NFL Week One: Early Picture And Predictions For The AFC
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One division, one week, three games...
The New England Patriots have been the boss of the AFC East for a long time. In fact, since 2000, they have won the division 10 times. One of those years was the aftermath of Tom Brady's season—ending knee injury in the first game of 2008.
You could say that there are some disgruntled fans in three cities who really want the fortunes of their teams to change... NOW! And those three teams: New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and Miami Dolphins, would like nothing more than to oblige their fans.
Buffalo and New York both drafted quarterbacks in the offseason with the hope of developing their futures at that position; circumstances dictated both of those rookies starting in week one. Miami used thier first round pick a year ago to select Ryan Tannehill, who quickly became their quarterback of the present.
These three young men have the formidable task of competing with the legendary Tom Brady of the reigning division champs. What does this mean? Simply that they have their work cut out for them.
In week one of the 2013 season, it meant that the Patriots didn't look like the runaway favorite in this division. And with so many other question marks on the team, including an all—new receiving corps right down to the tight ends, they now have their work cut out for them. They are going to have to do a better job of controlling the football: no more three—fumble days, no more zero sack/interception days, and a lot fewer mental mistakes.
The Patriots came out with the win, but the Bills showed that they can be disruptive on defense and that E. J. Manuel can be smart with the football. On the other hand, the Bills' vaunted running game was largely held down by the Patriot defense, while the Patriots found that they could shift gears when their running game sputtered, relying on the versatile Shane Vereen to carry the load in place of Stevan Ridley.
In the other two games, the Miami Dolphins had a relatively easy time with the Cleveland Browns. Although not a division rival, the Browns have been praised with vastly improving their team in the offseason; it didn't show today. Miami's defense was able to take advantage of the hapless Brandon Weedon, forcing three interceptions and holding Trent Richardson to an embarrasing 47 yards on 13 carries.
This doesn't prove that Miami is the tream to beat in the AFC East, but it gives them a little more confidence going into their week two contest against the also victorious Indianapolis Colts. This will be a better test of their fortitude.
Meanwhile, the Jets managed to claw their way to a close, comeback victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Like the Patriots, the Jets had to overcome turnovers and bad decisions to squeak—out the win with a late field goal. Geno Smith threw a TD and an INT, but otherwise had decent numbers. This was another game where running was not the biggest factor in the game, and that says a lot about where the teams in this division stand right now.
Shane Vereen led all AFC East backs with 101 yards.
Fred Jackson ran for 67 yards for the Bills.
Geno Smith led the Jets with 47 yards rushing- not a prescription for success for them.
Miami's running game never showed up, leaving all of the pressure on Ryan Tannehill. That won't fly in future games, especially within the division.
Here's what we can take away from these games:
The Patriots are still the team to beat. You had better believe that Belichick and Brady will not tolerate the sloppiness in play. There will be better blocking; there will be better pass catching. And keep an eye on this running attack. Oh, and just wait till Rob Gronkowski comes back!
Without a running attack, the Dolphins won't be challenging anyone for anything. Their young quarterback will crumble under the pressure if he has to try and carry this team for yet another frustrating season. The good news is that their defense looked very good.
Rookies Smith and Manuel need to keep protecting the ball and they will give their teams a fighting chance. Buffalo needs to figure out the run game, and get Stevie Johnson to stop running his mouth about how great he is and just play the games. They also need to cut down on the penalties.
The Jets can't continue to rely on Kellen Winslow to be their leading receiver. It is good to spread the ball around, and their receivers have to be there for Geno. And we all know what happens to QBs who are called—upon to carry the running game. It isn't healthy for them to be leading rushers.
We have to conclude that the Patriots have the most to lose in this division. If Brady can get his receivers all on the same page, they will run away with the division again. He also would like a little better protection in the pocket (he STILL can't run the ball).
Barring any incredible miracles or tragedies, the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins still don't have what it takes to wrest control of the AFC East just yet. And it would be a handful of years before we could even consider that anyone had stolen the crown as the king of this division from the Patriots.