The AFC East in 2015 boasts the reigning Super Bowl champions, two new aggressive coaches and arguably the best defensive player in the entire league.
Dare we say the expectations are — ahem — inflated for this division long owned by the New England Patriots?
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have won 12 of the past 14 AFC East titles, but perhaps this is the season that changes. Brady faces a suspension over his apparent involvement in New England’s ball-deflation scheme, and the Patriots aren’t as talented as they were a year ago.
The same can’t be said for the Dolphins, Bills and Jets, who all have had excellent offseasons. But isn’t that always how it goes? The division’s also-rans usually own January through July, but once the games begin, it’s the same old Patriot story.
▪ 2014 record: 9-7 (second in AFC East).
▪ Coach: Rex Ryan (first season).
▪ Training camp report date: Thursday (St. John Fisher College; Pittsford, New York).
▪ Major additions: TE Charles Clay, WR Percy Harvin, RB LeSean McCoy.
▪ Key losses: LB Kiko Alonso, QB Kyle Orton, RB C.J. Spiller.
▪ Outlook: Remove quarterback from the equation and the Bills probably have the most talented team in the division — if not the entire conference. Rex Ryan inherits a defense that was already excellent (fourth in yards, fourth in points and third in yards per play last season). But Ryan is in a familiar spot: huge questions at the most important position. Both of their quarterback options — EJ Manuel and Matt Cassel — were benched in September last year. If Buffalo can manufacture any sustainable offense, this is a dangerous team.
▪ 2014 record: 8-8 (third in AFC East).
▪ Coach: Joe Philbin (fourth season).
▪ Training camp report date: Wednesday (Doctors Hospital Training Facility; Davie).
▪ Major additions: TE Jordan Cameron, WR DeVante Parker, DT Ndamukong Suh.
▪ Key losses: TE Charles Clay, DT Jared Odrick, WR Mike Wallace.
▪ Outlook: No more excuses for Joe Philbin and Ryan Tannehill. New football czar Mike Tannenbaum and general manager Dennis Hickey have assembled a roster talented enough to end the team’s playoff drought at six years. Tannehill, fresh off a massive contract extension, calls this year’s collection of weapons the best he’s had. And the defense, which folded down the stretch last year, now has a difference-maker in Ndamukong Suh. Stephen Ross spent the money. Now he wants a return on his investment.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
▪ 2014 record: 12-4 (first in AFC East).
▪ Coach: Bill Belichick (16th season).
▪ Training camp report date: Rookies reported July 23, veterans report Wednesday (Gillette Stadium; Foxborough, Massachusetts).
▪ Major additions: DT Malcolm Brown, TE Scott Chandler, DE Jabaal Sheard.
▪ Key losses: CB Darrelle Revis, RB Shane Vereen, DT Vince Wilfork.
▪ Outlook: Bill Belichick thrives when most would stumble. He sees challenges as opportunities, not roadblocks. Well, consider this the biggest opportunity of his Hall of Fame career. Six Patriots who started in the Super Bowl are gone, including four on defense — three in the secondary. Plus, there’s a pesky four-game Deflategate suspension awaiting Tom Brady, assuming it isn’t reduced. And yet, the Patriots stood firm in free agency, believing in their player-development system that has served them well for more than a decade.
NEW YORK JETS
▪ 2014 record: (4-12, fourth in AFC East).
▪ Coach: Todd Bowles (first season).
▪ Training camp report date: Wednesday (Atlantic Health Jets Training Center; Floral Park, New Jersey).
▪ Major additions: CB Antonio Cromartie, CB Darrelle Revis, DE Leonard Williams.
▪ Key losses: DT Kenrick Ellis, WR Percy Harvin.
▪ Outlook: Todd Bowles, the former Dolphins assistant, took a talented, effective defensive group and turned it into an absolute monster. The Jets, who ranked sixth in yards allowed last season, brought back Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie to dramatically improve the secondary. And even with Sheldon Richardson suspended for the first four games (drugs), the defensive line should still be excellent with the addition of Leonard Williams. But like the Bills, the Jets have major questions at quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been brought on to push Geno Smith, who was the league’s 29th-rated passer last year.