The AFC East division certainly has some interesting storylines to it coming into the 2013 NFL season. There are some offseason acquisitions made that resulted in players exiting and entering the conference. While the AFC East has been dominated by the New England Patriots for several seasons, this one has the feel like it could be more than a one-team race at the end.
Certainly New England is labeled as the team to beat, and rightfully so. Tom Brady is still under center and until that changes for the Patriots they can be expected to be in the role of the favorite. But there are two rookie quarterbacks starting in the AFC East this season, with the other one a veteran going into his second season. Brady is obviously the most experienced quarterback, but with the others so young, it’s hard to say what to expect offensive from the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, and Miami Dolphins.
Starting at the top with the defending AFC East champions, the Patriots are expected to claim the division once more. But if they are to do that, they will be doing so with the loss of some production offensively from last season. On the field, that is highlighted by Wes Welker going west to Denver to join the Broncos. Off the field, the loss of Aaron Hernandez to a murder investigation took two potential Pro Bowlers this season away from the team. To add on to that, tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is arguably the best skill position player on offense aside from Brady, is recovering from two surgeries.
These questions are the most that New England has had to answer on the field since Brady tore his ACL a few years ago in Week 1 of the season. The Patriots will be more reliant on Brady than ever before.
The Dolphins are also a team that has plenty of questions. The preseason injury to Dustin Keller was a big blow, as quarterback Ryan Tannehill was developing a nice chemistry with the former Jet. Keller was predicted to have a breakout season prior to the injury and will not be sidelined for the season. Miami did bring in receiver Mike Wallace from Pittsburgh, and he looked good during the preseason.
Defensively, The Dolphins will might have an easier time within the division than in years past with two rookies at Buffalo and New York, but then again those two rookies are highly touted. Miami’s schedule this season includes games against Indianapolis, Atlanta, New Orleans and Baltimore all in a row from Week 2 through week 5.
Buffalo will go with E.J Manuel as the starting quarterback for Week 1 of the 2013 NFL Season. Manuel was picked in the first round by the Bills out of Florida State, and looked great in the preseason games he played in. A minor knee surgery might have kept him out a few weeks, but he is good to go for the start of Week 1.
Manuel will obviously be the key to the success the Bills have this season. They should have a solid run game with C.J. Spiller, which should help the rookie quarterback in the passing game down field. The Bills ranked 25th in the league in passing, and 6th in rushing last season, so it’s clear to see where Manuel fits in here.
The Jets have been quite the offseason storyline with their quarterback competition between Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith. By the time the dust settled, it’s the rookie in Smith who will get the start. Smith was a second round draft selection from West Virginia, though he was projected to be a first rounder.
New York might be starting fresh with Smith, but they will need offensive weapons around him to help out. They don’t have too much in that department, which is a big reason why New York is picked to finish last in the division this season. The defense will be under plenty of pressure all year long to hold opponents to low scores, as the Jets’ offense tries to develop each week. While Smith is the Week 1 starter, don’t expect the competition between he and Sanchez to quiet anytime during the season.