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BOSTON (CBS) — The AFC East has belonged to the Patriots in eight of the last nine seasons and 10 of the last 12 seasons, and this year, it remains New England’s division to lose.
With a revamped receiving corps and an influx of youth and power on the defensive side of the ball, and with the duo of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick still operating at full speed, the Patriots enter the 2012 NFL season once again as prohibitive favorites to win their division.
Sportsbook lists the Pats’ odds of winning the East this year at -400. The next team? That would be the Jets listed at +600. The Bills have just slightly worse odds (+700) and the Dolphins (+1200) aren’t given much of a shot at all.
Still, the football season is never determined in August, and no team is immune to injuries, bad calls and bad luck. So while the Patriots may look ready for 12-win season and a first-round bye, you just never know.
What you can know, though, is the competition. Let’s take a quick look around the division and point out one reason Pats fans should worry about each team, and one reason to believe things won’t change.
The Buffalo Bills are by far the most improved team (on paper) in the AFC East. The team spared no expense this offseason, tossing $100 million at Mario Williams in free agency. Remember, this is the same team that shocked the Patriots with a 34-31 win in Buffalo last September. Will another win or two be in store for Buffalo this season?
Look out for the Bills!
If there’s one reason to believe in Buffalo, it’s because unlike other mediocre teams that fall victim to the temptation to add splashy offensive stars to cure all their woes, the Bills have placed an emphasis on defense. The biggest addition, of course, was Williams, who’s averaged 9.5 sacks in his five full seasons and had five last year in just five games.
Letting Williams play alongside the massive Marcell Dareus (6-foot-3, 331 pounds) and Mark Anderson (10 sacks last season) will have offensive linemen and coaching in for a tough week of preparation each and every game.
They’re still the Bills!
On any given week, Ryan Fitzpatrick can look like Joe Montana, and he’s shown signs of improvement of the past three seasons. Still, he more often looks like Ryan Fitzpatrick, who over the course of a season ends up being a middle-of-the-road quarterback. The Bills haven’t made the playoffs in more than a decade, and their search for a long-term QB has lasted just as long. It’s no coincidence.
The Miami Dolphins will star on “Hard Knocks” this summer. Realistically, that’s about as good as it’s going to get for the team that’s finished with a losing record in six of the last eight seasons.
Look out for the Dolphins!
The offense may not be historically potent, but the Dolphins can still run the ball. Reggie Bush had his first-ever 1,000-yard season last year, ending the season on a four-week streak of 100 yards or more during which he averaged 130 yards per game.
The defense isn’t awful, either, as the unit ranked third in the entire NFL in rushing yards allowed last season. That would probably be more meaningful if the pass defense didn’t rank 25th, though.
They’re still the Dolphins!
The big news this week is that Matt Moore thinks it’s “frustrating” that he lost the early race for the starting quarterback job. While it makes sense to be frustrated when you lose your job to David Garrard, apparently Matt Moore has forgotten that he is Matt Moore. And who knows? Maybe the rookie Ryan Tannehill is better than both of them.
Whatever the case, it’s a quarterback league, and the Dolphins don’t really have one. It’s simply too hard to compete that way.
New York Jets
Excuse me for one moment as I provide the necessary commentary on the New York Jets:
Tim Tebow Tim Tebow Tim Tebow. Tim Tebow? Tim Tebow. Mark Sanchez Mark Sanchez, Antonio Cromartie! Tim Tebow Tim Tebow; Tim Tebow. Mark Sanchez Tim Tebow. Tim Tebow.
Sorry, just following the media code when it comes to covering the Jets.
Look out for the Jets!
The biggest addition may have come in subtraction for the Jets with the departure of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. It’s yet to be seen if Tony Sparano will be better, but he assuredly can’t be worse.
He’ll at the very least join a coaching staff that is guaranteed to field a competitive team each and every week. Statistically, the Jets weren’t the strongest defensive team last year (20th in points allowed, fifth in yards allowed). But for all his headline-grabbing, Rex Ryan is still a very good coach – certainly too good to lead the Jets to an 8-8 record for a second straight year.
They’re still the Jets!
While the overhyped story surrounding the Jets this summer is that the presence of Tim Tebow is sure to interfere with the smooth operation of the offense, the fact is that the versatile Tebow is much more capable of contributing than he is of disrupting.
Still, that seems to be among the least of the Jets’ concerns. Antonio Cromartie’s comments may have been overblown in the media, but they no doubt angered a lot of players inside the locker room (as well as the head coach).
The chemistry within that locker room is always volatile, and bringing back Santonio Holmes (th e former team captain who was last seen literally quitting on his team and is the sole reason the team no longer has captains) was deemed an acceptable decision this summer.
The team is always one bad week away from completely falling to pieces, as the players on the roster aren’t wired to rally together when their backs are against the wall. Should the Jets once again start the season slow, and if it leaks out that certain players are once again unhappy with other players or coaches, the Jets ship may sink before it even gets going.