2012 NFL AFC East Preview

By Kevin Goodwin

Analyzing the NFL's AFC East Division

Each offseason NFL teams have to reload via the draft, free agency or trades. With these moves bring new issues every year, which is part of the reason fans love the build-up to the next season. In this series of blogs I'll address an issue facing each team in the NFL. Some may be bigger than others and some teams may have more issues to deal with as well, but I'll only focus on one for now. Let's take a look at the AFC East.

The Patriots always seem to address any issues they have every offseason in the draft or in free agency. This year was no different as New England addressed the lack of pass rush with the team's first two picks in the draft. The Patriots added Chandler Jones on the defensive line and Don't'a Hightower in the line backing corps. The rest of the picks, except for pick No. 235, were all on the defensive side of the ball. That's a good sign as the Patriots had the second worst defense overall, allowing 411.1 yards of offense per game. That didn't keep them out of the playoffs though as the Patriots reached the Super Bowl, led by the high octane offense led by quarterback Tom Brady.

But with the defense having many holes in it, the Patriots front office made the right moves this offseason. If New England's offense continues to dominate opponents and the defense gets better, this will be an even more dangerous team in 2012. On a side note, the Patriots should also pay Wes Welker, who has shown he is a legitimate threat again and again. He's been franchised, but wants a long-term deal. Brady loves throwing the ball to Welker, so give him some money and avoid any distractions as the season gets closer.

The Buffalo Bills made a splash this offseason by luring Mario Williams away from Houston. Williams, a former No. 1 pick in the draft, played in just five games for the Texans last season as he had a pectoral injury that ended his campaign. The Bills allowed 371.1 total yards of offense per game last season, which ranked 26th in the league. Williams will try to help out a defensive unit that logged a league-low 23 sacks in 2011. In his five games for the Texans, Williams recorded 11 tackles and five sacks. Take into account that the leading guy on the Bills was Marcell Dareus with 5.5 sacks in 16 games. Buffalo is hoping Williams is the key to a pass rushing attack that they haven't had in a few years. So what exactly is the issue you ask? Did Buffalo overpay for a player coming off an injury in hopes he can turn the defense around. Williams was awarded with a six-year deal worth $96 million, so only time will tell if he's the savior or if the Bills' defense will still be one of the worst in the league.

Analyzing the NFL's AFC East Division
Courtesy of www.chron.com

Moving on to the Jets, a team with no shortage of media coverage this offseason because of the quarterback situation. Coach Rex Ryan continues to say Mark Sanchez is the team's starter, but many think Tim Tebow will give him a run for his money and eventually take over as the starting quarterback for the Jets. Obviously New York sees something in Tebow or else they wouldn't have traded for him. Many 'experts' have speculated how the Jets will utilize Tebow this season – in punt coverage, in the Wildcat or as the eventual starter. I however have a different view. I feel Tebow will push Sanchez to be a better quarterback and if he can't get the job done Tebow is there as the backup. It's hard to believe that the Jets would trade for Tebow just to make headlines. He's going to attend the Jets West min-camp led by Sanchez, so at least on the surface the two seem to be on the same page.

Early reports out of OTAs are that Sanchez is looking good, so perhaps Tebow's presence is already pushing Sanchez to be better. It is still very early to speculate Sanchez will have a breakout season, but he has to realize if he struggles Tebow is there to step up to the plate. In my humble opinion the Jets will use Tebow in some Wildcat packages and serve mainly as the backup – like most backups in the league. But with the way quarterbacks have been knocked around in recent years, all teams want to have a quality backup. The days of having Jim Sorgi backing up Peyton Manning are over.

The Dolphins missed out on the Peyton Manning sweepstakes this offseason and traded away their best receiver (Brandon Marshall) to Chicago. So it is safe to say the Dolphins are definitely rebuilding the passing game. They ranked 23rd in the league last season, averaging 193.2 passing yards per game; they didn't fare too much better on the defensive side where they ranked 25th in the NFL in pass defense. Miami was able to address the quarterback situation in both the draft and free agency.

2012 NFL AFC East Preview
Courtesy of blogs.sun-sentinel.com

Some say they took a gamble on Ryan Tannehill with the eighth pick in the draft (the first quarterback taken in the first round since Dan Marino in 1983), but they felt he was the right choice and could be the future of the franchise. After a quick glance at this pick one thinks the Dolphins reached on a guy that didn't start his campaign at Texas A&M as a quarterback. Take a closer look though. Tannehill's former coach with the Aggies is Mike Sherman, who ran a pro-style offense. Sherman is the new offensive coordinator in Miami. So is Tannehill on the fast track to start?

Until Matt Moore falters, I have to think the Dolphins stick with him and let Tannehill learn more from Sherman. Miami is also taking a gamble on David Garrard, who missed last season after undergoing back surgery. If it was up to me Tannehill would watch and learning during his rookie year. Many will disagree and call for Tannehill to start sooner than later. Remember Dan Marino didn't start until the fifth game during his rookie campaign. It will be interesting to watch this unfold as the season approaches.

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