NFL Season Preview: AFC East

Sports Mole previews the 2014 NFL season for the teams in the AFC East.

The New England Patriots managed to retain their AFC East title in the 2013 season despite a magnitude of problems.

Bill Belichick's side secured a 12-4 record despite losing several key players to injury and playing with several rookies on offense.

The Miami Dolphins came through a major scandal, but blew their playoff chances in the final two weeks of the season with an 8-8 record, while the New York Jets matched their accomplishment.

The Buffalo Bills continued to struggle despite changing their head coach as they finished dead last in the division at 6-10.

Here, Sports Mole breaks down the prospects for the AFC East teams heading into the 2014 season.


New England Patriots

Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates the game-winning touchdown with Julian Edelman #11 in the 4th quarter at Gillette Stadium on December 8, 2013© Getty Images

Last season: 12-4 – AFC championship game loss

Notable ins: Darrelle Revis (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Tim Wright (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Dominique Easley (Draft), Brandon Browner (Seattle Seahawks), Brandon LaFell (Carolina Panthers)

Notable outs: Aqib Talib (Denver Broncos), LeGarrette Blount (Pittsburgh Steelers), Logan Mankins (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Brandon Spikes (Buffalo Bills)

Outlook: The Patriots battled through several injury problems last season to reach the AFC title game for the third-straight season, but ultimately fell short to the Denver Broncos. John Fox's side then lured Aqib Talib to Denver with a lucrative deal, but the Patriots hit back with the signing of Darrelle Revis to bolster their secondary.

The Patriots' defense has struggled against the pass in recent seasons, but the addition of Revis along with Brandon Browner from the Seattle Seahawks will look to change that concern. The return from injury of Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo should also sure up the run defense which was suspect last season, in a unit that has the potential to be one of the top five in the NFL.

Tom Brady and his offense's struggles in the 2013 season were well documented without All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski. However, with the 25-year-old fully restored to health after his ACL tear, the Patriots look on track to become a force on offense again as Julian Edelman and second-year player Aaron Dobson will also be looking for big seasons. The only concern on offense for the Pats is the offensive line as they recently traded All-Pro Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Prediction: 13-3 –Super Bowl loss – The Patriots look to be on course for their first Super Bowl appearance in three years. Whether they can win it all depends on the health of their key players in February, which once again could prevent Brady from winning his fourth Super Bowl ring.


Miami Dolphins

Michael Thomas of the Miami Dolphins celebrates a game clinching interception during a game against the New England Patriots at Sun Life Stadium on December 15, 2013© Getty Images

Last season: 8-8 – Missed playoffs

Notable ins: Branden Albert (Kansas City Chiefs), Knowshon Moreno (Denver Broncos), Earl Mitchell (Houston Texans), Louis Delmas (Detroit Lions), Cortland Finnegan (St Louis Rams)

Notable outs: Richie Incognito (Free agent), Jonathan Martin (San Francisco 49ers), Bryant McKinnie (Free agent), Paul Soliai (Atlanta Falcons), Nolan Carroll (Philadelphia Eagles)

Outlook: The Dolphins were embroiled in one of the major incidents of the NFL last season - the bullying scandal involving Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. Both players have now left the club and the Dolphins have rung the changes on their offensive line heading into the 2014 campaign.

Branden Albert is a solid pickup from the Kansas City Chiefs and should allow Ryan Tannehill a lot more time to throw in the pocket as he was sacked 58 times last season, more than any other quarterback in the league. The Dolphins will need the third-year quarterback to keep improving and not plateau if they are to have any hope of reaching the post-season, while more will also be asked of Mike Wallace after his inconsistent first year at the club.

The Dolphins' defensive line looks the strongest part of their team despite the loss of Paul Soliai to the Atlanta Falcons. Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon boast one of the best pass-rushing partnerships in the NFL and they will look to continue from their fine 2013 season. The secondary looks suspect as only Brent Grimes looks a viable option to compete against the playoff-calibre offenses in the AFC.

Prediction: 8-8 – Miss playoffs – The Dolphins are not helped by their schedule this season as they play the Patriots twice, the Denver Broncos and the San Diego Chargers once, while the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets also provide tough opposition. They won't have enough for a post-season appearance and that could spell the end for head coach Joe Philbin.


New York Jets

Quarterback Geno Smith of the New York Jets celebrates after he ran for a touchdown in the 3rd quarter of the New York Jets 30-27 win over the New England Patriots on October 20, 2013© Getty Images

Last season: 8-8 – Missed playoffs

Notable ins: Eric Decker (Denver Broncos), Chris Johnson (Tennessee Titans), Breno Giacomini (Seattle Seahawks), Jason Babin (Jacksonville Jaguars), Calvin Pryor (Draft)

Notable outs: Santonio Holmes (Chicago Bears), Antonio Cromartie (Arizona Cardinals), Austin Howard (Oakland Raiders), Mark Sanchez (Philadelphia Eagles)

Outlook: The Jets managed to pull themselves together late in the 2013 season to save Rex Ryan's job as they posted an 8-8 record. They managed to add a quality receiver in the form of Eric Decker from the Denver Broncos to give second-year quarterback Geno Smith a chance to develop this season.

Smith struggled in his rookie year but was hardly blessed with talent around him, and the arrival of Decker along with tight end Jace Amaro in the Draft is an improvement on last year. The Jets will look to get back to their ground and pound running game with three quality backs on their roster in Chris Johnson, Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory. If they can churn up the yards, the Jets will win games this season.

The ground and pound running game is based on the idea of playing strong defense and the Jets boast arguably the best front three in the NFL with Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison and Sheldon Richardson. Those players were dominant last season and will only get better in 2014. Problems like many teams across the NFL occur in their secondary, where they lack talent and depth, which will be the reason why they lose games in the 2014 campaign.

Prediction: 8-8– Miss playoffs – The Jets have too many problems to cover up in one off-season and will need further work to challenge for a playoff place in the 2015 season. Their roster this season has too many holes to make a realistic challenge.


Buffalo Bills

EJ Manuel of the Buffalo Bills crosses the goal line for a touchdown during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on December 15, 2013© Getty Images

Last season: 6-10 – Missed playoffs

Notable ins: Brandon Spikes (New England Patriots), Corey Graham (Baltimore Ravens), Anthony Dixon (San Francisco 49ers), Keith Rivers (New York Giants), Sammy Watkins (Draft)

Notable outs: Jairus Byrd (New Orleans Saints), Alex Carrington (St Louis Rams), Arthur Moats (Pittsburgh Steelers), Stevie Johnson (San Francisco 49ers)

Outlook: The Bills have made a lot of changes to their roster for the 2014 season as they saw key players such as Jairus Byrd and Stevie Johnson leave the club. The franchise made a big move in the Draft to move up five spots to snag wide receiver Sammy Watkins to give second-year quarterback EJ Manuel a top-quality receiver and also moved for wideout Mike Williams in a trade.

Manuel has to progress for the Bills this season after the investment the club made in him in the 2013 Draft and the moves to surround him with talent this year. Injury knocked him off course last season and he never really found his form again when he returned to the field. If he can build a rapport with Watkins, Williams and Robert Woods, the Bills could be a decent offensive unit.

Their defense took a major blow when they lost Kiko Alonso for the season and their linebacking corps now looks paper thin going into the campaign. Brandon Spikes was a decent pickup and should offer some help in the running game, where the Bills have been poor in recent seasons. There are questions marks over their secondary, where a lot of investment has been made in recent years. It is time for those players to step up and make their mark for the club, but it remains to be seen if they believe in head coach Doug Marrone.

Prediction: 5-11 - Miss playoffs – Marrone is already on thin ice and with new ownership on the horizon he could be out of the job come January. Manuel is not the solid quarterback that the Bills want him to be and as a result another year of struggle is on the cards.

Head coach Joe Philbin of the Miami Dolphins talks to the media following the rookie camp on May 3, 2013
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