New England Patriots: Beasts of the AFC East?

“Football isn’t a contact sport, it’s a collision sport. Dancing is a contact sport” (Vince Lombardi)

The NFL is today’s version of the gladiatorial games. Of course football is not as gruesome as what went on in the Roman Coliseum. If dancing is a contact sport, and football is a collision sport, then the gladiatorial games were a complete destruction. However, despite the concussion precautions and other newly enforced rules that have “softened” the league, football hasn’t fumbled away the fiery competitive nature of its ancestor, and this year was a prime example.

More than half of the teams in the NFL this season finished with a record of .500 or better, and three divisions produced three teams with .500 plus record, one being the AFC East. Even though on paper the AFC East seemed to have a competitive year, for the fifth year in a row the New England Patriots were crowned AFC East Champions. And if it wasn’t for Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard taking out Tom Brady’s left knee in the first game of the 2008 regular season, the Patriots would have most likely continued their previous five straight divisional championships, making it a dominate ten this year, but like the iconic Forrest Gump once said “shit happens.”

The football gods came worked up a cataclysmic storm this year trying to throw the Patriots off their throne, but to no avail. Despite losing their top receiver Wes Welker to free agency, despite losing their versatile tight-end Aaron Hernandez to a murder controversy, despite losing on questionable game-changing decisions, despite losing five key players to injury, and despite another Rob Gronkowski and Aqib Talib injury prone season, somehow the Patriots pulled off numerous come from behind wins and received their AFC East crown.

With the Patriots season being over after that Daffy Duck despicable loss to the Broncos in the AFC Championship game, I guess the only thing left to do is to contemplate about next season. Personally, I don’t believe any AFC East team is ready to knock the Patriots off their throne, however, I understand that I being a Patriots fan makes me a bit biased, and so I’ll at least try to give some explanations to back up my argument. Let’s take a look at the competition.

 

Buffalo Bills

Wide Left. Scott Norwood’s 47 yard missed field goal attempt at the end of Super Bowl XXV on January 27, 1991 would be a dream for the Buffalo Bills today rather than the nightmare that it is.

The Buffalo Bills haven’t experienced a playoff game since 1999. A whole decade has passed since losing in a Wild Card Game to the AFC champion Tennessee Titans, and the beginning of this decade doesn’t seem too promising. However, I must admit that for two years I was convinced that the Bills would be decent enough to make the playoffs as a Wild Card. They blinded me with their signing of Defensive End “Super” Mario Williams who hasn’t seemed so “super” since he signed with the team back in 2012, and they blinded me with a talented backfield with C.J Spiller and Fred Jackson, who always seemed to get injured.

I thought this year, with the drafting of Florida State’s talented quarterback, E.J Manuel, they were prime for a revival. But like years previous, I was wrong. The Bills defense, however, did step up their game finishing 2nd in the league in sacks behind the Carolina Panthers with 57. They were led by a man who finally earned his nickname “Super” Mario Williams, who finished 4th in the league with 13 sacks.

But despite the decent season from their defense, the Bills once again fell to their arch nemesis: injuries. C.J Spiller and Fred Jackson both surprisingly managed to play most of the season, and the Bills finished 2nd in rushing yards per game with 144.2. However, The Bills’ talented receiver Stevie Johnson struggled with a groin injury all season, only playing in eleven games, and also their hopeful future franchise quarterback Manuel only played in ten games. In fact the Bills had three different starters at the quarterback position. Where have you gone Jim Kelly?

The Bills finished with a 6-10 record, which was last in the AFC East. If they continue to struggle with injuries, if E.J Manuel doesn’t turn out to be the franchise player they’re hoping for, and if the defense starts to crumble after the recent loss of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine who signed as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, then I don’t see them getting better any time soon.

 

Miami Dolphins   

Dan Marino isn’t walking through that tunnel. The Miami Dolphins have started nineteen different quarterbacks since Marino’s departure, and only two of them have led the Dolphins to the playoffs.

Ryan Tannehill seems to be next in line to try to fill Marino’s shoes, and so far I must say he appears to be decent. In his second year, Tannehill didn’t have a sophomore slump; in fact, this season was a vast improvement from the last. He finished the season just out of the top ten in passing touchdowns and earning a QB rating of 81.7.

It looked as if he was on his way to leading his team to a Wild Card position in the playoffs until the whole bullying scandal between Offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and Richard Incognito plagued the season.

Even though the Dolphins may have seemed more impressive than the New York Jets, I don’t believe they’re the top threat to the New England Patriots. For me, Ryan Tanehill’s decent season is the only thing that stands out for the Dolphins’ 8-8 record.

The offense finished 27th in the league in yards per game. They signed Mike Wallace to improve the passing game, but his mediocre production with 930 receiving yards on 73 receptions only moved them up six spots from last season in passing yards, putting them at 20th.

Their rushing game was another disappointment. It declined massively by dropping nine spots from the year before in yards per game. Running back Lamar Miller only gained 709 yards on 177 attempts. Hindsight is 20/20, and it says letting go of Reggie Bush in free agency was a bad decision.

Miami’s head coach Joe Philbin survived a tough season physically and mentally, but unfortunately management wasn’t so lucky. Hopefully, the new general manager can get the Dolphins back on track because their playoff run this season reminded me how much I’ve missed this rivalry.

 

New York Jets

If the media asked New York Jets how they view themselves, then they’ll probably tell them that they’re a Super Bowl caliber team. In fact they’ll probably tell them that they’re guaranteeing a Super Bowl win. It seems like ever since Joe Namath guaranteed a Super Victory back in 1969, it’s been in the Jets DNA to brag about how good they are, but I must give credit where credit is due.

After the Tim Tebow humiliation two seasons ago, I thought the New York Jets were on a downward spiral, but they surprised me finishing with an 8-8 record this season, and I must say that they have earned my respect. I believe that they are probably the closest thing to a threat to the New England Patriots and here’s why.

Their defense finished 4th in the league in fewest rushing yards allowed. The secondary did struggle with the trade of cornerback Darrelle Revis, but their overall defense finished just outside the top ten, and Sheldon Richardson earning Defensive Rookie of the year is a plus for the future. They achieved all this with a very mediocre offense.

The Jets rushing game surprisingly finished 6th in yards per game, but their passing game is what led to their demise.

They finished second to last in the league in yards per game and dead last in touchdowns with 13. At times, first round pick and West Virginia quarterback, Geno Smith looked promising, throwing three touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons, however, those games were quite rare. Most of the time, Geno Smith was a turnover machine finishing 4th in the league in interceptions with 21 and finishing with a QB rating of 66.5. I’m aware Geno Smith didn’t have the array of receivers that Peyton Manning had this season, but there was never a game where I saw the potential that everyone raved about during the draft. However, I could be wrong. Give him a couple receivers, and he could be a threat, but as of right now he’s too inconsistent.

Given all this information, I’ve concluded that there is only one beast of the east, and it’s the New England Patriots. Despite all that the football gods threw at them this season, the Patriots retaliated the only way they know how: the Patriot way finishing with a 12-4 record.

Year after year the Patriots plug in player after player, and someone always steps up. This year that player was Julian Edelman. In the beginning of the season Tom Brady seemed flustered trying to get comfortable with his new receivers, but they don’t call him Tom Terrific for nothing. He eventually formed a tight bond with Edelman, which had Patriots fans asking “Welker who?” Edelman finished the season with 1,056 receiving yards on 101 receptions and six touchdowns. He’s a free agent this year, but I expect the Patriots to sign him. If they don’t, then Robert Kraft has some explaining to do.

I’m not to certain on Gronkowski’s future; I’m hoping that someday he’ll play the whole season, but if I were a gambling man I wouldn’t bet on it.

Even though that the Patriots defense finished last in the division in yards allowed, I’m not all that worried. Because of injuries their defense was never fully healthy, but when they were they were promising. Through the first six games of the season, the defense was 36% on third down, allowed under 230 passing yards per game, and allowed just 16 points per game. Aqib Talib had a great year shutting down receivers like Demaryius Thomas and Jimmy Graham. Although, too bad it ended the way it did with a game ending injury in the AFC championship game, but hopefully he’ll be back next season to even the score. Also young players like Logan Ryan and Jimmy Collins look promising. Collins especially, with the uncertain future of linebacker Brandon Spikes, he should have a bigger role next season.

I was definitely impressed with the Patriots rushing game this season, finishing 9th in yards per game, and if running back Steven Ridley learns how to hold on to the ball, then they have a three headed bulldog with him, Vereen, and Blount in the backfield.

It was a tough season, but the Patriots showed why they are the Beast of the East, and as long as the Golden Boy Tom Brady and the Hooded One Bill Belichick are together, then I feel pretty safe.

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