This is the easiest division to predict in the NFL. Since 2003, only once have the New England Patriots not finished first in the AFC East. The last time? In 2008, when Tom Brady tore his ACL 8 minutes into the season against Kansas City, missed the entire year and the Miami Dolphins won the tie breaker and were crowned AFC East Champions. Here’s the order of finish in 2014:
1. New England Patriots
Is this the year Tom Brady and Bill Belichick win their elusive fourth title together? Turning 37 in August 2014, how many more elite seasons does Tom Brady have? Two? Three, counting this season? The Patriots are all in because the window is closing on the Brady era and 5 championships is still something Brady wants … Montana never won 5 Super Bowls. In 2013, making the AFC Championship game for the third year in a row, was a special achievement for Belichick and Brady. Injuries to key players on defense (Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo) for the season, the turnover in Brady’s receiving corps, clearly the New England offense is completely different with a healthy Rob Gronkowski, would have certainly sunk any other team in the NFL.
In 2014, Wilfork and Mayo return healthy, Revis island is reestablished, Browner returns in Week 4, Gronkowski stays healthy for 16 games, Edelman/Hopkins/Dobson/LaFell/Amendola give Brady more than enough options, Stevan Ridley/Shane Vereen are the best 1-2 punch in the New NFL RBBC (Running Back By Committee), and this team steamrolls the AFC East. 12-4.
2. New York Jets
In 2013, the New York Jets somehow won 8 games. I expect, somehow, they win about the same this year. Gone is Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith is the anointed starter with Michael Vick as his back up, Chris Johnson, CJ2YpC, Eric Decker, Jace Amaro, and one of the WR they drafted offer options, and keep an eye on Daryl Richardson. Vick takes over this team for 6 healthy games and the Jets are mathematically alive in Week 17 for the playoffs and Rex Ryan survives another year to build. 8-8.
3. Miami Dolphins
After a 3-0 start, the Dolphins hit an October/November swoon, 2-6, recovered to win 3 straight in December and were mathematically alive for the wild card heading into Week 16. A 19-0 loss to Buffalo, followed by a 20-7 loss to the Jets, where Tannehill completed 50% of his passes and threw 3 interceptions. This doesn’t sound like the promise land is just a year away. The money spent on Mike Wallace and Knowshon Moreno aren’t worth the money, the drafted to protect Tannehill and offer him options (Offensive Linemen Ju’Wuan James, Billy Tuner and WR Jarvis Landry). Like it or not Dolphins fans, Tannehill, throwing for 3,900 yards, 24 TDs, 17 INTs, is your guy and at least the front office understands your QB cannot get sacked 58 times, 10 more than any other QB in the NFL, and make the playoffs. Another year of “development” for Tannehill, who continues to show the franchise he just isn’t the guy. 7-9
EJ Manuel is the man in Buffalo and they gave away a first round draft pick in 2015 to select Sammy Watkins, who may electrify at times, but certainly isn’t the answer to the Bills woes as a franchise. The defense, which finished 10th overall in 2013, will miss Jairus Byrd and Kiko Alonso. Looking at the schedule, it’s possible Cleveland ends up with 2 Top 5 picks in 2015 to build around their man Johnny Manziel. 3-13.