off-season.

New England Patriots

As if Tom Brady hadn’t already padded his legacy with enough accomplishments, keeping the Patriots offense at an elite level this season would be a remarkable feet. And yet, we all kind of expect it to happen anyway. That’s just hot consistently good Brady has been over the last decade, able to elevate the play of whoever is around him with his incredible leadership, precision and knowledge of the game.

New England enters this season without their top five receivers from last season. Wes Welker left for less greener pastures (in terms of dollars) in Denver, Brandon Lloyd is still looking for another job, Aaron Hernandez may have committed several murders, Danny Woodhead is now a San Diego Charger and Rob Gronkowski has now undergone more surgeries than Joan Rivers. While Gronk may be back at some point this season, the cupboard is bare outside of newly added wideout Danny Amendola. Amendola is a solid young playmaker with a similar skillset to Welker and should replace him rather well, but he is still predominately a slot receiver, leaving the Patriots without a logical threat to rely on outside the hashes.

Why might this not be a lethal blow to the Patriots? Besides having Brady putting it all together, New England has built one of the best run games in the league. Interestingly enough, Belichick rarely, if ever, incorporates elements of the run game typical of spread offenses like draw plays. The Patriots are a power run team that can pound the ball down your throat, a fascinating contrast to the fleet-footed and finesse characteristics of their passing attack. Stevan Ridley has emerged as one of the best running backs in football, Shane Vereen is a very good runner with the ability to make plays out of the backfield and Belichick even used Brandon Bolden last season with a surprising amount of success.

Defensively the Patriots should improve this season. Late-season addition Aqib Talib gives the Patriots their first stable number one corner in a few years and if Alfonzo Dennard’s legal troubles amount to nothing, the corner tandem of Talib and Dennard will give New England a formidable pass defense for a change. In the middle of the field, few teams stopped the run better last season than the Patriots. With the massive Vince Wilfork clogging things up the middle and Brandon Spikes anchoring a solid linebacking core with an instinctual ability to find the gaps on run plays, the Patriots maintained an average defense by shutting down the run. With an uptick expected from their secondary, the Pats should wind up with a top 10 defensive unit this season.

Best-case scenario: 13-3, Brady makes it seem like nobody left and the defense improves

Worst-case scenario: 8-8, Brady has his first down season since he tore his ACL and the defense remains average

Prediction: 11-5 and a conference title battle with Peyton.

New York Jets

What a circus this franchise has become. Only the Jets could have their rookie quarterback that most of their fans seem to be clamoring for throw three interceptions in a pre-season game and then have their incumbent starter get injured on a meaningless play in fourth quarter of the same game. Rex Ryan’s job has dominated the headlines over the past few days because of his decision to stick Sanchez in there, but the real story with this team has nothing to do with Sanchez or rookie Geno Smith. It’s that the team has no talent anywhere on the roster.

While the loss of Shonn Greene is actually a positive, the Jets aren’t replacing him with a sure thing. Chris Ivory has had his moments in spots for the Saints over the past few years, but he had all of 40 carries last year and is entering the season as the Jets best offensive option. The only productive pass catcher that the Jets had last season – tightend Dustin Keller – is gone and even if Smith or Sanchez were to play well this season, the results probably wouldn’t show it because of the team’s lack of talent at receiver.

There are some promising players on the defensive side of the ball like young defensive end Quinton Coples, but the cornerstones of this defense (Darrelle Revis and Bart Scott) are no longer on the team, leaving this unit in search of a new leader, making it analogous to the rest of the team.

Best-case scenario: 7-9, Geno Smith is slightly better than Mark Sanchez and the defense sends Rex Ryan off with a solid season

Worst-case scenario: 3-13, Geno Smith is as good as or slightly worse than Mark Sanchez and the defense gets tired of playing defense

Prediction: 5-11 and lots of turnovers.

Mark Travis is a 22-year old sportswriter that is currently majoring in Sports Media at Oklahoma State University. He started his own website, But The Game Is On, in 2008 as an outlet for his praise of Michael Crabtree and has since been credentialed by major organizations like the NBA, NFL, MLB, Nike and Team USA Basketball. He also covered the past two NBA Finals for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

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