Once again Paul Revere has taken to horseback this time heading down Route 1 to rouse the Patriots with shouts of “The Division is Coming, The Division is Coming”, it’s that time of year when NFL teams begin seriously looking at the competition. For fans of the New England Patriots this usually means it’s time to take a look at the handful of teams that will need to be faced in the playoffs enroute to the AFC Championship. Seldom part of this handful are the other teams of the AFC East but this year there seems to be too much noise coming from these teams to ignore so I’ll take a look at them in the Patriots rear view mirror.
Buffalo Bills: (starting with the loudest)
When it comes to winning the problem in upstate land is that the appearance of being good is as acceptable as being good as long as ticket sales increase. President Russ Brandon was hired as a marketing guy to increase the teams profile in the area closest to its location and he has stayed that course from arranging games in Toronto to hiring head coaches based on local name recognition. Officially named President in 2013 he’s been running the team for 6 or 7 years with little improvement to the team itself. I don’t think anyone has anything bad to say about GM Doug Whaley, in fact there is little to say about him at all. If he really has a say on player selection he doesn’t seem to have a long term plan but likes flashy signings that generate news. Mario Williams, Sammy Watkins, and LeSean McCoy all spark great conversation so the most noise is definitely coming from the car with the Buffalo Bills logo and nothing less is expected from a team with Rex Ryan doing the talking. The Bills enter the season with the potential of a great defense and an underwhelming quarterback as they did in 2014 and will probably post the same results, hopefully they can get lucky and make the playoffs so everyone in the front office and on the coaching staff keeps their jobs. Their chances for a big season are minimal, perhaps their defense matches the Seahawks but they don’t have a Russell Wilson and I can’t see this team making it to the conference championship or Superbowl. Move along folks just a lot of noise here and nothing to see.
Dumb, Dumber, and Dumbest sums up the signing of Ndamukong Suh. I get that the salary cap will be increasing again and some of the increase can be projected and spent but the Dolphins were not one player away from the Superbowl and the money would have been better spent on depth in more than one place. The Lions didn’t win with Suh, nor the Texans with Watt or the Bills with Williams. Despite this move the Dolphins will compete for 2nd place in the division because they have a legitimate starting QB in Ryan Tannehill and the other teams don’t. We have all been waiting to see Tannehill’s breakout year but he’s been hampered by either no receivers or receivers but no time to throw the ball. He’ll have a little of each this year and he either has a big year or the blame will have to shift to the coaching which remains a question mark. If Tannehill develops in the quarterback Dolphin fans hope for the team does have a good foundation to go places but it’s not happening this year. Possibly the playoffs and even a playoff win but little chance of making the Conference Championship or Superbowl this year. Nice team, pretty cheerleaders, not quite ready for prime time.
New York Jets:
It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch out for and the Jets have been quietly building a decent team with 99% less talk than recent years. With the team under new management and plenty of cash the Jets have assembled a defense capable of pressuring the passer and cornerbacks known for their tight coverage combining to make things difficult for the opponents passing game. Their own passing game will remain a question mark until Geno decides whether to fall on the serviceable or disappointing side of the fence. I’m sure they’re hoping that with a new set of receivers and free from the influence of bad coaching decisions he shows great improvement. Much of this will depend on the new coaching staff assembled by HC Todd Bowles and Chan Gailey at the forefront. If Chan can get Geno to stick with the safe throws and limit turnovers enough to let the defense keep them in close games anything can happen in the 4th quarter. It won’t take too much improvement from Geno and a little luck here and there to see the Jets at least close to the playoffs but they’re not going deep and the Superbowl or conference championship are unlikely at least this year. In the long term they look built to return as the Patriots main competition in the division. Make fun of Woody as you please but this is still the team with recent playoff success.
So the Patriots enter the 2015 season with lofty expectations the other teams don’t dream off and worry little inside the division. Making the playoffs isn’t considered an accomplishment worthy of noting; not making the conference championship means a meltdown. The Patriots have 14 million in dead cap money, Brady gone for possibly 4 games, unknown secondary, surgically repaired starters, all mean nothing. No excuses, next man up, play with what you got, do your job, trust in Belichick, and hang onto almost unrealistic expectations. The other teams do the same in limited fashion so just keep an eye on the rearview mirror and believe in winning it all until you don’t.