Guest Post by Niles Pender of NFL Fan Appeal
With the 2012 NFL regular season just a few months away, now is the time where people normally start making guesses as to who will make it all the way this year. The smart football fans out there will have the AFC East as one of their top divisions. After all, a team from the division has made an appearance in the AFC Championship Game for three consecutive years and for five of the last six. Let’s take a look at each of the teams and how they’re set to measure up for 2012.
Any discussion of the AFC East has to begin with the New England Patriots. The reigning AFC Champions finished 13-3 last season with the best record in the conference. They stormed through the playoffs and were just 57 seconds away from adding another Super Bowl to their legacy before Ahmad Bradshaw’s six-yard carry dashed those hopes.
Still, there’s every reason to believe that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick can add another ring to their collection this year. Both of the two are back, for starters, and that means that they’re a contender under nearly any circumstances. The team has also made moves to improve a defense that ranked near the bottom of the league last year, adding DE Chandler Jones and LB Don’t’a Hightower through the draft. The only cause for concern right now in New England is the ongoing Wes Welker contract situation, but it seems unlikely that the two sides won’t be able to strike a deal. Look for New England to maintain its position as one of the top teams in the league.
Of course, there is a team right on the heels of the Patriots named the Jets. The team’s 2009 and 2010 campaigns saw them go to two straight AFC title games. New York actually looked poised to take the crown away from an aging Tom Brady.
Unfortunately, the Jets seemed to be spinning their wheels for most of 2011. Santonio Holmes, an important part of the team’s offense after being acquired in a 2010 trade, posted some of the worst stats of his career. Plaxico Burress, who was expected to fill some of the void left by departed WR Braylon Edwards, never established himself as a consistent threat. Couple in the ongoing rift between Mark Sanchez and Holmes, and it becomes clear why 2011 was such a disaster for the team.
To their credit, the Jets appear to be making strides towards a much-improved 2012 campaign. Sanchez and Holmes have publicly resolved their differences. Perhaps more importantly, the team traded for Tim Tebow. Depending on how one looks at it, the trade was either a sign that management doesn’t believe in Sanchez or that Rex Ryan has some new tricks up his sleeve. Either way, the Jets will be looking to return to their 2009 and 2010 glory this season.
After the Patriots and Jets, there are the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins. Both teams are going to be interesting to keep any eye on in 2012. Buffalo started 2011 with a remarkable 5-2 start. The team looked like world-beaters behind the strong play of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and RB Fred Jackson. Unfortunately, the bunch lost most of its focus after the bye week, only winning two games and finished with a 6-10 record. The offseason saw them draft 10 new players, including taking CB Stephen Gilmore out of South Carolina with the tenth overall pick. The talent is there, so whether the Bills can maximize their potential in 2012 looks like it will hinge mostly on chemistry.
Finally, there’s the Dolphins. The team was the anti-Buffalo in 2011, starting out horribly but finishing with six wins in their last nine games for a 6-10 record. Head coach Tony Sparano is out, and he’s been replaced by former Packers coordinator Joe Philbin. The team took the coveted QB Ryan Tannehill in the first round of the draft and also dealt away mercurial WR Brandon Marshall. If Tannehill gets the nod at starter, there’s a real chance that Miami can make a strong bid for the postseason. If not, the team should still look competitive if it can maintain the focus that it developed at the end of last season.
2012 will be an interesting season for the AFC East. The Patriots and Jets both have legitimate chances of making the Super Bowl, and it seems like a sure thing that at least one of the teams will compete in the AFC Championship. As for the Dolphins and Jets, both teams showed flashes of brilliance in 2011 and will look to prove themselves as playoff teams in 2012. There are some great rivalries in this division, and they’ll be entertaining to watch when the NFL kicks off in a few months.