Thursday, August 3, 2017

2017-18 Season AFC East Preview

New England won the Super Bowl again, proving to be not just the strongest team in this division, but in the entire league. They have dominated the AFC East for the better part of two decades now, only failing to win the division title in 2002 and in 2008. Plus, they still have Tom Brady at quarterback, and Bill Belichick as coach, which means that they should be very well prepared, as always, entering this new season. So, it is difficult to imagine anyone else in this can give them a serious run for the division title this year. Not impossible, but hard to imagine, for sure. The New York Jets got rid of seemingly everyone, and are rebuilding. Many people project that they will be among the league's very worst teams. The Bills might not be in as bad of a situation, but they have struggled for a long time, and with coaching and personnel changes, it is difficult to imagine them being good enough to seriously challenge the Pats. And then there is Miami, a team that actually qualified for the playoffs last season. They are good, and possibly getting better. But are they really good enough to challenge the Patriots at the top? That will likely be the main question as far as the AFC East is concerned entering this new season. 

So, can the Dolphins possibly overtake the Patriots to win this division? Will the Pats suffer from a championship hangover (something that they have not been known for in the past following championships)? Can the Bills get back on track and perhaps contend for a playoff position, something that they have not managed to do since the 1999 season? Can the Jets perhaps surprise some people and win more games than most people expect them to?

Here are my answers:

1. New England Patriots (projected division winners) - No, I cannot got against New England heading into this new season. This team has set the standard by which all other teams are judged, and left wanting. Even teams that have won championships, even multiple championships, just have not managed to win with the kind of consistency that the Patriots have managed to produce. There is just no quit in this team, and if anyone doubted that, just look at what happened after Atlanta took that 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. It was the greatest comeback in New England's franchise history, and it obviously could not have come at a better time. It also underscored just how determined this team has grown to win no matter what the odds. I know that a lot of people out there really, really hate this team, and more often than not, they try to discredit their accomplishments. Many said that they were handed the championship by Seattle two years ago, and many of the same people suggested that Atlanta accommodated the Patriots with all of the mistakes that they made. But make no mistake, the Patriots applied heavy pressure each time, and forced many of those mistakes. Also, give them credit for overcoming their own mistakes. As their list of accomplishments continues to grow, it would be foolish to dismiss this out of some kind of lingering resentment, as so many haters seem determined to do. The Pats have set the bar high, and it is for a reason. Barring some unlikely circumstances, they should be able to win this division, and earn yet another playoff bye, at the very least. Frankly, I would not put a lot of money against them returning to the Super Bowl, or winning another title!

4. Miami Dolphins (projected second place) - The Dolphins enjoyed some solid success last season, managing to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season. That is an impressive accomplishment, especially since this team got off to a seemingly disastrous 1-4 start, with their only win at that point coming in an overtime game against the lowly Browns. But an upset win against Pittsburgh seemed to spark some life into this team, and they exploded into life, winning 9 of their next 10 games. Granted, they did not play the best teams in the league during that stretch, with the Steelers being the exception. But the Steelers obviously for their revenge by pounding the Dolphins in the Wildcard Game. Truth be told, the Dolphins seemed to win the games that they were supposed to win last year, and they lost the games that they were supposed to lose. if Miami wants to contend for this division title, that will have to change, and they will likely have to take at least one game against New England. Ryan Tannehill seemed to enjoy some success, although he threw some interceptions at key, inopportune times. Neither the defense nor the offense were especially impressive, and so they will need to rely on experience and continue to develop the talent that they have if they even want to get back to the playoffs, to show some of the toughness and resolve that they had last season in overcoming that horrible start. But Miami will also have a tougher schedule, and they will not sneak up on people, so a return trip to the playoffs is not a sure bet. As for seriously challenging New England for the division title, that frankly seems unlikely. 

3. Buffalo Bills (projected third place) - It was an offseason of changes for the Bills, the team with the longest active drought for qualifying for the playoffs in the entire league. Unfortunately for the Buffalo faithful, their team has the dubious distinction as the only franchise that has failed to qualify for the postseason for any season in the 21st century. However, there is reason to hope. The Bills seemed to improve offensively, averaging nearly 25 points per game, and they scored 25 points or more 10 times last season. Unfortunately, the defense of the Bills was surprisingly lax at times, lacking the toughness that most Rex Ryan defenses are known for. Buffalo's defense was not awful, but they were not great, either, ranking right in the middle of the pack in terms of points allowed. Like the Dolphins, the Bills produced one semi-shocking upset, a shutout win up at Foxboro. However, that was one of the games in which Tom Brady was not playing, so you cannot discount that. Otherwise, the Bills could not beat any winning teams, and if they hope to end their playoff drought this season, that obviously would have to change. If they can take at least one against Miami, and assuming that they sweep the Jets, the Bills might have a chance at second place, and may be in the playoff race. However, they have very little wiggle room, and absolutely need to improve and start winning some of the tougher games in the process. Recent history has been dire, in terms of the Bills not managing to overcome those obstacles. Can this year's edition of the Bills buck that trend? Time will tell, but although I would like to see the Bills back in the playoffs, my gut feeling tells me that they will not manage to do it. 

2. New York Jets (projected last place) -  Ah, the Jets. For some reason, while the other two football fans in my family, my grandfather and my brother, were fans of the Jets while I was growing up, I picked the Giants as my favorite team, and the Jets as my second favorite team. It might be a cruel thing to say, but I am glad that I did, because being a fans of the Jets is like torture. At times, this team has come close. I watched them qualify for the AFC Championship Game four times, in 1982, 1998, 2009, and 2010. At times, they have had some amazing talent, such as when they had the Sack Exchange, or a high-powered offense with Al Toon, Wes Walker, and Freeman McNeil, with Ken O'Brien seemingly a decent quarterback, albeit one who never seemed to reach his full potential. They had Parcells almost lead them to the Super Bowl in the late nineties. In the early 2000's, they destroyed Peyton Manning's Colts, 41-0, in the playoffs, and shocked the Chargers in San Diego not once, but twice in the playoffs in the 2000's. They seemed on the verge of elite status in 2009 and 2010. But since then, their flights to the playoffs have all been grounded. They have come close, such as when they finished 10-6 a couple of seasons ago. But after failing to contend last year, the Jets seemed to let everyone go during this past offseason, apparently to get a fresh start. Many Jets fans that I met actually appreciate that, and hope for the best. I do as well. However, that does not bode well for the short term prospects. Indeed, the Jets do not have the kind of talent that can make them competitive this season, especially since they have two teams in their division that actually qualified for the playoffs last season. It will likely be a long season, another one where the team name might seem to stand for "Just End The Season." But indeed, the Jets might be working towards building something bigger for the future. At least that is what Jets fans will hope, as they will be forced to endure another lowly season with few wins for their favorite football team, one that has grown too accustomed to torturing their poor fans. 

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